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Fire & Ice: Luis Castillo & Chris Sale

We have a whopping four days worth of games in the books here in the 2019 season. You know what that means…it’s time for premature victory laps and unwarranted panic! It’s amazing how every year we caution ourselves that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Yet this year, like any other, there are obscene overreactions already. Today we’ll look at the opposite and extreme performances put up by Luis Castillo and Chris Sale in their first starts of 2019.

Perhaps I’ll mix in my own brand of overreaction theatre here. After all, you can’t spell “funtasy” without “fun”, amiright?! Man, why didn’t the creators of fantasy call it funtasy instead? That’s way better for puns. Puntasy. In any case, here in this first Fire & Ice iteration of the season. I’m going to draw fewer conclusions than you will find later in the year. There are only so many data points to rely on after four days, and nothing Sabermetric is really worth looking at yet.

What do we look for then, early on, to make ourselves feel better (or worse)? On the hitting side: not much. Where they’re batting in the lineup, maybe. On the pitching side, however, there are a few things. We can look at velocity, pitch mix, and mechanics. Whether the velo and pitch mix is something that sticks is uncertain, but it’s something to take into account. So, while these starters are worth taking a second look at, don’t drastically alter your valuations just yet.

The regular season is upon us! Don’t worry, you can start a league 364 days a year at Fantrax.

Fire – Luis Castillo

Last season was a tale of two halves for Luis Castillo. He opened the season with his fastball velocity down two ticks, from 98 MPH to 96 MPH. His results followed suit as he crushed your fantasy team with a 5.49 ERA over 103.1 first-half innings. Slowly he regained some of that velocity, and by September he was back up to 97 MPH. His second half was much more like we had excepted, with a 2.44 ERA over 66.1 innings. His K-BB% also ticked back up from 13.7% to a much more dominant 21%.

Castillo went 5.2 innings in his 2019 debut, yielding just one run on two hits with three walks and eight K’s. He sat at 95.4 MPH on average with the fastball, topping out at 97.4. You’d like to see him pick up another tick, but this is just the first start so it isn’t too surprising that he’s down a bit. What is interesting here is that he fired off far more four-seam fastballs and essentially ditched his two-seamer. In 2018, Castillo’s two-seam earned a ghastly .377 wOBA (.382 xwOBA). His four-seam got blasted too, but by the numbers, it’s a better option than the two-seam.

Castillo also tossed a dozen sliders, which is a solid whiff-getter at 16.6%. Where he really butters his bread, however, is with the changeup.

He deployed the changeup at a 39.6% rate, up over 13% from a year ago. He tossed fewer fastballs and sliders to make room for the changeup, which should be a positive change if it sticks. On 35 changeups he got 12 swinging strikes, four called strikes, and eight fouls. That’s a 31% whiff rate! Between the scrapping of the two-seamer and the jump in changeups, Castillo could see a leap in strikeout rate and take a step forward in fantasy value.

Ice – Chris Sale

The numbers for Chris Sale overall from 2018 are nothing short of elite. Twenty-seven starts of a 2.11 ERA (1.98 FIP) with a 13.50 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9 is a league-winning line. However, Sale made it just 158 innings due to a late-season injury that he never fully recovered from. Upon his return in September and October, his fastball averaged 92-93 MPH, which was way down from the 97-98 MPH he was sitting at in July and August.

Sale was blown to smithereens in his 2019 debut against the Mariners. He gave up seven runs on six hits (three home runs) in just three innings of work, walking two and striking out four. The home runs he allowed were to Edwin Encarnacion (fair) and TWO to Tim Beckham (huh?). That definitely isn’t especially Sale-like, and neither is the 91.4 average fastball velocity. It’s full-blown panic in the streets!

Whether it was the game plan coming into the matchup or a result of the Mariners bats teeing off on the pitch, his fastball was used just 39.5% of the time. Simply using last years average, that would be a decrease of 10.7%. However, there were games even last year in which he recorded sub-40% fastball usage. It is also important to note that to open last season, Sale’s fastball was sitting 93-94 before ticking up to 97-98 later in the summer. However, he wasn’t coming off an injury prior to that which also limited his effectiveness in the playoffs.

The fastball failed to earn a whiff on 30 pitches against the M’s. Last season, his four-seamer earned 15% whiffs. So that is…concerning. With all that velocity hubbub, however, it’s reassuring that his offspeed stuff was still clicking. His changeup garnered 30% whiffs while his slider had 22.6%. If you are invested in Chris Sale, you can probably sell in most leagues at full price if you’re truly concerned. I will say that I’m concerned, and maybe if I drafted heavy on pitching and needed another bat I’d be open to a one-for-one swap at full price for Sale. In most cases though, you’re probably going to have to hold and cross your fingers that his fastball ramps back up.

Nathan Dokken is a member of the FSWA and has had his work featured in numerous books and magazines. He has also appeared on many podcasts and radio shows and hosts the Nasty Cast and Fantrax Dynasty Baseball podcasts. His written work can be found exclusively at Fantrax HQ, and his personal thoughts and opinions can be found on Twitter @NathanDokken.

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