Fantasy Baseball: Can Welington Castillo Be a Top-10 Catcher?
It's been a bit of a wild ride for the Baltimore Orioles as they construct their roster at the catcher position heading into the 2017 season.
Welington Castillo inked a one-year deal with the Orioles (including an option for 2018) in mid-December, effectively ending Matt Wieters' tenure with the club since they'd be able to pair their free agent signing with Caleb Joseph, who is still under team control.
Presumably, Castillo will begin the season as the starter, and he'll get to mash at Oriole Park. But can he can take a step forward in fantasy baseball relevance and crack the top-10 catcher rankings?
Counting Stats Matter, Especially at Catcher
One of the challenges in assessing catchers in fantasy baseball is that there aren't many teams who have a predominant starter at the position that commands the lion's share of playing time.
Looking over the last two seasons, only 14 catchers have recorded 800 plate appearances or more, and Castillo is one of those 14. That consistency allows him to check in as a top-7 catcher in the counting categories of home runs and RBI when analyzing catcher performances over this period of time.
While Castillo takes a step back in the runs scored department, he hangs in nicely in homers and RBI. The commodity of playing time helps Castillo's value soar across the board, and his recent durability would indicate there's no reason to expect anything less this season. That production can be hard to find at catcher.
Analyzing Park Factor and Castillo's Power
Perhaps Castillo's greatest fantasy asset is his power -- in using the same time period from above, Castillo checks in fifth best in Isolated Power (ISO) at .185.
But what's interesting is that If we take a look at where he's played these last few seasons, including a topsy-turvy 2015 where he spent time with the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, and Arizona Diamondbacks, Castillo's home park factors have varied a bit. Let's review Baseball Prospectus park factor by handedness over those years.
Keep in mind that for park factor, a score of 100 is neutral to hitters or pitchers, and anything above would indicate a hitter-friendly environment.
Park factor certainly isn't a perfect statistic, but what it would show is that in 2015, where Castillo recorded a career high 19 homers, he took most of his plate appearances in a park that was not conducive to power. In 2016, however, Chase Field quickly bounced back to a strong power park, so 2015 may have been an outlier.
Camden Yards, his new home for at least this season, has been favorable to power over the last two years, giving him a great shot at continuing to produce.
Defensive Prowess Could Be an Issue
One limiting factor to Castillo could be his challenges behind the dish, which could eat into those counting stats.
One new statistic the folks over at Baseball Prospectus have created relative to catchers measures their framing runs, blocking runs, and throwing runs (named "FRAA_ADJ"). The basic idea is to try measuring how many runs a catcher saves (or costs) a team behind the plate. While it's relatively new, it does shed some light on concerns people have about Castillo's playing time.
Using 2016 data, among 104 qualified catchers, Castillo sticks out as not only one of the worst 10 backstops in the league, but also with a backup that's much better than him in this department.
Unfortunately for him, this isn't a one-year blip. He was 101st out of 105 qualified catchers in 2014, and followed that up with 101st-place finish in 2015, but this time out of 109 qualified catchers.
While he certainly ranks as the far superior offensive catcher to Joseph -- who posted a wRC+ of 64 over the last two seasons to Castillo's 95 -- his detriment to the team on the field could limit his playing time more than we'd like.
The new Orioles catcher has certainly has the capability of being an asset with the bat -- his ISO numbers prove he's been a valuable commodity and has the stats to back it up. Combined with his ability to log significant time behind the dish, you have a player that should be a solid contributor at a premium position for fantasy.
One major hurdle Castillo will face is that his backup is a defensive ace -- and Castillo probably couldn't be farther from that term. That limits his counting category upside, and it should be noted that while he has racked up 110 games or more over those last four seasons, he's also only logged a maximum of 113 games in a season so far in his career.
Our projections value Castillo just below that top-10 group at 14th -- if he can find a way to improve those defensive metrics and see a little more playing time, he may find a way to join the club.