Carlos Silva's comeback hard to buy

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carlos silva cubs.jpgThe Cubs did need some help setting up for Carlos Marmol, but the biggest reason Carlos Zambrano is in the bullpen right now is Carlos Silva’s exceptional start. He’s followed a rather strong spring by going 2-0 with a 1.73 ERA through four outings. This from a pitcher who went 5-18 with a 6.81 ERA for the Mariners the last two years.
Silva, though, does have some history of success. Former Seattle GM Bill Bavasi was mad to give him a four-year, $48 million contract, but in his four previous years as a full-time starter, Silva was very good once (3.44 ERA in 2005), a little above average twice and only a bust in 2006, when he finished with a 5.94 ERA.
However, Silva was an oddity even then. To hear the descriptions, he was an extreme groundball pitcher. However, his groundball rate was never in Brandon Webb-Derek Lowe territory. He was merely above average when it came to keeping the ball out of the air. His strikeout rate was always among the lowest of any starter in the league, and he gave up a fair number of homers. The biggest thing he had going for him was his exceptional walk rate. In 2005, he gave up just seven unintentional walks in 27 starts. A strong outfield defense led by Torii Hunter also helped a bunch.
Because he relies so much on his defense, Silva has always lived on the edge. And the 2008 Mariners were a pretty poor defensive club. The 2009 version was far better, but Silva was hurt and never had a chance to take advantage.
That’s part of what makes this sudden turnaround so baffling. Seattle should have been the ideal setting for Silva to turn around his career. The Mariners currently have an exceptional defense with the game’s best center fielder in Franklin Gutierrez and three more standouts in Jack Wilson, Ichiro Suzuki and Casey Kotchman. Plus, Safeco Field is a pretty tough place for power hitters. The Cubs play in The Friendly Confines and have just one player who has ever sniffed a Gold Glove: first baseman Derrek Lee.
So, let’s look at the reasons Silva might be succeeding as a Cub:
1. He has his sinker producing grounders like never before
Nope. Not even close. In fact, Silva is getting grounders just 41 percent of the time this year, which would be the lowest rate of his career.
2. Well, if he’s not getting grounders with his fastball, maybe he’s throwing it by batters
Silva’s velocity has continued to drop, so that hardly seems to be the case. Silva averaged 92.1 mph with his sinker in his career year in 2005, but it’s declined steadily since. He’s sitting at 89.4 mph this year.
FanGraphs’ numbers also indicate that Silva’s sinker has been less effective at inducing outs than usual.
3. He learned a new pitch over the winter
It sure looks like Silva is throwing the same three pitches he always has. However, it’s possible he legitimately improved his changeup. FanGraphs data says the pitch has been remarkably effective for him so far, and he’s throwing it more than ever. In fact, his success with the changeup, if you believe the numbers, is far and away the biggest difference between this year’s Silva and the usual Silva.
4. Improved command
There’s probably some truth to that. Silva has walked just three in 26 innings to date, even though he’s throwing more offspeed pitches than usual. That’s impressive.
5. Luck
And probably a whole lot of it.
Silva typically gives up homers on 11 percent of his flyballs. This year, he’s allowed just one homer in 26 innings or on three percent of his flyballs.
Silva’s career batting average on balls in play against is .314. His career-best mark is .289 from 2005. This year, he’s at .215.
According to FanGraphs data, Silva’s changeup has been the second most valuable pitch in baseball thus far, behind only Doug Fister’s fastball.
So, yeah, I’d chalk a lot of it up to luck. Maybe Silva’s changeup will hold up better than Fister’s fastball, but it’s far from the best in baseball. If Silva can keep his walk rate down, then the possibility exists that he’ll be a solid fourth starter all year long. However, he’s a 4.50 ERA guy in disguise right now.

Orioles are eying Welington Castillo as their primary catcher target

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 25: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up prior to taking an at bat against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 25, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.

Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.

For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.

Report: Phillies agree to minor league deal with Daniel Nava

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 12:  Daniel Nava #12 of the Kansas City Royals bats during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.

Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.