‘Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell had pretty stellar 2018 seasons,’ said the deadpan author as he buried the lede.
Snell, of course, saw his brilliant 1.89 ERA across some 180.2 IP earn him the American League Cy Young Award, his 80% share of the voting total indicative of just how well the Tampa Bay Rays ace walloped his opponents all year. In a similar fashion, deGrom breezed to his first National League Cy Young Award with some 99% share of the voting, modern BBWAA voters finally able to look past a meager 10-9 record at more important statistics like a dominant 1.70 ERA, 218 ERA+, and 0.91 WHIP across 217 brilliant innings.
If you keep the company of those two in any statistical leaderboard of note, you’ve pitched your way into elite, ace-level company. You, in this instance, are none other than Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo, who has somewhat quietly begun to do just that.
Over the last calendar year, exactly 45 MLB pitchers have thrown at least 170 innings in the big leagues. Tops in ERA in that time are, predictably, deGrom and Snell, who sit 1-2 with their 2.37 ERA and 2.38 ERA, respectively. Third among them, though, is none other than Castillo, whose 2.73 mark sits directly ahead of such luminaries as Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Trevor Bauer, Zach Greinke, and Justin Verlander, among others. Last I checked, that’s more or less a who’s who of pitching greatness in the current state of the game.
Obviously, ERA is not the end-all, be-all of pitching statistics, given that it fails to serve as a blanket statement for precisely how good a pitcher’s defensive help was behind him. And yes, if you sort through the various categories on that FanGraphs leaderboard, you’ll find Castillo’s name down the rankings a bit in certain cases. He was shut down early last year, you’ll remember, so others posted more quantity innings-wise. He walks a few more batters than others do, and his HR/FB% sits much more inflated than many of his peers in this group, though none of them get the joy of pitching in GABP on a regular basis. That said, there are still several important aspects in which Castillo finds himself among the elite of the elite.
He’s allowed merely a 1.08 WHIP in that time, which ranks 8th in that group.
The .205 batting average against him in that span sits tied for 7th, with deGrom.
The 50.7% groundball rate ranks 3rd, something that carries great significance when considering the bandbox in which he plays his home games.
Obviously, Castillo has found his groove in that time, as he’s leaned almost exclusively on a fastball that averages 96.3 mph - 5th fastest among that group - with a devastating change-up that he throws some 29.2% of the time - 3rd most in that group. He’s not a pitcher who sits on the mound forcing hitters to do calculus prior to each pitch, wondering if there’s a screwball or breaking pitch or cutter or sinker coming his way; rather, Castillo’s ability to replicate his arm-angle and delivery to fire two pitches that look almost identical until the very end has become the most straightforward example of being unhittable without even having to complicate things.
It’s a 50/50 shot, and hitters still get it wrong almost every time. Of course, when you look at it like this, that makes a whole lot more sense.
Luis Castillo, 99mph Fastball (called strike) and 89mph Changeup (Swinging K/Bends the Knee), Individual Pitches/Overlay. pic.twitter.com/HXZZiFSCh8— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 11, 2019
Welcome to official Ace-hood, Luis.