By Nathan Desai
On June 27, the Houston Astros took on the second best team in the American League in the Detroit Tigers. The butt of many baseball jokes, the Astros, led by second baseman Jose Altuve, battled through nine innings, finding themselves deadlocked at 3-3 with the 2012 American League Pennant winners heading into extra innings. The tenth and eleventh innings saw 10 outs, but no runs.
That was until Astros catcher and Stanford alum Jason Castro ’13 stepped up to the plate. With the count at 2-1, Castro turned on a low fastball and pulled it over the right field wall for a walk-off solo home run. Castro’s home run gave the Astros their second consecutive victory and snapped the Tigers’ seven-game winning streak.
Despite making the American League All-Star team last season, Castro has gotten off to a shaky start this year. He had a solid .276 batting average in 2013, but has seen that figure drop to .219 thus far this season. However, he has still proven to be an above average catcher with his 1.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). This means that Castro’s contributions to the Astros this season is equivalent to one win more than the potential contributions of a replacement-level catcher.
Castro began the season batting cleanup for Houston, but has now been dropped to the sixth spot in the batting order due to his lack of production this year. One of his biggest difficulties this season has been hitting against right-handed pitchers, which is rather unusual for a left-handed batter. Generally speaking, when a left handed hitter faces a right handed pitcher, the batter will have an easier time pulling the ball, which, in turn, produces more power. This is because the movement of the ball towards the batter allows for optimal contact with the barrel of the bat. However, in Castro’s case this season, he has hit .196 against right-handed pitchers and .273 against left-handed pitchers. Castro’s decrease in production has been caused by a lack in power, as evidenced by his change in ISO (isolated power), which is calculated by subtracting one’s batting average from one’s slugging percentage (average number of bases per at bat).
Castro posted a .209 ISO in 2013, but that figure has dropped a whopping 68 points to a .141 ISO this year. However, Castro’s power has come in bursts, as demonstrated by the fact that four of his seven home runs this year came in the first month of the season. Perhaps the clutch walk-off against the Tigers will provide Castro with some momentum, and help him find his sweet stroke once again.
Another former Stanford player who has found success thus far in his baseball career is outfielder Stephen Piscotty ’13. Drafted in the first round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Saint Louis Cardinals, Piscotty has raced through the minor league system and is already playing Triple-A baseball for the Memphis Redbirds in the Pacific Coast League. Despite playing in progressively harder leagues, Piscotty has actually improved his batting average since last year.
Piscotty hit .292 for Single-A Palm Beach in 2013 before getting promoted to Double-A Springfield, where he hit .299. After another promotion at the beginning of this season to Triple-A Memphis, Piscotty has hit .306 with the Redbirds. Although Piscotty has seen a regression in his power numbers during his time in the minors, with his SLG (slugging percentage) and ISO dropping from .477 and .185 at Palm Beach to .434 and .147 at Memphis respectively, his OBP (on-base percentage) has gone from .348 to .366 over the same time period. Consistent production throughout the rest of this season could secure Piscotty a spot on the Cardinals’ 25-man roster in 2015. In short, if Piscotty continues his superb play in the Cardinals’ farm system, then the two-time First Team All Pac-12 selection could end up joining “The Show” in a shorter amount of time than most people would have imagined.
Contact Nathan Desai at thegreatnate97 ‘at’ gmail.com.