I think most every Tiger’s fan will agree that Nick Castellanos is a rather frustrating player.
First, he came up as the Tiger’s #1 prospect. He was untouchable for years. They shifted his position around just to accommodate him at the big league level (they were able to shift back after the Prince trade). People have been down on him because of his low batting average. People have been down on him because of his defense. But the Tigers keep playing him daily, and when he plays like he has lately, it makes them look kinda smart.
So who is the real Castellanos? Do the stats tell us anything?
We will start with the easy part, his defense. I won’t bore you with too much info because I think it might get boring early. But let’s look at some stats anyway.
This might surprise some of you, but Castellanos is leading the American League in Fielding % at 3B this year, which is exactly why that stat means literally nothing. Basic stats will show us that he generates 2.62 outs per 9 innings while the league average 3B will generate 2.66, probably also surprising that he is so close to average. His total field zone rating estimates that he cost the Tigers 10 runs so far this year and will add 3 more to that total by end of season. This equates to about -1 win in terms of WAR. For comparison 0 is average, and last year he was at a staggering -27 runs, almost -3 wins in WAR.
If you look at the Fielding Edge stats kept by Fangraphs, you will see that he has made 0 “impossible” plays (plays with a less than 1% probability of becoming an out), 0 “remote” plays (1-10%), 15 “unlikely” (10-40%), and 35% “even” (40-60%).
If you want to compare those to a familiar player that is extremely good at defense, we can look at Jose Iglesias: impossible: 0, remote: 11, unlikely: 13, even: 11. So you can see the range difference.
So I’ll stop there. He isn’t nearly as bad as it feels like he is, and I think a lot of that is based on how poor he was last year. He has improved dramatically. But he completely lacks range, and does not have a good arm. His defensive WAR will always be below 0.
His total WAR though is 0.1 (baseball reference). So his bat is making up for his glove. But he obviously is not generating enough value to be worth an everyday starting spot right now.
He offers a lot of promise with his power, slugging above league average, and his incredible line drive rate, which clocks in above 25%, well above league average. So what is holding him back?
First, his strikeouts are high, 24% of his at bats end that way. That is territory held previously by Tigers such as Granderson, Inge, and Jackson. Everyone railed on those guys, although I haven’t heard too much chatter yet about it with Castellanos.
Second, his batting average and on-base percentage are low, although he has moderately improved his walk rate from last year.
His win probability is low, his RE24 is low, basically he is not a good situational hitter. He is not someone you would deem as “clutch”, if such a thing exists, and you really wouldn’t see him likely moving into a middle of the order spot in his career without vast improvement in this area.
His wRC+ is at 95, where 100 is average. This stat is basically the best tool to measure an all around hitter. It is Runs Created, weighted where certain things you do are more valuable, like a single vs a walk, and + means adjusted for park factors and league averages. So, you can say he is 5% below the average hitter.
And really, I don’t think that is very bad, especially considering how skewed ‘average’ becomes when guys like Miggy and Trout out there.
He is at a point right now where he is not very valuable. He is not Mike Trout at age 23. But he is basically a league average player, and the Tigers are basically paying him league minimum salary, so it seems to be a fit.
His high line drive rate and above average batting average on balls in play would suggest he is going to have a higher batting average in the near future. The fact that he has almost doubled his fly ball to homer rate since last year suggests his power is coming online. And his markedly improved defense suggests there still might be hope for him with a glove on his hand.
Will he turn into a perennial all-star and silver slugger winner? I highly doubt it.
Will he become a serviceable everyday player with some pop in his bat? I think absolutely yes.