Rich Tandler's Nationals blog.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

WATG? Vinny Castilla

The next in a series introducing you to your Washington Nationals.

Vinny Castilla’s Vitals

37-year-old third baseman, 6-1, 185. Bats and throws right. Career BA .280, OBP .324, HR 303 in his fifteenth season, salary $3.2 million.. Has also played for Atlanta , Colorado, Houston, Tampa Bay

Quick Take:

A veteran third baseman who, while past his prime, is still a productive player who will have streaks of excellent play.

Castilla Q&A

Did the Nationals get a good deal in signing Castilla?

Last year, at a salary of $2.1 million, ESPN.com called Castilla one of the five best free agent steals. Now, with a salary about $1 million higher, he could turn out to be a pretty good value for the Nats. Yes, his NL-leading 131 RBI’s in 2004 while playing for the Rockies were certainly ballpark-aided, but he still had 21 home runs and 51 RBI on the road last year. Washington would be very happy with similar production.

He’s been around for a while and seems to have bounced around some. What’s the story?

After enjoying some great seasons with the Rockies, hitting 40 or more home runs and batting in 113 or more runs each season from 1996-1998, Colorado traded him to Tampa Bay following the 1999 season. His production took a nosedive (one can think for a number of possible reasons for this, playing for the Devil Rays) and he hit just .221 with 14 walks and 41 strikeouts for the Devil Rays in 2000. He was released outright, with Tampa Bay still holding the bag for his $7.25 million contract, 24 games into 2001.

He finished up 2001 with Houston and then went to Atlanta, where he’d broken into the big leagues in 1991. After two years there, he returned to the site of his greatest glory in Denver. The Rockies showed no interest in resigning him, however, perhaps going with more of a youth movement.

What’s he like at the plate?

One would not be surprised to see his power numbers go down from 2004 (34 HR, .535 Slugging %) due to the change in ballparks and another year on the body. In fact his power numbers could decline precipitously this year and next. Of the players in baseball history who had similar career numbers through the age of 36, the only one who continued to have good pop in his bat from age 37 on was Andres Galarraga. The others, the likes of Fred Lynn, Ron Cey, and Joe Adcock, went down to homer totals of below 20 a year. Vinny might have more left in the tank than those three since conditioning has improved since they played, but expecting much over 20-25 homers is probably wishful thinking.

His patience at the plate, a bugaboo in the past, was a good news/bad news scenario last year. While a total of 51 walks is not very impressive, it’s as many has he had in the previous two seasons combined. On the other hand, his 113 strikeouts represented a career high.

I’m a little skeptical about the defensive abilities of a 37-year-old third baseman. Can he field the hot corner?

In the field, Castilla is a better than adequate third baseman. He committed just six errors in 2004 while putting up a range factor well above the league average (range factor is putouts plus assists; basically, this says that he gets to a lot of balls, so his low error total is not a result of his not getting his hands on many balls due to poor range).

So what’s the bottom line on this guy?

He’ll have the opportunity to develop as a leader on a team that is loaded with Latino players. As a semi-journeyman who is not unfamiliar with having to pull up roots and go and play in a new city, he could be very valuable in helping his teammates through such a transition. Even if he has decent production at the plate, it’s not hard to see him becoming a very popular player, the face of the Washington Nationals, for the next two seasons.

2005 Down and Up

Downside: .245 BA, 16 HR, 65 RBI
Upside: .275 BA, 29 HR, 100 RBI

To find Vinny Castilla’s career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/castivi02.shtml

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