Luis Castillo is one of the most exciting pitchers in this year’s pool. His 89-inning debut has vaulted him firmly into the top 100 picks and top 30 starters. Our good friends over at PitcherList.com have him slotted 20th on their board. I love Castillo, but are we being a little overzealous with the 25-year old righty?
There haven’t been a lot of guys putting up a 3.12 ERA/1.07 WHIP combo with an 18% K-BB rate in 90ish innings during their rookie season so finding comps wasn’t easy, but I came up with some thresholds and we’re going to look at what they did in their second season. It doesn’t necessarily mean we will figure out what Castillo is going to do by looking at these guys, but we will have some reference points and we’ll highlight one of most commonly used comps to zero on some potential results.
I looked at rookie arms from 2008-17 with 60-110 innings, an ERA+ of 120 or higher, and a 20%+ strikeout rate. That returned 11 arms (10 + Castillo) with a range of career trajectories, from a perennial Cy Young contender to LOOGY reliever.
I see you, Marc Rzepczynski! The lefty reliever had a nice little debut in Toronto, but couldn’t really follow it up in a 64-inning 2010 and has been relieving ever since. Faria is another 2017 inclusion so we obviously don’t know how he’ll follow up, but let’s see how the other nine fared in their sophomore season:
|Stephen Strasburg||2011||22||WAS||259||24||27%||2%||25%||1.50||1.28||0.71||0.00||TJ Surgery, returned in Sept.|
|Sonny Gray||2014||24||OAK||120||219||20%||8%||12%||3.08||3.46||1.19||0.62||Was even better in ’15|
|Michael Wacha||2014||22||STL||114||107||21%||7%||14%||3.20||3.17||1.20||0.50||Stress reaction in shoulder|
|Daniel Hudson||2011||24||ARI||113||222||18%||5%||13%||3.49||3.28||1.20||0.69||Hasn’t hit 70 MLB IP since|
|James Paxton||2015||26||SEA||98||67||20%||10%||10%||3.04||3.28||1.20||0.36||Strained lat|
|Jameson Taillon||2017||25||PIT||97||133.7||21%||8%||13%||4.44||3.48||1.48||0.74||Testicular cancer|
|Marc Rzepczynski||2010||24||TOR||85||63.7||20%||11%||9%||4.95||4.57||1.60||1.13||Fractured finger|
|Tony Cingrani||2014||24||CIN||81||63.3||22%||13%||9%||4.55||5.37||1.53||1.70||Shoulder tendinitis|
|Luis Severino||2016||22||NYY||74||71||21%||8%||13%||5.83||4.48||1.45||1.39||As SP and RP; strained triceps|
The group averaged 108 innings of a 3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 13% K-BB rate, a line that would decidedly be outside the top 30, but not a total disaster. The best comp from 2017 would be Jon Gray’s season. He threw 110 innings with a 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 18% K-BB rate. He ranked 68th on ESPN’s Player Rater for SPs. I think Castillo’s strikeout rate will keep him north of that 13% K-BB average even if things go a little sideways – something like a 15% mark (25% K, 10% BB). Of course, the Gray 2017 is just an average. There was a wide range of outcomes here.
Strasburg’s TJ came at the end of his debut season so that skews things a little bit, but he was hardly the only one to get hurt. In fact, all but two of the pitchers suffered an injury, though Taillon’s wasn’t exactly pitching related. The two who stayed healthy – Gray and Hudson – were the only two to eclipse 150 innings and both logged fantastic 200+ inning campaigns. Those two, Taillon, and Wacha were the only four to hit even 100+ innings, though. I originally intended to have the innings threshold be 20 on each side of Castillo’s 89, but that was mainly for the 69 jokes that would’ve been available to me. I lowered it to 60 to get a wider sample, but also to include Luis Severino, someone seen as a viable Castillo comp.
I truly don’t rule out Severino’s 2017 as something Castillo can approach in perfect case scenario, but it seems that those making the comparison tend to skip over Sevvy’s sophomore slump. There are some key differences favoring Castillo, primarily his three years of experience over Sevvy and with that, a much more developed arsenal. Severino succeeded mostly off his fastball during his 2015 debut while Castillo’s 97 mph heater was actually his worst offering by pitch values as the changeup and slider shone brightly. Sevvy had a show-me change that needed work, Castillo’s is a gem that finished 8th in P-Val despite his small sample.
So there are reasons to believe Castillo won’t struggle like Severino did in his second season, but that still leaves a long way to the Cy-worthy 2017. What if Castillo is a hybrid of Sevvy’s sophomore slump and breakout 2017? That’d put him with a 3.75 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 20% K-BB in 132 innings. Using the innings and K-BB, that gives him a 2017 comp of another guy on the list, James Paxton (22% in 137 IP), as well as Rich Hill (21% in 136 IP). Using the ERA as a guide brings Charlie Morton into the conversation. In fact, the WHIP kinda fits, too, and the K-BB is only a couple ticks off from this Sevvy hybrid. Morton had a 3.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 18% K-BB in 147 IP. On ESPN’s Player Rater, Paxton (17th), Hill (19th), and Morton (27th) were all top 30 SPs.
In today’s era of low innings counts, Castillo doesn’t have to reach even 150 to put up a top 30 season, but that would obviously put a larger burden on the performance. I’d personally prefer to give back some in the ERA/WHIP, but get 180+ innings and gobs of strikeouts. I don’t think even the most aggressive Castillo backers (hi, Nick!) think he’s a risk-free proposition. That’s not really the question.
Every single pitcher has a great deal of risk if we’re being honest about things. The question is whether the risk is worth the potential reward and is the probability of that reward high enough to justify the draft pick which is top 100 in this case, netting a 98 ADP: min pick 64, max pick 136. Considering the other high-risk arms around him – Aaron Nola, Shohei Ohtani, Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Berrios, Jake Arrieta, and David Price – it’s clear to me that Castillo is worth the risk.
The upside is too high to pass up and the non-injury downside certainly won’t be season-crippling. In fact, even the injury downside isn’t. Have you never had any success in a league where you lost a top 100 pick? I’m not saying draft him at all costs, especially if you’re targeting something else in that area, but if you did the research and you’re a believer, then be aggressive and pick your guy.