I’ll admit, I’ve wanted to write this post for awhile, and finally the day is here. Yesterday, the Mets parted ways with their 35 year old second baseman. Although there are plenty of non-baseball related reasons that he was released, including the fans disdain, the underlying reason is this: Castillo just isn’t that good anymore.
Luis broke in with the Florida Marlins back in 19976 and played sporadically from then through 1998. In his first full season in 1999 (128 games anyway), Castillo hit .302/.384/.366 with 50 stolen bases. For much of his career, Castillo would put up numbers similar to these: he’d get on base at a high rate, hit for little power and steal a lot of bases, leading the majors with 62 in 2000 and again with 48 in 2002. As time wore on, he also developed into a solid defensive second baseman, winning the Gold Glove from 2003-05 (defensive metrics were in their infancy then, but he did save 21 runs during that time period to go along with UZRs of 12.5, 6.9 and 10.5, respectively). In 2002, he put together a 35 game hitting streak, and from 2003-05, posted WARs of 5.0, 4.6 and 3.5, respectively, to go along with wRC+ that were always above 100 (the average). He might not have been a stud, but he was certainly a valuable member of the Marlins and the man was going to get on base. During his time with Florida, Castillo’s average OBP was .370 (in 2002 it was .418).
In 2006, Castillo found himself traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he lasted a year and a half before being acquired by the Mets close to the trading deadline in ’07 for minor league pitcher Dustin Martin and catcher Drew Butera. The Amazins needed a new everyday second baseman with Jose Valentin out for the remainder of the season. Castillo impressed, batting .296/.371/.372 with ten steals in 231 plate appearances. In fact, Castillo was so impressive that then General Manger Omar Minaya offered him a four year, $25 million contract.
2008 was a disappointing year for Castillo. Battling injuries for much of the season, his OBP was just .355-his lowest since 1998. Furthermore, he hurt the team with his defense to the tune of 13 runs below average, 11 of which resulted from the plus/minus system (basically his range). 2009 was a bounce back year offensively, where Castillo hit .302/.387.346 with 20 steals and a WAR of 1.6, but his defense was once again atrocious, costing the Mets 11 runs (if I may digress for a moment, while he did drop that popup against the Yankees also in 2009, he handled the situation like a true professional, and for that I will respect you, Luis). In 2010, Castillo again battled injuries, playing in only 86 games and hitting just .235/.337.267, with a wRC+ of 74, the second lowest total since 1998. His defense actually improved (he saved one run for the club), but it wasn’t enough to save his job.
Castillo has never been one to hit for power, and that is OK-not everyone needs to be a slugger. However, if you’re not going to hit homers (or even doubles), you need to get on base. For awhile, that was Castillo’s M.O., but when he arrived in New York things started to change, which culminated in a horrific 2010 season offensively. Known for having a good eye at the plate, the percentage of pitches Castillo swung at there were outside the strike zone last season was 17.3, well above his 12.5% career average. He actually made contact with these pitches 92.5% of the time, but you can bet that not too many hits resulted from swinging at bad pitches. Furthermore, Castillo swung at 49.4% of pitches inside the strike zone, well below his 54.8% career average. These two factors were likely one cause of his batting average, and therefore his OBP, plummeting last season.
With Castillo’s release, the situation as second base for the Mets becomes a little less murky. As for Castillo, there are a few interested clubs, including the Philadelphia Phillies, who would use him as a temporary replacement for the ailing Chase Utley. He will probably latch on with another team and maybe even have a success season if he can return to his old ways. For the Mets, however, releasing Castillo and eating the remainder of his contract was the right move, and now the club can move on with one less distraction.