Alexi Casilla – A Twins Career in Retrospect

Alexi (Lora) Casilla was signed by the Anaheim Angels as an amateur free agent in 2003.  He played for the Angels’ Minor League affiliates for two seasons before being traded to the Twins in 2005 for left-handed reliever J.C. Romero.  Casilla started the 2006 season in High-A Fort Myers playing for the Miracle and by September had earned himself a Major League call-up and played in nine games to close out the year.  For the next six seasons Casilla was at least a part time player for the Minnesota Twins, though he never really became the reliable middle infielder that many expected him to become.  And then last week, after losing the starting second base job and struggling to live up to even the meager offensive standards he had set for himself following 2010 and 2011 (the first time in his career he put up two relatively similar offensive seasons back to back), the Twins waived Casilla and he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, ending his lackluster career in Minneapolis.

Alexi Casilla, Credit: Knuckleballs Blog

In parts of seven seasons in Minnesota Alexi Casilla hit .250/.305/334 (BA/OBP/SLG), and only in his initial nine games in 2006 did he record an above average offensive season by OPS+ (clearly, some small sample size bias).  All told, he was worth 57 runs LESS than an average hitter in Minnesota.  In terms of Runs Created, among Minnesota Twins players with at least 1500 plate appearances, Casilla ranks 71/76, ahead of only Hosken Powell, Scott Leius, Jim Holt, Al Newman and Jerry Terrell.

Defensively, where most Casilla Apologists would pin most of his value, Casilla falls short of average in almost every defensive statistic. He’s been worth -21 runs in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, -1 in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, and his fielding percentage (arguably a poor predictor of true defensive value) was just .976 compared to a league average of .985.  Again, against other Twins with 1500 plate appearances, Casilla compares poorly coming at 53/76 with -3 runs created from fielding.  Though he’s ahead of some other big name Twins, Joe Mauer (57th), Kirby Puckett (59th), Jason Kubel (68th), Harmon Killebrew (75th) and Michael Cuddyer (76th).  Unlike many of the Twins below him on the all time list, as noted above, Casilla’s bat did little to justify his continued presence on the Twins roster.

The only place where Casilla compares favorably to Twins of the past, is his ability to effectively steal bases.  Casilla’s 71 stolen bases are good enough for an 18th best in franchise history (though 71 is a fairly low total, as Ben Revere, with 700 fewer plate appearances, is already ahead of him with 74).  However, Casilla is the most efficient base stealer in Twins history (min 25 SB attempts), swiping bags in 88.75% of his attempts.  Why Casilla doesn’t have more stolen bases is probably the result of not getting on base frequently enough and playing for Ron Gardenhire, who doesn’t typically push runners to steal bases.*

Casilla leaves the Twins as a fairly successful Major Leaguer, if not a successful Twin, simply because he was able to collect so many plate appearances.  Not counting his September call-up in 2006, only 241 MLB players have more plate appearances since 2007, putting him in the top 10% of players since the start of 2007 (2,447 players had plate appearances between 2007 and 2012.).  And while that list contains players who may have since retired, Casilla still ranks in the top 15% for plate appearances by active players during the same time period.  Whether it was the Twins’ lack of viable middle infield options, or their continued belief in Casilla as a project, he has more plate appearances than all but 57 other Twins players putting him ahead of 92% of players to play for the Minnesota Twins.  He might not be missed, but he was certainly a big part of the ball club for a little more than six years.

*Only three Twins have more than 100 SB attempts since Gardenhire took over as skipper, Torii Hunter, Nick Punto and Denard Span.  And only Ben Revere has a chance to join that group in the next several years.  For a quick point of comparison, Tom Kelly had seven different players attempt at least 100 SB, and Chuck Knoblauch attempted 353 (2nd in team history to Rod Carew).  

-ERolfPleiss

6 thoughts on “Alexi Casilla – A Twins Career in Retrospect

  1. Okay, fine, so he’s far worse than the average Twins hitter (though it’s probably more fair to compare him to a group of 2nd basemen than to a group of Twins). But we don’t exactly have an average-hitting 2nd baseman waiting in the wings. My concern is that there won’t actually be anybody standing out there on Opening Day. I mean, Justin doesn’t exactly have the range to cover the whole right side of the infield.

    (Yes, yes, I am aware that some of you would be willing to argue that fielding only eight men would be better than Casilla at 2nd.)

  2. I’ve always been a fan of Lexi’s. While I freely admit that he hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunities the Twins have given him and that it makes sense at this point for the team to move on, I’ll miss him. He was just such a great kid here in Cedar Rapids when he played for the Kernels during his days with the Angels organization, that it’s impossible for me not to like him. I’m glad he got picked up by the Orioles and hope maybe he’ll have better luck in orange and black than he did with the Twins.

  3. My biggest frustration with Casilla was that he always showed us glimpses of true talent. I am not joking when I say that I think the only thing standing between him and the role of starting 2B is Ritalin. He has a lot of instinctive athleticism and the potential to be a GREAT fielder not to mention a lot of speed on the base path. But yeah, lack of consistency just always came back to bite him on the ass. I liked him but I won’t miss him.

  4. LT,
    I never thought to compare Casilla to other middle infielders (mental lapse) but even there he stacks up poorly. As far as comparing him to other Twins middle infielders, he still ranks just 16/17 in offensive runs created for players with 60% of their starts at SS or 2B and at least 1500 at bats, and 13/17 in defensive runs save within that same group.
    I don’t, however; disagree with you that the Twins do not have another middle infielder ready to step in at 2B, but Brian Dozier or Pedro Florimon could provide as much defensive value as Casilla at less than half of the price tag. And in the case of Brian Dozier, at least there is some hope that he’ll turn things around offensively. Like Babs, I think that Casilla was often on the verge of being a GREAT defender, but he was simply unable to string together consistent results, be that because of an inability to focus, lack of attention to detail, or just general indifference to baseball for stretches of individual games.
    I always liked Casilla, because of his foot speed and defensive potential, but after 6 years we pretty much know who he is, and unfortunately, he isn’t a guy that brings a lot of value to the team, and he doesn’t have the upside that Dozier does, and he’s more expensive than Pedro Florimon, who might end up being the new Casilla (but with a little more ability to stick at SS).

  5. I agree that he had his chance, and now the 2B job should go to someone cheaper, more consistent, and with more pop. I want to say that injuries – specifically hamstring injuries – consistently set him back. Am I making that up? Wasn’t he on a hot run in 2011 as our SS when he was injured?

    Also, I don’t ever want to delve that deeply into statistics (-21 runs in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, -1 in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average). I’m happy remaining ignorant of what that means. However, I always thought of him as a good defender. And I do want to point out that the Fielding Bible gurus named Casilla last year’s 5th best 2B. http://fieldingbible.com/complete-votetally.asp

  6. I looked into it, Babs, Ritalin is banned. Strattera is the way to go (nonstimulant). In fact, based on the Twins’ history in the middle infield (Guzman, Rivas…), perhaps a prescription for Strattera should just be written into the contract for those positions.