Let me get ahead of this right now: I’m not talking about Spring Training here. I fully understand Luis Castillo’s M.O. when it comes to preparing for a baseball season: he uses Spring Training as a ramp-up to the regular season. So, he’s just getting his work in. Building up his arm. Getting his body in shape. It’s fine. I’m not going to bother myself with that. His fastball speed is down, his results are poor, I don’t care. These games are 100% meaningless.
But, I would like to take a look back at his prior regular seasons, and see what we can glean. Castillo is notorious for slow starts. One would hope the Mariners know the secret sauce to getting ready on time – we did, after all, employ King Felix for many years, who seemed to employ a similar strategy in his own preparation – so we’ll see if it works out this year, or if it takes until 2024 to lock in.
As sort of a refresher course, Castillo was called up to the bigs in late June of 2017; he had what I would call a solid rookie campaign. Ups and downs, but a few really outstanding performances sprinkled in. He was in the Reds’ rotation from the jump in 2018 and stayed there the whole year. This was by far his least-successful season (really skewing the early-season numbers, as he had an ERA of damn near 8 through April), where he was either really good or really bad in alternating months.
I would say 2019 is where we start to see the Luis Castillo we know and love. It’s just too bad he was on such a terrible team.
Anyway, looking back through his entire Major League career, he has an ERA of 4.58 in March/April (18 starts) and 4.63 in May (22 starts). It drops down considerably in June and July, before a blip in August sees his ERA return to 4.17 (30 starts) before a hot September closes things out.
What’s interesting is if you look at it year-by-year. In 2019, his March/April numbers were phenomenal! He suffered through the dog days of August, though, and his September wasn’t a whole lot better. That has the makings of someone who was really on the ball to start, but withered down the stretch.
It’s hard to take anything seriously with the shortened 2020 season, but his July/August could double as his March/April in normal years. In this case, he had an ERA of about 4.12 before picking things up in September.
In 2021, it was a return to normal, and not in the way you’d like to see. His April and May were absolutely atrocious. Exactly 1 quality start out of 11. In a way, that’s sort of the nightmare scenario for us.
In another way, 2022 is sort of a nightmare as well, since he missed all of April with a shoulder injury. I guess that’s one way to avoid an April swoon. He did hit the ground running in May, and avoided the August doldrums after being traded to Seattle. But, there were a couple of spotty performances in September before he got it together and dominated in the playoffs.
So, what does this tell us? I don’t know if it really tells us anything, other than to be on guard.
Seeing his career trajectory, and getting to watch his filthy stuff, not to mention the way he performed in the biggest moments of a playoff season with the Mariners, it all leads me to believe this guy has Cy Young stuff. He really does look like the second coming of Felix Hernandez. I’d like to believe he has that kind of season in him, but to do that, you really can’t afford to take any months off.
The whole justification for the Mariners’ relative inactivity this past offseason was in large part due to the rationale that we would have a full season out of Luis Castillo (rather than two months and change). But, that’s predicated on Castillo in April 2023 looking like Castillo in October of 2022. If he comes out of the box looking like Ken Cloude, then what are we even doing here?
I have a vested interest outside of just being a Mariners fan. I’m planning to attend the Opening Day game, and I’d like him to look good with the Mariners prevailing. I also, not for nothing, am planning on going to Reno in just over a week, and I wouldn’t mind throwing some money down on Castillo winning the Cy Young Award. The odds were a lot more lucrative a month or two ago, but it’s still not a bad little flier to take, all things considered.
It’s not the end of the world if he looks mortal out of the gate. But, I don’t want to see us dig ourselves too big of a hole either. The Mariners are notorious slow starters, especially with the bats. We need quality pitching early on to get us through before things heat up and we get on a roll. Early season winning could make all the difference between being a middling wild card team and contending for the division title.