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April 2, 2013
Painting the Black
The First 24 Hours
Like many fans with MLB.tv access, I spent the first 24 hours of the new season binging on baseball. That meant taking in the Rangers-Astros, Red Sox-Yankees, and Royals-White Sox games. Along the way I wrote down some observations about a few players.
A few years ago A.J. Hinch, now a member of the Padres front office, said that "one of the best compliments you can give a catcher is that he’s unnoticeable." Despite catching the wild Bud Norris, Castro was close to unnoticeable on Sunday night. He never appeared out of control or bothered by his battery mate's unpredictability. Instead Castro caught the ball softly throughout the game, and perhaps stole a few strike calls, like these:
Smooth and easy unlike Castro's counterpart A.J. Pierzynski, who seemed to stab at the ball a lot. Castro even overcame Norris' efforts to sabotage him on David Murphy's attempted steal in the second inning. Watch Castro's mitt on the play. He sets up away from the batter but the pitch, a fastball, forces him to move the mitt up and across the plate. After catching the ball the momentum takes Castro's mitt up around head level, yet he recovers and makes a clean transfer and a good, accurate throw to nail Murphy at the base. My amateur attempts had his pop time around 1.8 seconds.
Castro's future in Houston is unclear. The Astros have plenty of reasons to keep Castro, beginning with his potential as a solid all-around backstop and ending with the "Can't spell Castro without Astro" headlines sure to follow a long-term extension. At the same time Castro turns 26 during the season and will qualify for arbitration afterward. If Houston thinks it's three or four years away from contending then trading Castro at his peak value makes sense. Especially since Castro's stock could be on the way up this season if he hits like I think he can hit.
In the image on the left Moustakas is attempting to check his swing on a slider inside that he had no business thinking about swinging at. The image on the right shows Moustakas swinging through an elevated fastball. He's not close to contact, let alone good contact, in either image. If the Royals are going to make noise this season they'll need Moustakas to have better at-bats in key situations than the one he had against Thornton, in which he looked overmatched.
Flowers gave Shields a battle all day. The first at-bat lasted seven pitches, even after Flowers spotted Shields a first-pitch strike by failing to check his swing on a bad curveball. From there Flowers fought off a variety of fastballs and changeups before a front-door cutter caught him looking. In the second at-bat Flowers almost went around on another first-pitch curveball but held off just enough to move to 1-0. After fouling off a fastball, taking another curveball for a ball, then whiffing on a changeup, Flowers got the equivalent of a BP fastball: an 86-mph changeup up and in:
Doug Thorburn talks about balance and posture a lot when analyzing pitchers. Take a look at where Shields' head is pointed at release on the mistake pitch. If Shields did see the target all the way through his delivery then credit him with excellent peripheral vision. While we're at it go ahead and credit Flowers with a win via decision.