You can count on one hand the number of players in the Detroit Tigers’ current lineup who are, or probably ever will be, better than average major league players at their position. In the Tigers’ seemingly never ending rebuild, that’s really what we’re looking for, isn’t it- players who might be part of a decent enough lineup to make the Tigers contenders?
Willi Castro exploded in 2020, leading the Tigers in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and wOBA with a slash line of .346/.381/.550, for an OPS of .931, a wOBA of .393. Those figure up to a wRC+ of 151, which is 51 percent above league average. The power numbers were particularly unexpected. He was second in the American league in each of those categories among shortstops with at least 100 plate appearances. Second, that is, behind one Jose Iglesias, and we’re too familiar with him to believe those numbers will last a full season.
Okay, so it was only 36 games and 140 plate appearances, and Castro posted a completely unsustainable batting average on balls in play of .448, which has to come down to earth. And, there are other little red flags flying if you look a bit deeper into the numbers, like a five percent BB rate against a K rate of 27.1 percent.
In Castro’s debut season in 2019, he logged 110 plate appearances in 30 games, slashing .230/ .284/ .340 for a wRC+ of just 63. That’s a far different picture than we saw in 2020, giving further reason for skepticism. So how much of Castro’s success is real, and how much was just a mirage? Therein lies the big question.
Castro got the chance to play shortstop when Niko Goodrum struggled below the mendoza line at the plate, even as he demonstrated that he was well able to handle the shortstop position defensively on a full time basis. There was that, plus the domino effect of a season ending injury to CJ Cron, resulting in Jeimer Candelario being moved to first base, and Isaac Paredes taking over at third. Suddenly, the seas had parted for Castro’s entry to the lineup as the Tigers’ starting shortstop, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
What about defense? Well, just as small samples justifiably call for skepticism about offensive numbers, you can multiply that concern exponentially for defensive metrics in just 36 games, or 212 innings of work. In that limited time, Castro’s defensive metrics rank near the bottom of the list, while Goodrum is up near the top. Four of Castro’s five errors were throwing miscues, which could be a sign that he just needs to settle in. All that we can conclude is that it’s too soon to draw conclusions about defense.
The Tigers acquired Castro from the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Leonys Martin, one of the few free agent players signed by General Manager Al Avila who showed better than expected production and was flipped for value. Other free agents have either flamed out, gotten injured, or have temporarily plugged a hole without providing any value to a long term rebuilding project.
Castro’s future could be anything from a starting shortstop to a second or third baseman or utility player. What the club decides to do with Isaac Paredes, Jeimer Candelario, and how deep they dive into the market for other major league players to man the infield will all be factors in his future.
In a season where the Tigers sorted through the list of prospects who might be able to stick in the major leagues, a question that was usually answered firmly in the negative, Willi Castro was one of few exceptions. A ray of light in the darkness. A possible bona fide major league ballplayer.