This is going to start with some bad news. After Luis Castillo has been a fantasy MVP in many ways for giving your team a 3.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 6+ strikeouts per start, it’s expected that he will be shut down for the season after two more starts. Maybe three if we’re lucky. But before his season comes to an early end I wanted to take a moment to appreciate just how Castillo is dominating lineups, and I’ll use the context of Saturday’s 7.0 IP, 3 Hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks start against the Pirates. Let’s dissect five strikeouts from that outing that showcase just why I love Luis Castillo.
Andrew McCutchen – 1st Inning
To kick things off, here’s the most straight-forward at-bat of the five as Castillo methodically puts away Andrew McCutchen. He opens your at-bat with a picture perfect Fastball that couldn’t be placed better at a blistering 99mph:
We don’t often see starting pitchers who hint at triple digits (Castillo ranks second in the majors in average Fastball velocity at 97.5mph), and to see him not only with this velocity but also spotting the glove is alluring all on its own.
Now that he’s ahead 0-1, Castillo elects to show off his breaking ball and McCutchen takes the bait:
Well that was easy, just a perfect 0-0 Fastball on the corner and now a Slider at the bottom of the zone for a quick 0-2 count. I’d like to also emphasize the 13+ mph difference between those two pitches that makes this just so tough for McCutchen to make contact.
Now the world is Castillo’s oyster. He could flash heat upstairs, paint the inside corner, throw heat a little off the plate, turn back to the Slider and hope for a chase. It’s all there.
Castillo went with the chase Slider, but it bounced a little too soon and McCutchen didn’t offer at it. After missing down-and-away with a Slider for a 1-2 count, common thought would be for Castillo to turn to heat. The popular philosophy is to bust batters up-and-in with a Fastball after featuring two breaking balls away and McCutchen has to be thinking this, especially with the blistering 99mph he’s already seen during the at-bat.
So much for that. Even though Castillo missed his spot away, the tumbling action of the pitch from the l0w-and-away corner of the plate to beneath the strikezone completely fooled McCutchen and he’s heading back to the dugout. Because of the great execution of his pitches earlier in the at-bat and the overall deception of his Changeup, Castillo still earned the strikeout the strikeout despite not throwing it right. Just imagine what he can do when he executes all his pitches during an at-bat.
Jordy Mercer – 5th inning
Next we have Castillo facing Jordy Mercer in the fifth inning. After falling behind with a Slider that bent off the outside corner, Castillo made an adjustment and was able to sneak the pitch over the inside corner for a strike:
It’s not the greatest pitch, but the way Mercer flinches at this pitch depicts its bite and how Castillo didn’t need the perfect Slider to climb back into the count. In other words, it’s not the perfect strike, but he did enough to earn the strike.
Now 1-1 and following a slow pitch inside, Castillo heads to the other side of the plate with one of the filthiest 97mph Fastballs you’ll see:
Come on, that’s not fair. This pitch was a ball 90% of the way to the plate before getting just enough ride to clip the outside corner. At 97mph. The third pitch of the at-bat is often the most important, with 1-2 and 2-1 counts vastly different in terms of being on the attack and defensive. Castillo earned his pitcher’s count with this perfect execution.
Now with two strikes and Castillo aimed to go back inside to catch Mercer leaning over the plate:
I’m not going to glorify this. Save for the 1-1 pitch, this at-bat featured three pitches that Castillo didn’t command well. But it resulted in a strikeout of Mercer on four pitches without a swing. The other at-bats here might speak to how Castillo will overpower and debilitate batters, this one tells us that he will still succeed even when he’s not fully on his game.
Starling Marte – 6th Inning
We just saw Castillo “getting away with one” where he fanned a batter who didn’t lift the bat off his shoulders. Now we’re going to see him punchout a hitter on three pitches as Starling Marte gets his hacks in.
A great sign for Castillo in this outing was his ability to attack early with each pitch in his arsenal, especially his Slider. Even when it didn’t end as a strike, throwing it 0-0 got swings-and-misses like it did here against Marte despite falling into the dirt:
After seeing Marte act this aggressively on the first pitch, there’s no reason to throw a Fastball for a strike, right?
You might want to discredit Castillo here. “This is more about Marte taking poor swings than Castillo executing good pitches.” You might be right. It’s also important to note that Castillo threw the right pitches to present a scenario for Marte to get himself out. Not to mention, after throwing the first one in the dirt, Castillo managed to make this Changeup a bit more appealing, falling under the zone but above the plate. Now it’s 0-2 and Castillo once again can do anything to get Marte out. What better than a high Fastball in the upper 90s after throwing a pair of pitches low and under 90mph?
