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The Best Position Player in Chicago

It’s been a rough year for Chicago baseball fans. With disappointing seasons from the likes of Starlin Castro and Paul Konerko, plus the trades of Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, and Matt Garza, there have few bright spots on either side of town. In a few short weeks, Chicagoans will look back and realize that Welington Castillo might be the best player on either roster outside of All-Star victor Chris Sale.

Welington Castillo was languishing in Iowa until August of 2012, waiting for the Geovany Soto trade to finally get his chance. He hasn’t been an offensive superstar by any means. His .265 batting average is valuable largely because he’s developed into a patient hitter with an above-average .343 on-base percentage.  While he hasn’t shown it in the majors, his minor league numbers suggest that the 26-year-old has some power in the tank. But his bat isn’t what makes him valuable to the Cubs.

Castillo has excelled in every aspect of his defensive responsibilities this year. First of all, his ability to block pitches in the dirt is unmatched. In the eloquent words of Cubs’ skipper Dale Sveum, “There ain’t nobody better blocking the ball than he is.” The numbers back it up: Castillo has blocked 551 pitches in the dirt this year against just 28 wild pitches, a 95 percent block rate. By comparison, Indians’ catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana has allowed 42 wild pitches this year against only 255 catcher blocks (86 percent). To put it another way, Santana would have to block another 572 consecutive pitches in the dirt without allowing a single wild pitch to match Castillo’s block rate. While it’s not difficult to compare favorably to Santana defensively, BIS estimates that Castillo has saved the Cubs 10 runs on Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays (carried largely by his pitch blocking). Santana, on the other hand, has cost the Indians 7.

Additionally, there’s his control of opposing baserunners. With Castillo on the field, runners have successfully stolen 53 bases, been caught by the pitcher 5 times, and been caught by Castillo himself 19 times. Omitting pitcher caught stealing, that’s a 26 percent caught stealing rate compared to the league average of 23 percent. On top of that, Castillo has picked off four additional runners, which is more than any other catcher except Chris Iannetta. Baseball Info Solutions estimates that his control of the running game has saved the Cubs another five runs compared to an average catcher.

All in all, Defensive Runs Saved has Welington Castillo as 18 runs better than an average catcher this season, the best mark in MLB by a full eight runs. It remains to be seen if Castillo’s play will be recognized this offseason when the hardware is passed out. While Gold Glove voters have been notoriously slow to vote for newcomers, the Fielding Bible Awards panel may be quicker to give Castillo his due. As their rebuilding efforts continue, hopefully the Cubs’ management will similarly appreciate the value their backstop provides.

-Ben Jedlovec, Vice President–Product Development & Sales, Baseball Info Solutions

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