Juan Castro Is Kind Of Amazing

  • Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:42 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Lots of major league baseball players possess the ability to amaze. You watch Mike Stanton launch a home run, Peter Bourjos chase down a fly ball or Roy Halladay carve up the strike zone, and it fills you with a sense of wonderment.

Juan Castro, in his own way, kind of amazes me, too. He does it by, well, his simple presence. That comes off sounding extremely impressive, but what I mean is that the current Dodgers backup infielder amazes by his very existence on a big league roster, a phenomenon that stretches back as early as 1995.

It is now 2011, and Juan Castro is 38 years old. He will turn 39 in June. His offensive production, accumulated over a rather astonishing 2,847 plate appearances (through May 25) is historically poor. And yet, when I tuned into the Dodgers-Giants game last Thursday, there he was playing second base and batting second for L.A.

Speaking to ESPN Los Angeles’ Tony Jackson during spring training, Castro said, "I have always said they'll have to take my jersey away from me,” to get him to retire.

Amazingly, nobody has.

Let me be clear right now. This is not a snark-infused post making fun of Juan Castro for being a terrible baseball player. This is a sincere post, figuratively gazing in awe at the career Juan Castro has managed to build despite tangibly contributing so little. Sure, at any given moment, many guys are hanging on at the fringes of MLB rosters who are better at baseball than 99.99 percent of the general population but worse at it than almost any of their peers. But often, if these guys do not improve quickly, they disappear.

When players manage to persevere for a long time in the big leagues, there tends to be an easily identifiable reason for it. For example, they are a left-handed relief specialist; they are a backup catcher; or they have one very useful tool such as power, speed or great defense.

If we were to shoehorn Juan Castro into one of those categories, it would be the latter. From Jackson’s article:

Although Castro carries a career batting average of .228 and an on-base percentage of .268, his selling points are enough versatility to play all four infield spots and a well-earned reputation for being a strong clubhouse presence -- as much of a veteran leader as a part-time player can be.

Starting with the "strong clubhouse presence," obviously I can’t speak to it, but I am sure Castro is a great guy to have around. That said, major league baseball is a meritocracy. I don't doubt that leadership is a desired quality, but it's not going to keep you in the big leagues on its own.

As for defensive value, Castro indeed has been versatile. He has played at least 250 games at shortstop (571), third base (264) and second base (251) and made very brief cameos at first base and in the outfield. On the other hand, Baseball Reference has Castro at 12 runs below average in his career as a shortstop, 11 below average as a third baseman and three above average as a second baseman, with a total for all positions of minus-21. (To be fair, FanGraphs likes him more as a fielder, grading him out at a total of three runs above average, although he’s been in the negative numbers every year since 2007).

While defensive metrics can be unreliable, it seems unlikely that Castro actually is a terrific fielder. And then there is his offense.

Yikes. A career line of .229/.268/.326, roughly three times as many strikeouts as walks, 36 home runs and five stolen bases in 14 attempts.

Using Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I searched for players with at least 2,500 career plate appearances, sorting by lowest OPS+. Since 1901, Castro is fifth, with a mark of 55 (where 100 is average). Of the four players ahead of him, two played before World War II and only one (Rafael Belliard) has played in the last 35 years.

If you search by wins above replacement (WAR), Castro’s minus-10.7 puts him third behind Bill Bergen and Doug Flynn. So over the years, playing for the Dodgers (four stints), Reds (two stints), Twins, Orioles and Phillies, Castro has cost his teams almost 11 wins. And yet he almost always has been on an MLB roster, playing just 72 minor league games since 2000.

Eight of those came with Triple-A Albuquerque at the beginning of this season. On May 13, the Dodgers purchased his contract. Last Friday, he entered a game against the White Sox, replacing an injured Juan Uribe. In the eighth inning, with the Dodgers down a run, he struck out with the bases loaded. Then in the 10th, with the game tied, he slapped the go-ahead RBI single to right field, spurring a 6-3 victory.

It was kind of amazing.

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