Some Kind of Headline About Not Being Stupid

Let’s just get this out of the way. I really like Luis Castillo. I like him for all the reasons Jeff Sullivan and Nick Pollack also really like Castillo (Sullivan’s post, Pollack’s post). I emphasize my ‘like’ of Castillo because the rest of this post is about his downside; all the various scenarios in which Castillo isn’t the shiny bauble we witnessed late last season.

The real world has repeatedly confirmed that humans are really shitty at thinking probabilistically. NBC’s Craig Calcaterra was discussing this very topic earlier today with regard to politics. Remember when Nate Silver predicted Hillary Clinton would win with something around a 75 percent likelihood? That meant a Trump victory had the same odds as flipping a coin heads up twice in a row. That happens a lot. In fact, it happens one quarter of the time. Silver wasn’t wrong – at least, we can’t know that he was wrong without a LOT more data. A Trump victory was well within the realm of possibility.

The Castillo painted by Sullivan, Pollack, and others may be here to stay. He existed for a time in 2017. Performing at a high level is a great indicator for future ability to perform at a high level. Still, we as an industry are getting a little crazy about 89.1 good innings. Here’s how it could all go wrong with my guestimated risks. Adjust those however you wish.

Injury – 35 percent

Every pitcher from Clayton Kershaw to the shambling corpse of James Shields has a similar injury risk. A few positive outliers might be closer to a 25 percent risk. Some oft-injured guys could be as high as a 75 percent risk. For young, hard throwers, the risk is probably slightly above the rest of the population. Do note, Castillo averages 97.5 mph as a starter. That puts some strain on important joints.

The injury scenario includes a wide range of fantasy outcomes. A serious injury – see Alex Reyes – could torpedo his season before it even begins. A less serious injury – see Kershaw – may simply mean fewer high quality innings. Many minor injuries lead to inconsistent performance – especially for pitchers who aren’t used to working without their best stuff.

What We “Know” Isn’t True – 15 percent

Based on his first taste of the majors, we think we know a few things about Castillo. For instance, he appears to be a hard throwing ground ball pitcher with a high whiff rate and plus command. What if his velocity declines a tic or two? What if he’s not actually a ground ball pitcher? After all, he did post a 39 percent ground ball rate in 94.1 Double-A innings. What if his command evaporates? What if hitters learn to anticipate his offerings – i.e. the scouting report catches up? What if he loses feel for an offspeed offering?

Yeah, that’s a list of clumsy hypotheticals. We could keep going. Individually, they’re all quite unlikely to be true. However, just as bundling a bunch of bad credit loans together can make a (usually) reliable financial asset, if you consider enough improbable negative scenarios at the same time, it starts to become increasingly probable that at least one of them happens.

Fluky Bad Luck – <5 percent

Over the course of a full season, consistently fluky bad luck isn’t all that common. But consider this. His home is Great American Ballpark – the place Scooter Gennett hit four home runs. Daniel Nava popped two there. The Reds will play nine at Miller Park. They’ll visit some other hitter parks. Over half his starts will be at a very homer friendly venue. Despite his high ground ball rate, Castillo was touched for 1.11 HR/9. Ground ball pitchers sometimes have “true” HR/FB rates around 15 percent. A little bad luck with sequencing of events could fuel some ERA pain.

For Castillo, his frequently used four seam fastball was his hittable offering. Perhaps he’ll reduce his heater usage in favor of more sinkers. Maybe that will work. Maybe it won’t.

Parting Thoughts

Gerrit Cole wasn’t good last year for no apparent reason. He feels like a good comp for Castillo. While it’s easy to dream on the upside – the 75th percentile and better – it’s equally important to remember the 0th to 50th percentile outcomes.

There’s a pretty good chance any given pitcher is going to flop in some way. For an unproven arm, that risk is slightly elevated. Castillo is as likely as anybody to become the next ace. Don’t be surprised if he busts. There’s around a 50/50 chance he’ll disappoint you. I don’t know if you were aware, but that’s the same as a coin flipping heads one time.

Castillo has an NFBC ADP of 105. That’s 26th among starting pitchers. You can pick Jose Berrios (110), Luke Weaver (110), Kyle Hendricks (117), Marcus Stroman (122), David Price (123), and Zack Godley! (134) after him. As much as a I love Castillo, I’m probably going with those slightly cheaper, (mostly) more established alternatives.

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“Shiny bauble” gets my vote for most valuable metaphor. Good stuff.