The future earning power of numerous Houston Astros hinges on their performance in 2016.
This rings especially true for Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro. Entering the final season of his contract before he enters the free agent market, Castro could set himself up for a big payday if he has a successful 2016 season. Unlike most positions, the odds are that he won’t have to be a great hitter to command a multi-year, double-figure AAV contract. After all, the catcher position entails so much more than hitting. And this couldn’t be truer after the recent focus surrounding pitch framing and receiving skills throughout baseball.
Regardless of his contract situation, Castro will likely be penciled in as the Astros primary catcher most games. And while he may never come close to replicating his 2013 All-Star season at the plate (129 wRC+, .361 wOBA), the Astros long-time backstop will need to perform at a high level in terms of defense and his management of pitchers on the mound. He actually projects to be a plus defender once again in 2016 (9.6 Def), courtesy of Fangraphs ZiPS projections. That isn’t far off from his 2015 total of 10.6 Def. Castro’s offense, however, will remain the primary concern in 2016 and in the future.
Of course, Castro’s pitch framing skills will have plenty to say of how well he performs in 2016. Don’t forget that he finished seventh in RAA with a 12.4 out of all eligible catchers last season. And while pitch framing is unfamiliar to the masses, it has undoubtedly become a valuable tool for catchers. This is where Castro may drive a good chunk of his value from in 2016, especially if his bat continues to struggle. Alas, even pitch framing can only carry you so far if a starting catcher is constantly hovering around a .280 OBP.
However, the ZiPS projections currently have Castro finishing with a better offensive showing in 2016 compared to last season’s metrics.
2016 Fangraphs ZiPS Projections:
.231/.303/.389, 12 HR, 45 RBI, .158 ISO, .302 BABIP, 89 wRC+, 1.9 WAR
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This projection is somewhat encouraging when taken into consideration his well-documented issues with the bat during the past two seasons. One area of interest that I would keep an eye on is Castro’s batted ball data this upcoming season. For example, his continued increase in batted ball pull percentage in the past two years, which has risen from 34% to 47.6%, is definitely intriguing. The same could be said of his hard hit percentage over the same period. Of course, there could be nothing here, but it is still something to ponder upon in the future.
Personally, I would like to think Castro has a bounce back year across the board. He is in the final year of his contract before he hits the open waters of free agency and that could be served as the right kind of motivation for a fantastic season. However, I am not expecting a repeat performance from 2013 when he secured a total 4.4 WAR. In fact, I am not a 100% sure he can still meet his 2014 production level of 84 wRC+ and .291 wOBA. But I would like to think improvement is in the cards.
Bill Brown thinks Castro will be the breakout player this season.
.249/.327/.405, 13 HR, 55 RBI, .170 ISO, .315 BABIP, 102 wRC+, 2.4 WAR
Based on my projection, I am slightly bullish on Castro this upcoming season. But he does handle plenty of responsibility on the defensive side of his position that could limit his potential with the bat once agin. Then there is the fact that he has 230 games of added mileage to his body since the early days of his career. This kind of workload adds up on a full-time catcher quickly. He could return to a form similar to his 2012-13 season at the plate, but that is probably too much to ask. However, the improvement of offensive metrics is a possibility that can’t be ignored completely.
But it is his contributions on the defensive side of the game that adds much value to the Astros. He handles the pitching staff remarkably well, and his ability to utilize pitch framing is a tool that the Astros treasure from their catchers nowadays. And if he can somehow revive even part of his offensive performance from a few years ago while continuing his defensive excellence, then the 2016 season may be a good one for Castro’s present value and future earning power.
**Statistics and projections provided by Fangraphs and StatCorner Catcher Report**