Jason Castro Powers Way to Breakout

Is it just me, or do you think of the former American Idol contestant when you hear the name Jason Castro as well? Now that the cat is out of the bag and I have admitted to previously watching the popular singing competition, let’s talk about the Astros catcher.

Castro was drafted 10th overall in the 2008 draft and was soon considered to be one of the Astros’ top prospects. Unfortunately, save for 243 plate appearances at High-A in 2009, he didn’t show much offense in the minor leagues. That lack of offense continued in the Majors after his promotion to the big club in 2010. Then in 2011, he tore the ACL in his knee and missed nearly the entire season.

In 2012, he split time with Chris Snyder behind the plate. Through August, Castro was doing what he normally did, taking walks, making contact at a respectable clip and showing little power. But then in September, suddenly Castro became a home run machine, swatting 4 long balls in just 52 at-bats with a 30.8% HR/FB rate. When Jose Bautista enjoyed his monstrous breakout season in 2010, everyone was rushing to look for any signs that hinted at the outburst. Many noted Bautista’s power surge actually began in September of the previous season, as he hit 10 homers with a 25.6% HR/FB rate that month after hitting just 3 in double the at-bats before September.

Of course, we’re dealing with a tiny sample size here, especially in the case of Castro who had just 52 at-bats. But Bautista then carried over that September power surge into spring training of the following season, hitting five homers and posting a .456 ISO. And that’s exactly what Castro did as well, hitting six homers and posting a similar .465 ISO. Sure enough, both of their big Septembers and powerful spring training performances were precursors to a power breakout.

While I haven’t been able to dig up any explanation related to a change in Castro’s swing, approach at the plate, etc. that would lead to the increased power, his batted ball distance did jump a whopping 20 feet, from just 271 feet in 2012 to 291 feet this year. He also sported a healthy doubles rate which allowed him to post an ISO above .200 for the second highest mark among all catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.

That distance suggests that his 16.5% HR/FB rate is for real and there may be even further home run upside. That upside could come from a rebound in his strikeout rate. He easily posted the worst mark of his career this season and it was supported by a significant increase in SwStk%. When coupled with his power surge, you get the feeling that he did make a conscious decision to swing harder and tap into his power at the expense of his contact. That may very well be the case. We have seen this before and it’s a hitter’s duty to determine the optimal balance between contact and power.

However, he does own better contact skills, so the potential is there to perhaps hold onto the majority of his power gains while also cutting down on the strikeouts. Aside from that, he posted an excellent batted ball distribution. Although our knee-jerk reaction to a .351 BABIP from a catcher is to expect major regression, his xBABIP actually sat pretty close at .338. His batted ball distribution is not too different from Joey Votto’s, as he knocked line drives all over the field and avoided the dreaded pop-up.

Heading into next season, it appears that what Jason Castro did this year was mostly for real. Given his limited experience and blah history, it’s more likely that fantasy owners won’t treat him as a legit breakout. If that happens, he’ll be undervalued with a good shot to deliver another .270 season with at least 15 homers and respectable runs and RBI if he sticks in the middle of the Astros lineup.

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.

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10 years ago

I believe the idiom is “let the cat out of the bag”.