Sunday, May 29, 2005

Finding out true love isn't blind

Back in April, Vinny Castilla was red-hot---especially during those first, wonderful games at RFK Stadium---and he was regarded as . . . well, if not a national hero, then certainly a Nationals hero. Those with insight, erudition, and affinity for veggie dogs were even calling for moratoriums of Castilla-related criticism. Heck, it wasn't just those types; even I was caught up in the moment.

Well, at least there was good reason. In April, Castilla hit a marvelous .347/.395/.613.
And, even as this entry "goes to press," Castilla is sitting at a solid .284/.359/.457. If you had asked me . . . if you had asked anyone who blogs the Nats . . . if you had asked St. Barry if the Nats should take a .359 on-base percentage, then the answer would have been a resounding, "Yes, gladly." (If you had asked Frank Robinson, he might have responded, "What's that? I only know what my gut tells me." But I digress.)

Still, some signs of decay are quite present now (reflected in a .230/.330/.322 month of May), and for the first time, Vinny's receiving some biting criticism. From Mark Zuckerman's WashTimes gamer:

When you only give yourself one legitimate chance to score in a nine-inning game, you better make the most of that opportunity. You certainly better not
ground into an inning-ending double play on the first pitch you see. Which
explains why Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson was so livid after
veteran third baseman Vinny Castilla did just that in the sixth inning of a 3-1
loss to the St. Louis Cardinals last night at Busch Stadium. "Sometimes you
have to work the count," Robinson said, emphasizing each of the last three
words. "Just don't go up there and swing at the first pitch."

At least Robinson's consistent about selectivity. (See Endy Chavez for more.) Then again, patience has actually been one of Castilla's strengths so far this season; even his dismal May has been salvaged, to some extent at least, by a good walk rate.

During the offseason, I averred that, if Jim Bowden really wanted a veteran free agent third baseman, he should have signed Joe Randa instead. I predicated this analysis on two points:

1) All things equal, Randa and Castilla are of comparable quality; and,
2) Randa could have been (and was) had for a one-year contract rather than the two-year deal Castilla signed.

This second point operated on the assumption---no doubt unfounded---that the Nats would consider Brendan Harris for a regular position down the road. That assumption, if not foreclosed, still remains to be seen, of course.

The first point pretty much still holds, I think, Castilla's hot April notwithstanding. Randa is currently hitting .280/.361/.435. Absent Castilla's preternatural knack for doubles during the first month, their slugging figures would be almost precisely on par. (Of course, Randa also has the benefit of a good home hitter's park, while Castilla certainly doesn't.)

Furthermore, even if my assumption (hope?) concerning Harris was incorrect, I still blanche a bit at the length of Castilla's contract. It's not ridiculously long, of course, but I still fear a second season of a regular role for Castilla; by that time, he'll be turning 39, and I get the feeling that, if Castilla's late career will be marked by a Ponce de Leon season, I don't think next year will represent it. In addition, if the Nats try to flip Castilla to a contender for a prospect next season, they'll have to deal with RFK Stadium's offensive-dampening effects; Castilla's numbers will likely appear lower than they would have had he played in a neutral park.

At any rate, don't misunderstand: Castilla's certainly not a reason to go all irrational in white hatred. (And what am I, the author of the "Rueckel Report"---which has had "bad May" as a theme---criticizing a player's performance in May.) He's been good, on balance---and if you're into veteran leaders, Castilla probably has what you want.

Just don't let him hit during a bases loaded rally, I guess.

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