Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Fixing Pitching With Catching

The hot stove season is just around the corner, and the GM Meetings have kicked off down in Arizona. As the offseason rolls on, we'll quickly get closer and closer to free agent signings taking place at a rapid pace. I don't believe there's too many names the Twins should be in on (see here), but Jason Castro is one I really like.

Now I can understand why a catcher with a less than exciting hit tool might have Minnesota Twins fans down, but there's plenty more to the puzzle here. It's true that Castro owns just a .660 OPS since 2014, and that he's averaged just 12 homers per year in that span. Since 2014 however, Kurt Suzuki has just a .680 OPS and has hit a total of 16 homers. Comparing the offensive production is really splitting hairs though, the play here is on the defensive side of the field.

When looking at both Suzuki and Castro, you couldn't possibly find two more polar opposites. Suzuki has averaged throwing out just 19.6% of would be base stealers. Over the past three years, the league average in that statistic is 29.3%. On the flip side, Castro has caught 27.3% of would be base stealers in that same span. It's not just the arm that separates Castro though. Actually, it's the glove the really puts weight behind what the Twins are looking to do here.

Per StatCorner, Jason Castro was the 5th best catcher in all of baseball in 2016 when it came to generating extra strikes for his pitchers. Conversely, only 19 catchers were worse than Suzuki, and the second worst catcher in all of baseball when it came to pitch framing, was his backup Juan Centeno.

When behind the plate for the Astros, Jason Castro grabbed strikes outside of the zone 8.3% of the time, while allowing pitches in the zone to be called balls just 11.8% of the time (6th best among qualified catchers). Suzuki generated strikes out of the zone just 7.1% of the time while allowing should be strikes to be called balls 14.6% of the time. Understandably so, Centeno was even worse at 4.1% and 17.0% respectively.

It was apparent at multiple points during the 2016 Major League Baseball season that Juan Centeno had no business being behind the plate in a major league game. While Kurt Suzuki was once a respectable veteran, his presence alone is now his value to the roster as his on field performance has deteriorated to below replacement levels.

So, Jason Castro is a defensive stalwart, why do the Twins want to bring him in? The long and short of it is that Minnesota needs to fix its pitching problem, and focusing on the mound is expensive.

Right now, the Twins have a handful of arms that can at least be counted on to start games in 2017. There's at least eight realistic starting options at Paul Molitor's disposal, and they all provide a different level of projected output. Getting more out of them, prior to moving on or looking elsewhere, can realistically be accomplished by stacking the deck in their favor. A catcher that will steal them strikes, as well as ensure they are properly called, all while controlling the running game, is something the Twins haven't had since Joe Mauer was behind the dish.

The marriage between the Twins and Castro seems to make a lot of sense at least from the Minnesota lens. With just John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver as big league options, a true starter is again a need. I'd prefer to see Garver get a shot to prove himself in a backup capacity over Murphy after how each of their 2016 seasons went, but neither are capable of being the guy out of the gate. Castro is just 29 years old, and would be able to shore up the position nicely on a three year deal.

At this point, talks seem preliminary, and Castro will likely have multiple suitors. It works in Minnesota's favor that the Orioles didn't extend Matt Wieters a qualifying offer, and that Wilson Ramos should be game ready by May. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine can look past those two names and try to tempt the former Houston backstop with a multi year offer somewhere between $20-25 million. If it works out, the Twins would be addressing their catcher issue, but it would be through the eyes of a pitching focus.

Rather than spending on pitching that isn't there, this is absolutely the way you'd hope the Twins franchise address one of their largest issues.