Watching this at-bat makes me think of one word: overmatched. Castillo missed his spot inside once again but the 99mph velocity looked like 110mph after the previous two pitches and it was easy work for Castillo. I’m actually happy he missed his location down-and-in as the change of eye level definitely helped throw Marte off in this swing. Castillo didn’t do it much in this one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more elevated upper 90s pitches in future outings. It’s not like Castillo needs new methods to get batters out, but there’s no question he can be effective doing so.
Josh Harrison – 6th inning
Okay, I know the other at-bats were great and everything, but you better sit down for this one.
We’re going to enter this at 2-0 after Castillo got behind with a Changeup to Josh Harrison missing just under the zone at 0-0 and slinging a heater off the outside corner. Behind in the count, Castillo earned himself a strike with a fantastic pitch:
As I mentioned in the Marte at-bat, this Slider is all about confidence. Castillo has thrown all of his pitches today in virtually every count, being able to throw them for strikes as 0-0 pitches, finish at-bats, and keep a batter on their toes when expecting heat in hitters’ counts. Another point to mention here is Castillo hitting the outside corner, proving he can attack it later in the count if he wants to.
After painting the outside corner with a Slider, Castillo nails the outside corner again with a Fastball, which started at the exact same point his Slider did. Harrison takes a hack, but it comes with a little hesitation as the previous pitch fell off the table after coming out of the tunnel at the same spot. Castillo is still hitting the edges and not giving into the middle of the plate either.
So now Castillo has climbed back into the count from 2-0 and is on the attack. With two straight pitches on the outside corner, a Changeup away and fading off the plate could work, but the plan here is solid: now that Harrison is looking away, let’s aim to bust him inside with heat:
First of all, Castillo is touching 100mph on his 86th pitch. Oh my. He obviously reared it back a little bit for this one and it peeled slightly over the plate for Harrison to get a piece of it and stay alive. Barnhart recognizes this and calls the same pitch again, which Castillo nails perfectly on the inside corner…and Harrison fouls it off stubbornly. Even without the desired result, those are two impressive pitches from Castillo and setups up Harrison’s demise…
That is some of the best pitching you will see. Two heaters at or around triple digits on the inside corner followed by a Changeup thrown in the same exact location over 10mph slower before fading off the plate to where Harrison can’t touch it. And this is after Castillo has already shown that he can command the outer half of the plate earlier in the count with both his Fastball and his Slider. If I could frame a GIF, this at-bat would be it.
Adam Frazier – 7th inning
We’re in the seventh inning with two outs now and there are a few signs of fatigue from Castillo as he’s just over 100 pitches. First he misses terribly with the opening Fastball to Adam Frazier as his arm lagged behind through the delivery:
Often times we see this and it leads to more poorly thrown pitches with the pitcher struggling to make the proper adjustment to get back on track. But this is Luis Castillo and he’s no ordinary 24-year-old rookie:
It’s possible this wasn’t a strike, but Castillo gets the call as the ball has a little tail back to the plate. Now at 1-1, Castillo is able to execute the pitch he’s been trying to make and gets ahead 1-2:
I absolutely adore this pitch. Normally it would result in a groundout and his day would be over and it’s great to see him hit it after wildly missing it just two pitches prior. If he can just hit it one more time…
Whoops. This was a terrible pitch. One of the worst he’s thrown all game. But it makes his next pitch much more satisfying:
After seeing multiple Fastballs inside, Frazier had no choice but to buckle as this Slider looked to be heading up-and-in, only to fall right along the inside corner for strike three. Simply gorgeous.
But why would I focus on an at-bat where Castillo made two terrible pitches? Pitchers are going to miss their spots all the time, it doesn’t matter who you are. The important trait to watch for is if they can climb back into counts and make the adjustments to still get batters out. Castillo threw two terrible pitches here, but recovered right away and ended up with a strikeout. That’s the sign of a mature pitcher and one who be able to battle when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
During this game we saw Luis Castillo strikeout batters by adjusting mid-at-bat and painting with his Fastball, saving a well placed Slider for a strikeout. We saw him get ahead with his Slider and Changeup before overpowering with his Fastball. We watched Castillo recover from a 2-0 count to fan a batter by commanding all three of his pitches on both sides of the plate. And we saw him methodically open with a painted Fastball before using both his Slider and Changeup to shut door.
Why do I love Luis Castillo? Because no matter how he attacks you, he will get you out.