Fancrush: Luis Castillo

I have a fancrush on Luis Castillo. It’s only grown through the season, despite the increased number of home runs he’s given up this year, 26 so far vs 13 all of last year. But that stat can be misleading, when the next line in the statcase shows that he’s already pitched 5 more games and over 30 more innings. There have also been a few recent difficult starts. Yet looking at other key stats, it becomes clear why Mariners management calls him the "Rock" and why his name is coming up in Cy Young debates: his WHIP is the lowest of his last 3 years at 1.04, nearly elite level, and July and August were truly elite, at .89 and .97 respectively. His SO rate is consistent with other years at 27.2%, and his BB has dropped to 6.4%, the lowest of all his years in baseball. Consistency shows up in so many of his stats, even a somewhat random one I found in this really cool baseball savant illustration of his pitch release:

Now that’s consistency. His pitching delivery is more than just consistent though; for me, it’s downright mesmerizing. The delivery presents a model of graceful movement and steady rhythm: to begin, he raises up his glove and enclosed hand and ball first, facing home plate. What is he focusing on? Cal’s catcher’s mitt? Some other more esoteric target? Then the dance begins: the left foot steps back as he pivots away from the mound at a 90 degree angle. His weight shifts forward to his right foot, the left leg lifts up, and the pitch explodes from a windup arcing slightly over his ear. The right leg kicks around, sometimes even turning his back to the plate and criss-crossing his other leg. His pitch tempo is rhythmical and quick, including the tempo between pitches that averages 12.9s when no runners are on base. That regular tempo and the smoothness and consistency of his delivery produce a picture of elegant, rhythmic grace.

Beyond that mesmerizing grace, there is (cringey moment here) his smile. It’s a smile that is quick and authentic and flashes in unusual moments.The first time I saw him smile at Cal approaching the mound during a troublesome at-bat, I thought it was the vaguely patronizing smile of a seasoned pro trying to set a relatively rookie catcher at ease. But I was mistaken; Luis’ smile is for everyone. He smiles at Cal, he smiles at Pete Woodworth, he smiles at the umpire checking his glove at after his frame. It’s a smile that breaks up the tense competitive moment and makes a connection. That emphasis on connection with his teammates is apparent too on the days he’s not pitching, where he is almost always present in the dugout. And yes, often smiling.

There were a few challenging games: in the last two months, there’s…let’s see…the Angels game on August 4th, where in 6 innings he was knocked around for 10 hits and 3 homers, with 7 earned runs. As Nick Vitalis’ recap said, "…he lived a lot in the heart of the plate, or missed too much to be effective." Despite this poor outing, we still won, 9-7. Then there’s a more recent one against the Mets, on Sept. 2nd, where in 5 innings he had 8 hits and 5 earned runs. Yet we won that one too. So while those games worried me at the time, putting them in the perspective of the 30 games he’s pitched so far, these are momentary blips.

I’ve had just a few players in my life that mesmerized me with their presence: Roberto Clemente comes to mind, my first girlhood fancrush oh so many years ago. Our own J.P. exudes a similar grace in fielding ground balls (but that’s another article). That grace goes beyond athleticism or fast twitch reaction or power. It is a grace I look forward to tonight, when Castillo takes the mound once more in a crucial game for the M’s.