Cincinnati Reds: Is Luis Castillo an ace in waiting?

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

As Luis Castillo begins his second full season in the Cincinnati Reds rotation, the club is hoping consistent dominant performances are the new normal.

The 2018 season was a tale of two halves for Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo.  Much like the Reds as a whole, Castillo was a complete mess the first half of the season.  Following a phenomenal 15-start audition in the second half of the 2017 season where he posted a ridiculously good 144 ERA+, Castillo was equally as bad to begin last year’s campaign.

Compiling a 5.49 ERA while surrendering 19 home runs by the All-Star break, many in the Reds organization were asking themselves who is the real Luis Castillo. Luckily for the 26-year-old right-hander it’s a long season and throughout the second half Castillo reminded everyone why there were such high expectations.

Posting a 2.44 ERA over 66.1 innings and allowing just 9 long balls, Castillo found his groove to close the season.  Despite the horrendous start, he finished the year with 4.30 ERA and 98 ERA+.  The final results were underwhelming, but it was an encouraging flourish to end his first full year in the majors. However, if you dig a little deeper in the numbers you can see a potential ace waiting to emerge.

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For starters, Castillo has the type of stuff to fool the best of hitters.  When you look at contact percentage, the total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches, opposing hitters managed just a 72.6% rate compared to a 77.0% league average. Next, Castillo was able to produce a 13.5% swinging strike rate against a 10.7% league average rate.  In other words, the young hurler from the Dominican Republic can be difficult to hit.

Castillo’s changeup is the pitch he routinely uses to dominate opposing lineups.  Last season that pitched accounted for 43.4% of Castillo’s strikeouts and hitters slashed just .200/.227/.330 versus the nasty change.

Opposing hitters made contact against his changeup at a 58.5% rate while swinging and missing a whopping 25.9% of the time.  According to Fangraphs, when you consider pitch value where the average is zero, Castillo’s change rated a remarkable 9.0. Needless to say it’s a devastating pitch for him.

In addition to his changeup, Luis Castillo also throws a four-seam fastball, slider, and a sinker.  Like almost all pitchers, the fastball receives the majority of Castillo’s workload. With an average velocity of 96.4 MPH, Castillo fastball brings the heat.

However, at times last season he seemed to lose confidence in the pitch, utilizing his four-seamer only 35.5% of the time in 2018 compared to a 50.4% rate in 2017.  Hopefully, working with new pitching coach Derek Johnson, Castillo can increase his fastball usage to help set up his dazzling change.

For years as Cincinnati Reds fans we have heard the lazy narrative of Great American Ball Park being a hitter’s paradise and a pitcher’s nightmare. Yet history has shown a good pitcher can thrive at GABP and Castillo is much better in the Queen City.

Over the course of his career Castillo has 3.47 ERA to go along with 10.28 strikeouts per nine innings at home.   In comparison, his road ERA of 4.30 is almost a run higher and his strikeout rate dips to 8.05 per 9 innings.  Indeed, there is no place like home for Castillo.

Since the final out of the 2018 season, the Reds front office has sent a clear message that pitching, primarily the starting rotation, was the biggest need.  Cincinnati shipped Homer Bailey to Los Angeles, but most fans would call that addition by subtraction.

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The Reds also lost free agent pitcher Matt Harvey to the Los Angeles Angels, but with the trade acquisitions of Tanner Roark, Alex Wood and Sonny Gray, the rotation is clearly better. However, the real ace of the staff may be the 26-year-old right-hander with the 96 MPH heater and that nasty changeup.