A FIP of 1.24, a K/9 of 12.7, and a shiny 303 ERA+. Those are stats that fill the columns for Luis Castillo and his 2019 season after yesterday’s stellar Opening Day performance, ones that kick the awful ones he’d posted in spring training to the the curb.
That’s one part a knock on the irregularities that skew things in Cactus League play - and perhaps why ‘he outplayed so and so in spring camp’ is such a tired way of looking at roster decisions - but it’s also an endorsement of what Castillo is capable of producing against the best, when it counts, on the big stage. That’s exactly what David Bell and the new-look Cincinnati Reds received yesterday, a new-look performance from their young pitcher despite him being one of the older faces on the roster this year.
The Enquirer’s Adam Baum caught up with Castillo, Bell, and catcher Tucker Barnhart to discuss a bit of yesterday’s performance, and it’s clear that there’s a pervasive hope among the Reds that this was all just the first ‘step’ of Castillo taking the next step towards being a legitimate staff ace. If that happens - and Castillo gets flanked by a bounce-back from Sonny Gray and continued veteran cromulence from Tanner Roark - the Reds might well have themselves a starting rotation they can lean on for the first time in a half-decade.
Jeff Zimmerman looked closer at all of yesterday’s starters over at RotoGraphs, detailing how their stuff matched up yesterday compared to their 2018 averages. It shows that Castillo’s fastball velocity averaged just about a half-mph slower yesterday than last year - that’s to be expected in game one when he’s still ramping things up - but what’s of more pertinent note is that he reduces his fastball use by over 10%. That wasn’t something exclusive to Castillo, as Zimmerman noted, which prompted him to wonder if a) that was also just an early-season anomaly or b) whether Opening Day starters - read: team aces - are trending towards using fewer fastballs and more breaking balls as a way of revamping their arsenals. Interesting, and we’ll certainly have an eye on that going forward.
In a note potentially related to that, Eno Sarris had a pretty interesting reaction to Castillo’s first start of 2019 - and how it might continue to get better:
For Luis Castillo, improvement depends on the slider. It was harder today than last year (good sign), got about the same amount of whiffs, and was a strike more than it was a ball (better than last year). Located the 4s today (9 CS), according to Statcast, threw one (!) 2S.— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) March 28, 2019
In other lightly-related Reds news, Sheryl Ring breaks down the breakdown in contract talks between the New York Mets and former Red Devin Mesoraco for FanGraphs, one that might well end up in Mesoraco’s eventual retirement. It’s a pretty sad tale on the surface, of course, what with Mes’s absurdly unfortunate injury history, but it’s also another feather in the cap of people who want to side with players over ownership on the topic of collective bargaining.
Speaking of collective bargaining, The Athletic’s Marc Carig fired out a doozy this morning, noting that there is actually a belt - as in, a wrestling-style belt - that is annually given to the team’s front office who does the best job of ‘winning’ their arbitration negotiations. In other words, since it’s impossible fundamentally in the arbitration system for a team to offer more than a player and there to still be an impasse that leads to a hearing, inherently it’s the teams that have offered less that end up in a hearing against their players looking for the lower of the two salaries for that given season. And MLB doles out a belt for the club that does the best job of keeping player salaries down, which is a pretty awful look when paired with the obvious player/management strife we’ve seen play out in free agency the last two winters.
Also from The Athletic comes old friend Grant Brisbee and his take on which team that finished last in 2018 has the best chance to make the playoffs in 2019, and we all know one team that sure as hell finished last in their division in 2018.
Finally, oh look, it’s the Reds ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the division.