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Monday, January 30, 2012

Casilla's On Fire

Alexi Casilla is quietly having a torrid off-season in the Dominican winter league, posting a line of 336/419/412 with his winter team Gigantes del Cibao. Casilla carried with him some of the cocky swag that Twins fans will hope can spur the kind of confidence that can finally lead the erratic 2B to duplicate his minor league career 296/370/371 line in the majors, joking, ‘I’m tired of getting hits bro’!

While Casilla was certainly not facing major league caliber pitching, a hot streak is a hot streak. Upon closer inspection the main difference in Casilla’s numbers between winter ball and a typically average 2011 campaign other than a slightly increased BB/9 is an increased aggressiveness at the plate. Casilla struck out 21 times in just 119 AB in the Dominican winter league, good for a SO% of around 18%, compared to an average of 12% over 6 Major league seasons. While this may seem a strange statistic to draw upon as a point of optimism Casilla has always had a seemed to have a defensive, almost furtive approach at the plate, with a major league L/SO (% SO looking) of 31% and a whopping 38% last season, compared with a Major league average of just 25%.

Casilla seems to have abandoned this overly careful approach this winter, with excellent results. Other metrics add weight to Casilla being a little over-defensive at the plate. In 2011 his S/Str (swinging strike %), AS/Str (swung at strikes %) and L/Str (strikes looking %) were all at least 6% lower than the major league average. That may not seem like much but when you see 1360 pitches in a season (as even an injury ridden Casilla did last season), that still amounts to about 80 less swings of the bat on pitches that were strikes than an average major league player. Casilla, last year, seemed like a player trying not to get himself out, rather than a player trying to get himself on base.

Can Casilla take his winter league form to the Majors in 2012?
So I hope Twins fans and Casilla himself gives this more aggressive and confident Alexi 2.0 a chance to show what he can do this season. I for one and going to go out on a limb and say he is going to have  a year similar to his 2008 campaign, where he put up a 281/333/374 line, perhaps with a slightly higher OBP and a slightly lower SLG. Casilla has nothing to lose as, with the exception of that 2008 season, all he has shown frustrated Twins fans since then is glimpses of his potential, which could now be fully realized with good health, a ballpark that suits his strengths and a little more confident aggression.

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