Jason Castro has had an interesting history with the Astros. A former 1st round pick in 2008, Castro was once considered one of the Astros' (and baseball's) top prospects. His call-up excited and ignited Astros fans in a time of pessimism and despair. Hell, he even represented the Astros in the All-Star Game in 2013.
Now, he is kind of just another guy in the Astros organization. His name doesn't garner the irrational hatred of someone like Carlos Gomez, but it doesn't inspire much excitement or optimism either. Castro batted just .210 in 2016, and many have speculated that the catcher position could be in for a potential upgrade as Castro is set to become a free agent this off-season.
The Astros have recently been linked to trading for left-handed hitter Brian McCann, and while I'm not necessarily against that, I think Castro is a near as good and much less expensive option.
One of the main reasons I think Castro is an underrated option for the Astros is his ability to frame pitches while playing catcher.
The art of framing is one of the more underrated aspects of baseball. Framing is the ability to turn borderline pitches on the edge into called strikes, and is one of the many important jobs of a catcher.
While umps won't admit the influence that the catcher has on their calls, there is evidence that there are several techniques a catcher can implement to maximize the amount of calls that go his pitcher's way. As it turns out, Jason Castro is one of the best framing catchers in baseball.
According to StatCorner, Castro's ability to frame pitches saved the Astros 12.8 runs above the average catcher in 2016, as his framing ability gave the Astros pitchers 0.92 favorable calls per game.
This may seem like an over-exaggeration, but may actually be a more conservative estimate compared to other saber-metricians. Dan Turkenkopf came up with the idea that each favorable call a catcher is able to gain from framing saves his teams about 0.133 runs. According to this estimate, if Castro had caught every game while averaging 0.92 favorable calls he would have saved the Astros 19.82 runs on the season. This is a pretty high number.
For comparison, Brian McCann saved the Yankees saved the Yankees 5.2 runs over 2016, with .51 favorable calls per game. Even Evan Gattis was better, as he averaged .75 favorable calls per game in his limited time at catcher.
Castro even grades slightly better than McCann in throwing out baserunns, as he has a 26.12% career caught stealing rate while McCann's is 25.59%.
On top of that, Castro had a 0.4 dWAR while McCann had a -0.3 dWAR in 2016. So if Castro is clearly better defensively, just how big of an upgrade is McCann on offense?
To be fair, that may be a modest estimate. McCann posted a 1.03 wRC+ and .326 wOBA statline in 2016, compared to .88 wRC+ and .301 wOBA for Castro. McCann was clearly the better bat last season, but Gattis dwarfed them both with 1.19 wRC+, .345 wOBA, and 2.8 oWAR.
For Jason Castro's shortcomings, he still walks at a decent rate. Castro was walked on 12.9% of his at-bats last season, one of the highest rates on the team in 2016. The rest Castro's offensive production would likely increase if he were platooned more heavily with Gattis in 2017, as he hit .231/.331/.426, and 10 of his 11 homeruns against righties last season. He had a respectable wRC+ of 108 against righty pitchers, versus a horrendous 32 wRC+ vs lefties.
My point isn't to prove that Brian McCann isn't an upgrade over Castro at catcher, but rather to prove that Castro may not be as bad an option as it seems. McCann had a WAR that was just .2 better than Castro in 2016, meaning we will win an estimated .02 extra games in 2017 if McCann replaces Castro as an everyday starter. Is that worth the $49 million McCann is owed over the next three years?
If I were the Astros, I'd seriously considering resigning Castro to a more reasonable $6-10 million deal rather than trading prospects for the more expensive McCann, unless the Yankees eat a significant amount of the contract. I'd rather the Astros spend big elsewhere, as Castro and Gattis can continue to platoon at catcher depending on matchup or the Astros' starting pitcher's preference. Gattis is clearly better offensively than Brian McCann, and Jason Castro is clearly better defensively.
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