The addition of Jason Castro should help the Los Angeles Angels improve in two key areas: catching and pitching.
When Billy Eppler inked Jason Castro to a one-year, $6.85 million contract this past winter, he simultaneously improved two areas of weakness for the Los Angeles Angels. After a breakout season at the plate, Castro will surely be an upgrade over the catchers the Halos rotated into the lineup last season. And perhaps even more important, his pitch-framing ability should help a pitching staff that, while improved, can still use every extra strike they can get.
Last season, the Angels had five catchers who played at least 20 games for them; their combined fWAR (FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement) put the Angels catching position in the bottom five of baseball. Castro’s 1.6 fWAR for the Twins in 2019 is more than two wins better than the total value produced behind the plate in Anaheim.
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The Angels don’t need Castro to rake the ball with the bat, but if he can keep his strikeouts down and prove his increased power wasn’t a fluke last season (he hit 13 home runs and slugged nearly 50 points higher than his career average), he will contribute more than enough behind the plate to become a solid upgrade for the Angels in 2020.
What is pitch framing?
A lot of responsibility falls on the catcher, which is why you often see catchers turn into big league managers. They have a lot to manage during the game in deciding pitch types, pitch sequences, and pitch location. Of course, with teams like the Astros trying to steal signs, the catcher also has to be careful not to tip the upcoming pitch.
On top of all that, catchers play a significant role in the number of strikes called by the umpire. This is called pitch framing. An effective catcher can pull a pitch a few inches outside of the strike zone back over the edge of the plate to get a favorable call.
Jason Castro ranked in the 63rd percentile among pitch framers last season, and that was technically an off year for him. In 2015 and 2016, he was one of the very best in the business at earning extra strikes for his pitchers.
As the Angels try to build a respectable pitching staff this season, Castro’s work behind the plate will be key to their success.
Will Castro play everyday?
Depending on the re-emergence of Max Stassi, who was acquired last season at the deadline before struggling at the plate and then suffering a hip injury, Castro will likely see the majority of time as the main backstop, especially against right-handed pitchers. Until Stassi proves healthy and productive, I wouldn’t count on him playing any kind of platoon role (he bats lefty), which doesn’t make much sense to do at the catching position anyway.
That said, Stassi is out of options, meaning the Angels would need to put him on waivers before sending him down to the minors, and he comes a lot cheaper than Castro, having signed a one-year, $800,000 contract in the offseason. If Castro struggles, Stassi, three years younger, will get a chance to prove he is a cost-effective alternative for the future.