Who will the San Diego Padres use as their closer in 2019?
I finally had the opportunity to catch a Cleveland Indians game this past weekend and had the chance to watch former San Diego Padres closer Brad Hand shut the door on the Los Angeles Angels, securing a win for his new team. It was a little weird to see him in that Cleveland uniform, however, the Indians will be a team I follow closely in the playoffs, because of Hand and Adam Cimber.
This began a new thought about the future of the closer’s role in San Diego. Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen have been highly effective while working the 8th and 9th innings of games, since the departure of Hand. However, will either of them remain with the team past 2019?
The first guy out of the bullpen that should be given a chance at the closing role is Jose Castillo. The 6’5″ and 246-pound LHP out of Venezuela was originally acquired in the well-known Wil Myers trade. San Diego received Myers, Castillo, catcher Ryan Hanigan, and RHP Gerardo Reyes. In return, the Padres shipped off catcher Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith, and 1B Jake Bauers.
Early on in his minor league career, Castillo worked as a starting pitcher, pitching to a 3.74 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and a 51/32 K/BB ratio in his first year in the Padres system.
Before 2016, Castillo was moved to the bullpen. The most notable difference was the increase in his strikeout rate. Between Tri-City, Fort Wayne, and Lake Elsinore, he struck out 49 in 40 innings, posting a 2.03 ERA. He walked just 12 hitters.
His performance in El Paso was the most dominant of any of his stops in the minor leagues. In just 11.1 innings, Castillo gave up one earned run on six hits, allowing two walks and striking 13. That comes out to a 0.79 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, and a .150 average against.
Promotion to the San Diego Padres and a lethal slider.
After Jose Castillo‘s first four innings with the big league ballclub, Patrick Brennan of Beyond The Box Score took notice of some historic numbers. Castillo struck out 9 of the first 14 batters he faced, refusing to allow a single walk. His research showed that it was one of the most dominant starts by a reliever in major league history.
That very small sample size is a bit bigger now and showing even more positive results. He’s given up 12 hits and six walks across 18 innings, striking out 23 of the batters he has faced (32%). His WHIP sits at 1.00, while his ERA and FIP are a respectable 3.00 and 2.83, respectively.
Castillo uses his slider often, nearly 56% of the time, according to Baseball Savant’s data. Paired with a 95 mph fastball, Castillo has seen tremendous success with his slider.
Just how good is the slider? Opponents are hitting a measly .116 against the pitch, the 20th best mark in the majors (among all pitchers with a minimum of 25 batted balls off a slider). Castillo is limiting opponents to a .161 wOBA with the slider and producing a 39% whiff rate. Both are among the league leaders. Let’s compare those numbers to former Padre, Brad Hand. Batters are hitting .160 against Hand’s slider, the 67th best mark.
When hitters do make contact against Castillo’s slider, it isn’t hard. The average exit velocity is at 81 mph, as of Tuesday morning. That’s the 11th lowest exit velocity in the majors.
Go back a few days and take a look at his outing on August 4th against the Chicago Cubs. After uncharacteristically giving up singles to Jason Heyward and Javier Baez (both off decently placed sliders), Castillo hit David Bote with a 95 mph fastball to load the bases.
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Albert Almora popped out for out number one on an 85 mph slider, slightly elevated and on the inner-third of the plate. This after Almora saw a 95 mph fastball on the inside corner, at about the same height.
Next came a strikeout of Wilson Contreras on a 96 mph fastball, after working him high the entire at-bat, minus one swinging strike on a slider at the knees.
Lastly, Victor Caratini left the bases loaded with a weak groundout after seeing a 97 mph fastball up and out of the zone, followed by an 83 mph slider, hitting the bottom, outside corner of the plate. Castillo didn’t appear phased at any point during the inning.
With so many arms in the minor leagues set to earn a chance between now and Opening Day 2019 and the unknown of who the Padres will sign in the offseason, who knows what the bullpen roster will look like next season. One thing is for sure, Jose Castillo is earning himself a shot at holding down the position.