The 2018 Pod Projections are now available! For the first time, the package includes NFBC ADP, along with all historical Pod-developed xMetrics. My projections are based on the methodology shared in my eBook Projecting X 2.0, and the process continues to evolve and improve (thanks Statcast!).
For a guy who entered 2017 as just the 10th best prospect in the Reds system and has thrown just 89.1 Major League innings, fantasy owners are in love with Luis Castillo. It’s easy to see why — his debut was fantastic, which featured an 18.4% K%-BB%, tons of ground balls, and a 3.63 SIERA. An ADP of about 96 places him in the late 8th or early 9th round in 12-team leagues. That’s just before the established Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Arrieta, and just ahead of fellow youngsters Jose Berrios and Luke Weaver. Let’s dive into the projection and forecast process to determine whether that’s a fair price.
Games Started | IP: 30 | 177
He’s locked into a rotation spot and threw 169.2 innings in 2017, so there should be no workload concerns. My projection calls for an average of 5.9 innings per start, versus nearly 6.0 innings last season.
Castillo’s xK% was a robust 27.2%, almost an exact match with his actual 27.3%. It validates that electric fastball/changeup/slider combination. So why the projected decline to “just” 24.6%? I’m always hesitant to buy into a rookie who just posted a professional best strikeout rate. Outside of his 32.1% strikeout rate in Rookie ball in 2013 in the Giants farm system, his previous professional high was 25.8%, back at Single-A. Granted, he did post a 25.6% mark at Double-A in 2017, but also realize he hasn’t thrown a pitch at the Triple-A level.
So the regression here accounts for the risk that in his second go around, hitters adjust and aren’t as whiffy as they were during his debut. It’s not often that a rookie pitcher has an easier time striking out Major League hitters than minor leaguers. Of course, a 24.6% strikeout rate for a pitcher with such limited MLB experience is still terrific.
Castillo’s xBB% actually sat well above his 8.9% mark at 10%, thanks to just an average rate of strikes thrown and too many 3-0 counts. But he’s displayed vastly better control in the minors, posting a tiny 4.1% walk rate at Double-A before his promotion and 3.9% mark at High-A in 2016. Of course, that was a substantial improvement over previous walk rates that were around double, but even double those marks were acceptable and failed to hint at a control issue. So, despite the elevated xBB%, I’m projecting improvement here.
GB%/LD%/FB%: 49% / 20% / 31%
Castillo went from inducing just 39% ground balls at Double-A to nearly 59% while with the Reds! That seems like quite the rare occurrence. I have no idea why his GB% has bounced around so much, as he had typically been around 50% before 2017. So then he suddenly went to either side of the extremes in 2017. His changeup, slider, and sinker all generated GB% marks above 60%.
I’m hedging here by bringing down the GB% just below 50%, but that still primarily weighs his Reds debut and pre-2017 minor league marks over his low 39% mark at Double-A.
League average HR/FB rate for NL starting pitchers in 2017 jumped to 14.2%, which of course was the highest since we have data for, going back to 2002. Great American Ballpark is one of the league’s best park for home runs, as it sports a park factor of 108. I figure the league HR/FB has to regress at least a bit, so then bump it up for the GABP effect and voilà, you get a 14.5% forecast.
As a ground ball pitcher, Castillo’s BABIP is going to be affected by the skills of his infield defense. Unfortunately, it’s not projected to be very good, as the positives from the corner guys and shortstop are more than cancelled out by the weak fielding projection for Scooter Gennett. Aside from the grounders, he showed no such ability to induce pop-ups, though that was certainly a skill he possessed in the minors. League average BABIP last season for NL starting pitchers was .301.
Below is my final projected pitching line, along with the other systems for comparison:
Wowzers, these projections are unsurprisingly all over the place! The ERA ranges from the ever optimistic Fans forecast of 3.39, up to 4.15 from our newest projection source, THE BAT. What we all do mostly agree on is that Castillo is going to be an excellent source of strikeouts. Of course, even to what degree is up for debate. I have no idea why both ZiPS and THE BAT are projecting K/9 marks closer to 8.0 than 9.0.
So is the Pod projection good enough to justify a pick close to 100th overall? Definitely not. It’s clear that fantasy owners are dreaming of bigger things. And I have to admit, I do love this skill set. But, I think a lot of that upside is baked into his price. I don’t want his inflated cost to cut into my profit potential, because he’ll need to outperform Pod, Steamer, and ZiPS just to break even. Obviously he could easily earn that price and more. But you could literally say that about every pitcher at whatever price you’re paying.
I’m a true fan, I really am, but he’s not going to end up on any of my teams and seems like the perfect player to use my first nomination on when everyone has a full purse to bid their hearts out.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.