Mispeler’s Heaven: Welington Joins Zunino

The older we get, the more awed we are by catchers and the more literally unthinkable we find what they do. Our imaginary lives are as richly textured as the next stat geek’s, and now and then, in the kingdoms of our own minds, you might find us pretending that we’re thirty or forty years younger, and far better baseball players than we ever were. But though we might imagine ourselves hitting Stargellesque home runs, throwing Koufaxian pitches, or making Robinsonable plays in the field, we just can’t conceive of getting into and out of a crouch as often as catchers must and do. Our geriatric knees just won’t let us get our geriatric minds around the possibility.

But being able to crouch that much and that often is of course merely one part of a catcher’s job. As you know, he’s also got to call pitches, block the bad ones, frame the good ones, throw out base stealers, pounce on bunts, and, so it’s said, serve as the on-field team’s prefrontal cortex. So it’s unreasonable to expect catchers to hit very much, and in fact, many of them don’t.

This causes problems in Reality Baseball, and, as we don’t have to tell you, especially acute problems in Fantasy Baseball, with its exclusive focus on hitting. (If your league has figured out how to incorporate catchers’ fielding performance in a way that’s subtler than just using caught-stealing percentage but less insanely esoteric than the fielding derivatives you’ll find on Fangraphs, we’d be interested to know how you do it. Really.) Even skeptics about position scarcity recognize that it applies to catchers.

If you’re in one of those effete single-catcher leagues, this probably isn’t too much of an issue for you. But if you’re the brawny, rugged sort who plays in a two-catcher league with a dozen or more teams, often the best you can hope for is that your second catcher do no harm: he stays healthy, plays fairly regularly, hits with a little power, puts up acceptable counting stats, and doesn’t cripple your batting average. And woe unto you if your number one catcher gets hurt during the season and you need to go trawling for free agents.

So any in-season development that increases the pool of Hippocratic catchers is worth taking note of. And we think, as others do, that there’s been such a development. Welington Castillo, who at the start of last week was languishing as the Cubs’ third-string catcher, was traded to Seattle, where he is now the second-string catcher, though his name is still missing an “l.” There are a fair number of reasons to like him, mostly having to do with the guy he’s backing up, Mike Zunino. Zunino’s a good catcher and has plenty of power, but even Lloyd McClendon is likely to notice eventually that (1) Zunino can’t get his average above .200, and (2) if he starts 130 or so games, as he’s on pace to do, he’s going to wear down in the second half, just as he did last year, when his second-half slash line was .187/.245/.392. Meanwhile, Castillo’s a good catcher with some power himself, and while he’s hit poorly so far, he should hit at least .240—the low range of his historical level– from here on. And we figure he’ll play some and get 125 or 150 plate appearances, which could mean 5 or so home runs. All right, it’s not Buster Posey, but by our reckoning he’s in the top two dozen currently-healthy catchers, and therefore a Birchwood Brothers Pick Hit. Why not give him a good home if one of your catcher spots is otherwise a vacuum?

As far as we can tell, Castillo is owned in fewer than 5% of all leagues, so the foregoing is presumably news to somebody, though perhaps not to our devoted and sophisticated readers. Thanks for reading all the way through anyway. This is our way of distracting ourselves from the top-to-bottom disintegration of our NFBC Main Event pitching staff. One sentence will demonstrate the fine pitch of desperation we have attained, and the derangement it has induced: we acquired Shaun Marcum on waivers on Sunday night, and started him on Monday. Now he’s locked in for the week; we can scarcely wait until his outing against Seattle on Saturday. Ora pro nobis.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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8 years ago

It’s been awhile since my high school grammar days, but I’m pretty sure Marcum actually means desperation.