Rusney Castillo

Rebuilding the Red Sox: What Can We Do with Rusney Castillo?

Even if you stopped paying close attention to the Red Sox a couple of months ago — and who could blame you — you’ve surely noticed how well the outfield is playing. After a largely mediocre first half left and right field, the additions of Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo have turned things around in a big way. In fact, the recent surge from these guys, plus Mookie Betts, has been a huge reason Boston has been able to turn around their season and are flirting with a .500 record. Now that they’ve led the team on a two-month run of impressive proportions, the trio is already being pencilled in as the starting outfield for 2016. It makes sense given their recent performances, but is it really the right decision, or is it putting too much faith in small samples?

Well, to start it off, Betts is obviously in the outfield. Barring some wild trade that none of us see coming at this point, he’ll be leading off and playing somewhere in the outfield on Opening Day 2016. Bradley is also likely in. Even if you’re skeptical about his recent offensive surge — and you arguably should be — he can regress in a big way at the plate and still be a valuable overall player with his glove. He’s certainly a trade candidate, but if he’s in the organization next year, he’ll be starting. That brings us to Rusney Castillo, who has been good during this surge, but he certainly hasn’t been on the Bradley or Betts level. Are we putting too much faith in him right now?

People really want Castillo to succeed, and that makes sense. He was signed to a relatively large contract last year, and he hasn’t really been given much of a consistent chance to break the starting roster. He plays good defense, giving them a potential juggernaut of an outfield defense, and he has ridiculous hair that some may call good. He’s relatively easy to root for, is what I’m saying. Still, that shouldn’t be enough to automatically get pencilled in to an everyday role in 2016, should it?

As I said before, he hasn’t gone on nearly the kind of run that Bradley has over the last couple months, and he’s actually been quite bad September. For the entire season, Castillo has come to the plate 274 times and has put together a .266/.300/.378 line, good for a .223 TAv. Of course, that includes a stint from May and June in which he hit .230/.260/.284 in 77 plate appearances. However, even in his latest stint, which started in late-July, he’s hit .281/.316/.416. While that’s an admittedly solid line, it’s hardly an absurd performance, and you can’t ignore how small the sample is. In this case, we’re looking at 197 plate appearances of a .733 OPS, which doesn’t seem like enough to justify hitching your wagon to Castillo so early.

Although Castillo has never been one to walk, his plate discipline isn’t necessarily bad; he just swings early in counts on hittable pitches.

The next logical step is to see if there’s anything that points to him improving or regressing next year. The natural place to look for this is his plate discipline. Although Castillo has never been one to walk, his plate discipline isn’t necessarily bad; he just swings early in counts on hittable pitches. However, this year he’s been chasing pitches out of the zone at a high rate. While his swing rate ranks in the middle of the pack among batters that have seen at least 500 pitches this year (Castillo has seen 978), his O_Swing_Rt is 68th highest out of those 398 players. That’s one of the easiest tendencies for pitchers to exploit, and he’ll never truly thrive until he can fix that habit.

The other notable deficiency in Castillo’s game can be found in his splits. Specifically, he has struggled mightily against right-handed pitchers this year. Almost all of his production has come against southpaws, against whom he owns an .845 OPS. Meanwhile, his OPS sits at just .597 against righties. For context, that would be roughly the worst full-season OPS among qualified hitters in all of baseball.

With all of that being said, the Red Sox are left with three options on how to deal with Castillo next season.

  1. They can leave him in the starting role and hope for the best. While it wouldn’t be the way I’d go, there is an argument for it. He was given a large contract just over a year ago, so the talent is certainly there. As we’ve seen many times, sometimes players just turn it on one year. There’s just as much reason for his 2016 to be his breakout year as there is for anyone. However, there’s undeniably some uncertainty in his game, and it’s hard to trust him so much in an offense that already has some uncertainty in Pablo Sandoval, whoever they put at first base, and whatever combination ends up behind the plate. Having it in the outfield, too, may not be the best idea. 
  2. They can go all-out in free agency and bring in a Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. This would be relatively surprising, as the biggest need on the roster is atop the rotation, and conventional wisdom says the big money will be going to a pitcher, not a hitter. However, if Dave Dombrowski is able to trade for someone like Sonny Gray or Matt Harvey (which I’m admittedly skeptical of), the money will still be there. One of those outfielders could see their price drop enough to make the Red Sox interested. 
  3. Finally, we have the Goldilocks option, right in the middle of those two. Dombrowski could opt to simply pair Castillo with a solid, left-handed option. This would appear to be the best option if they can find the right fit. Luckily for the Red Sox, it appears there are plenty of options in free agency. Alejandro De Aza, Matt Joyce, David Murphy, David DeJesus and Gerrardo Parra are all strong fits and will hit the market this winter. If properly motivated, Dombrowski should be able to bring one of them in. It wouldn’t have to be a strict platoon, as that would give Castillo a role much smaller than the typical everyday player, but a split could easily be found.

There is a lot of work to be done this offseason, but one of the most interesting decisions will revolve around how the organization deals with the outfield. Will they try to ride the momentum of the last couple of months, or will they be scared off by small samples? It’s a legitimately difficult question, especially in regards to Castillo. In the end, the best option is to give him a role, but handcuff him with a solid left-handed bat that can be acquired cheaply in free agency.

Photo by Winslow Towson/USA Today Sports Images

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3 comments on “Rebuilding the Red Sox: What Can We Do with Rusney Castillo?”

Walt in Maryland

Despite being the oldest of the three outfielders, Castillo is the least polished. He has big righty-lefty splits, doesn’t walk enough and has an absurdly high ground-ball rate. He has tremendous tools, but doesn’t seem to know how to best use them.

He appears to be a nice platoon player with the athleticism to help the team in the field and on the bases. A faster Damon Buford, perhaps.

But he isn’t being paid like a platoon player, which is why the Sox may ultimately try to move him.


Yes, he is an enigma (where is the 70 speed we kept hearing about?), who clearly needs to clean some things up in his game. But he’s played very little in the three years prior to this one, is it reasonable to expect him to be fully polished his first full year back? Is it not possible that after all that inactivity, then playing a full six month season, that his September swoon is because, “he looks tired” as Lou Merloni keeps stating on the radio broadcasts?

Assume this year was a building block year. Stick him in the outfield next year and see what you have.

De Aza would be the ideal 4th outfielder, provide a partial platoon if Castillo’s splits don’t improve, and provide insurance if Castillo completely implodes.

We grew up with the same logo! I love that one too. I will never forget when they won the World Series in ’84. I was eight. We whaetcd the game on the little black-and-white in the kitchen and when we won, everyone in the neighborhood ran into their yards, cheering and hugging each other.

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