Should the Phillies Sign Luis Castillo?

The news that the Mets had released Luis Castillo this morning was hardly a shock, as it has been speculated on for months now – neither side was particularly happy with the marriage, and the Mets decided that having him around just wasn’t worth the drama. As the old saying goes, however, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Ruben Amaro should take the opportunity to bring Castillo to Philadelphia.

With Chase Utley showing minimal improvement and looking likely to begin the year on the disabled list, the Phillies have at least a temporary hole at second base. Wilson Valdez is slated to get first crack at the opening, but while Valdez might have posted better numbers than Castillo last year, they’re essentially two versions of the same player, but Castillo is likely the superior option of the two.

Both Castillo and Valdez pound the ball into the ground with regularity. Among players with at least 200 plate appearances last year, Castillo had the highest GB%, while Valdez came in fifth. For their careers, Castillo has hit 63 percent of his balls in play on the ground, while Valdez is at 60 percent. It’s nearly impossible to hit for power when you’re putting the ball on the ground this often, and not surprisingly, the two have combined for just 33 home runs in over 7,000 plate appearances.

Castillo understands that he’s not much of a hitter, however, and uses his stature to try to work his way on base. He walked in 13 percent of his at-bats (plate appearances) last year, mostly because he swung at only 32.6 percent of the pitches that were thrown his way. He takes pitches until he’s forced to swing, hoping the pitcher will miss the strike zone often enough to hand him first base. Valdez, on the other hand, likes to swing the bat. He swung at 52 percent of the pitches he saw last year, and not surprisingly, walked in only 5.8 percent of his at-bats. Castillo knows he’s not much of a hitter, but that realization hasn’t set in for Valdez yet, who still likes to try to hit his way on base.

Castillo’s 2010 numbers were dragged down by a .259 BABIP, which is absurdly low for a guy who hit the ball on the ground 70 percent of the time. While it’s easy to say that a guy with no power was just hitting into easy outs too often, his BABIPs since 2007 are .325, .267, .338, and .259. His career mark is .329, by the way. While he’s lost a good amount of his speed from earlier in his career, and shouldn’t be expected to post another .330 BABIP, .259 is simply too low to be repeated. That’s the kind of BABIP you expect from a lumbering fly ball hitter, not a guy who bunts with regularity.

Marcel projects Castillo’s BABIP to bounce back to .288, which is pretty reasonable given his current skillset. Combined with his walk rate, that gives him a 2011 projected line of .257/.345/.321. Not exactly a superstar, but a .340 on base percentage from your emergency second baseman isn’t the worst thing in the world. That projected .307 wOBA, by the way, is better than any single year mark Valdez has posted, and blows away his career .271 mark.

Castillo’s patience and ability to still make contact should be enough to let him rebound as something like a +1 win player. Right now, with Utley’s health up in the air, the Phillies could really use a +1 win second baseman. Valdez is miscast as anything other than a utility player, and bringing in Castillo would allow them to keep him in the reserve role that his skills are better suited for. Castillo isn’t a long term answer, of course, but he’s capable of holding down the second base job until they figure out what Utley’s time frame for return actually is.

While he wasn’t going to be useful to the Mets, Castillo can help the Phillies, and Amaro should be pretty happy that he’s now available for free.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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13 years ago

Yes – not much to lose.