After a ho-hum small sample performance in 2012, Jason Castro enjoyed a big breakout in 2013, driven by a power outburst and inflated BABIP. With nothing in his performance history supporting the offensive surge as being real, it was an open question whether he could repeat. Personally, I was a believer, and actually drafted or bought him in each of my three leagues. But alas, he was a bust, ranking just 20th in catcher value. So what happened?
First, let’s discuss his power. Castro never showed much of it in the minors and his fly ball and home run distance was just 271 feet in 2012. That’s below the league average and it led to a HR/FB rate of 10%, which is around the league average. So unless he was able to push that distance higher, the power upside was nothing to get fantasy owners too excited about.
But he finished that 2012 season with a flurry, belting four homers in just 52 at-bats and posting a 30.8% HR/FB rate. Obviously, the sample size was tiny, but memories of Jose Bautista’s power surge actually beginning the previous September offered hope. Then Castro carried that performance into the following season’s spring training, as he posted a .456 ISO. It was another hook to hang your hat on for Castro optimists.
Castro then made good on that power promise during the 2013 season as his batted ball distance jumped 20 feet, fueling a HR/FB rate increase to 16.5%. Given the progression, it seemed like the power outburst was real. But it wasn’t. Rather than sustaining the surge, Castro’s power took a step back. His batted ball distance dropped 13 feet to right around the league average and his HR/FB rate regressed closed to his 2012 level. He also saw his doubles total fall as well. Given his history, this level may be closer to his true talent.
Aside from the power loss, Castro’s batting average plunged. After posting acceptable averages in both 2012 and 2013, he hit just .222, which was made harder to swallow when it didn’t come with a near-20 home run total. We can point to the BABIP decline as the explanation, but a .294 mark from a slow-footed catcher isn’t unreasonable. The real culprit was Castro’s increasing proneness to the strikeout. When he debuted, his SwStk% marks were better than league average. But perhaps in an attempt to tap into his power, those marks have jumped above 10% and have resulted in strikeout rates that have continued to climb. A 29.5% strikeout rate is only acceptable if you’re also posting an ISO above .200, not .144.
He also hit far fewer line drives, but did remain pretty adept at avoiding the pop-up. It also resulted in a batted ball distribution rather similar to the league average, with a better IFFB%. But given his lack of speed, I wouldn’t expect that much of a BABIP rebound next year. The key to his batting average will likely lie solely with his strikeout rate. His history offers hope that he’ll improve. In addition to the increasing strikeout rate, his walk rate curiously collapsed. It seems like he just lost his entire skill set at the plate.
While I will most likely be projecting a small rebound next season, it probably won’t be enough for him to stand out among the middle tier catching crowd. Catchers are such a tough bunch, you just never know if a down year is due to a hidden injury. At least he’ll come cheap enough that there won’t be much downside.
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.