Harold Castro keeps defying metrics, keeps making winning plays for Tigers
Detroit — You watch Harold Castro play on a daily basis, whether it’s at shortstop or second base, whether it’s coming off the bench to deliver a clutch hit or saving the bullpen by pitching an occasional scoreless inning, all he seems to do is make positive plays and contribute.
And yet, if all you saw were his statistics, you’d wonder how he was still on the team.
“Watch and use your eyes,” manager AJ Hinch said before the Tigers played the Twins on Monday. “The game will tell you if he makes plays.”
He makes a boatload of plays.
He saved a run with a deft, barehanded grab and leaping throw to first to complete a double-play pivot on Sunday. He delivered the Tigers only run of the game with a clutch two-out, two-out single. He sent the game into extra innings in St. Louis with a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning last Wednesday. He delivered a pinch-hit, go-ahead run in the 10th inning against the Blue Jays at Comerica Park the week before that.
“Everybody wants a reason to believe and a reason not to believe,” Hinch said. “You’ve got to watch the game and trust the player. Harold does a nice job of contributing to wins. That is more important to me as a manager than what the numbers say.”
Ugh, those numbers. The numbers say he’s a minus-6 in defensive runs saved at shortstop. The numbers devalue his .270 batting average because he has a 5% walk rate, hits mostly singles (seven extra-base hits out of 65 hits) and has a 41% ground ball rate. His OPS-plus of 74 is 26 points below average.
And yet, he’s 11 for 32 with two outs and runners in scoring position. He’s hitting .362 with 17 RBIs in high-leverage at-bats (per Baseball Reference). He puts the bat on the ball, he moves runners, and more often than not he comes through in the clutch.
“He’s got a calm heartbeat,” Hinch said. “He knows what his strengths are. He’s just a really good hitter. I know with some of the numbers and how we evaluate hitters nowadays — you can knock him on a few things. But you can’t knock him on the fact that he’s a good hitter and he puts up good at-bats.”
It’s been three years now since Castro, 27, got an emergency call-up to Detroit in September 2018. He very quietly has carved out a useful niche, first for Ron Gardenhire and now Hinch, as a player who can answer just about any question that may arise for a manager on any given day. He has played every position on the diamond except catcher and played them well.
This is the first year, though, where Castro has let more of his fun side show on the field. He’s been more outgoing, more exuberant on the field. He and Jonathan Schoop are always carrying on the banter and hijinks when they are playing together on the right side of the infield. He gave Schoop a big hug in the dugout Sunday after he scooped his throw out of the dirt on the double-play.
It just seems like Castro is playing free and easy, and having more fun, than he ever has.
“Yeah, I am trying to have fun in the field,” he said before the game Monday. “I just try to make the routine plays that I have to make and I feel very comfortable. I am enjoying the game in a better way, just having fun playing with my teammates.”
The confidence Hinch has shown in him has fueled the change in demeanor. But more than that, it’s the comfort that comes with having parts of four seasons under his belt.
“I have a couple of years in now, so I know how this works,” he said. “Maybe the two years before I was playing with a little bit of pressure. Right now I feel more free, just having fun between those two lines. That’s the key for all the plays I’ve been making.”
When Castro delivered the game-winning pinch-hit against the Blue Jays, he talked about validating the trust Hinch had put in him. Being dependable, more than anything, that is the foundation upon which Castro has built his career.
“They put you in those positions because they trust you,” he said. “I’m not saying they don’t trust the other players, I am not saying that. But that trust helps your confidence. It’s like, he trusts me so I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to put my mind strong and do my job.”
And the secondary statistics and projective metrics be damned.
“I just try to do my job,” Castro said. “They say I don’t hit extra-base hits, but I know a single helped my team score runs. That’s what I focus on, just helping my team. If I hit a ground ball to second base with runners at second and third and less than two outs, I know we score a run and move the other guy up 90 feet. That helps my team.
“If I hit a double or a home run, I’m happy with that, too. I want to hit extra-base hits, but I know if I can keep putting the bat on the ball and moving runners and getting hits, then I’m doing my job.”
Castro has played himself into the fabric of this team going forward. It’s not just his selfless production and versatility on the field, but he also gives the club some roster flexibility. He isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2023 and he has two minor-league options left.
Not that he will allow himself to feel any sense of security.
“No, there’s never that kind of security for me,” Castro said with a smile. “Every year is different and every year you’ve got to come strong and do your job. This is my point: You can never feel like you have security. You just keep working hard and they will make the decisions.”
Around the horn
The Tigers recalled lefty Miguel Del Pozo from Triple-A Toledo on Monday. It’s the third time he’s been summoned, though he’s only pitched in one game in the big leagues this season. He’s pitched extremely well all season for the Mud Hens (2.63 ERA and sub-1.0 WHIP).
… Right-hander Jason Foley was sent down. “We need fresh arms,” Hinch said, explaining the move. “With the piggyback starts, the way we’ve set up our bullpen and the way we are going to protect our (starting) pitchers, you are going to see fresh arms and different guys — on the roster or off the roster — coming up and down when needed.”
… Hinch said he didn’t expect catcher Jake Rogers (forearm strain) to return to the active roster this season. His recovery and rehab process has been slow. There is a chance, Hinch said, that Rogers could play winter ball this offseason to get ready for spring training.
… Utility man Niko Goodrum and starting pitcher Wily Peralta are both expected to be activated on Wednesday when the roster expands to 28.
On deck: Athletics
► Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit
► First pitch: Tuesday-Wednesday — 7:10 p.m.; Thursday — 1:10 p.m.
► TV/radio: All three games on BSD/97.1 FM
► Probables: Tuesday — LHP Cole Irvin (9-12, 3.68) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (8-11, 4.01); Wednesday — RHP James Kaprielian (7-4, 3.65) vs. RHP Wily Peralta (3-3, 3.63); Thursday — LHP Sean Manaea (8-9, 3.97) vs. RHP Matt Manning (3-5, 5.46).
► Irvin, Athletics: He shut out a very different Tigers team over six innings back in April and he’s been steady-not-spectacular over his last five (12 earned runs in 27.1 innings). But he has a combustible mix of low strikeouts (16%, bottom five percentile) and high walks (5.1 per nine, top nine percentile).
► Skubal, Tigers: He needs two strikeouts to equal Spencer Turnbull’s club rookie strikeout record of 146. He’s been dominant this month. In four August starts, he’s allowed four runs in 22.2 innings with 27 strikeouts and just three walks. Opponents are hitting .221 and slugging .349 off him in this stretch.