After making his Major League Baseball debut midway through 2017 and doing quite well, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo struggled in 2018, his first full season at the major league level. He went 10-12 with an ERA over four in 31 starts.
This year, however, the 26-year-old native of the Dominican Republic has looked absolutely lights out so far, sitting third in the MLB with an impressive 1.45 ERA through seven starts. He’s gone 3-1, striking out 50 hitters in just 43.1 innings while holding opposing lineups to a .177 average. Castillo hasn’t been up against easy lineups either. He’s pitched against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, two teams with power bats from top to bottom. That didn’t phase him though, as he gave up just three earned runs between those two starts.
Blessed with an electric fastball that averages in the mid-90s, it’s actually his changeup that has helped him have so much success in 2019 to this point. It’s always been a pitch that he has relied on heavily along with the heater, but this season, it’s looked better than ever and has been practically unhittable.
The changeup has been lethal
This year Castillo has upped his use of the changeup from just 26.4 percent last year to 30 percent this season. It doesn’t seem like a huge jump, but the pitch has been a lot more effective in 2019. He has used it a lot against lefties, because the pitch has outstanding depth and arm-side tail, moving away from lefties as they swing at it. Against right-handed hitters, thanks to the movement, he can throw it right under the hands and tie them up.[email protected] pitcher Luis Castillo has enjoyed a bounceback season in 2019, fueled by heavy use of a lethal changeup. @quinnallen23 has more.Click To Tweet
He throws his changeup in the 86-87 mph range, which is fairly hard, but the pitch drops completely out of the zone, making it very hard to hit. He throws it with great arm speed still, so it completely fools opposing hitters. 33 of his strikeouts this year have come via the changeup. The majority of these strikeouts have come swinging too, as the pitch has compiled a 52.5 whiff percentage. He’s been doing a great job of keeping the pitch down, so even if hitters do make contact, they’re grounding out. Opposing lineups are hitting just .107 against his best off-speed pitch.
Two-seamer effective against righties
Castillo has a very good fastball, but despite this, it still gets hit. Oppositions are hitting .320 against the heater this season, as he’s thrown it 35.2 percent of the time. His two-seamer, however, has been very effective this year. It has a ton of arm-side tail thanks to Castillo’s three quarters arm slot, zipping away from lefties or in on the hands of righties at an average of 96 miles per hour. Lineups are compiling just a dismal .200 average against this offering. He only throws it around 19 percent of the time, but considering its effectiveness, Castillo should use it more, especially against right-handed hitters. The pitch tends to run into the barrel of lefties. They have hit over .350 the last two seasons against his two-seamer because of it. Against right-handed hitters this year, they’re hitting just .071 against the pitch. Talk about a big difference.
Although he doesn’t use the slider very often, Castillo has held opposing lineups to a dismal .133 average against the pitch. It acts as his only breaking ball, and he tends to use the slider along with his two-seamer to set up his changeup, which is clearly his best pitch.
Luis Castillo still has a lot of outings left this season, but there is absolutely no doubt that his remarkable start has had a lot to do with his changeup. The usage rate and the ability to keep the pitch down has really helped the 26-year-old enjoy some success so far this year. It will be interesting to see if 2019 will be the breakout season for Castillo.