After 21 games with the Tigers so far this year, Nicholas Castellanos is slashing .221/.287/.453 with three home runs. You might look at these numbers and think they’re nothing to write home about, and you’d be absolutely correct – Nick’s .741 OPS is just below the league average of .781 for third basemen. If this were, say, 30 years ago, and you had little to no other data to go by, you might shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, he’s not Kris Bryant but at least he’s not Jose Reyes."
Luckily, it’s 2017 and we have Statcast.
You’ve seen it in every TV broadcast over the last couple of years: Statcast is the system of cameras and radar in every ballpark that tracks, among other things, the speed and angle of the ball off the bat, and provides us with visualizations like this to aid in our understanding of just how majestic each home run was.
Certain batted balls are classified by Statcast as "barrels." These are balls that have been hit particularly hard within a certain range of angles that, on average, tend to yield the best outcomes of all batted balls. To get a picture of the type of hitter that gets a lot of these, in 2016 the top five barreled ball hitters were Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz, Mark Trumbo, and Khris Davis. And this year, the list is topped by none other than Nick Castellanos.
Nick is also at or near the top of the leaderboard in a few other batted ball stats. The balls he’s put in play this year have traveled an average of 229 feet, which is fifth farthest in the majors (James McCann is just behind him at 228 feet). He’s tied with Corey Seager for the league lead in balls hit with an exit velocity of over 95 MPH, and he leads all hitters in FanGraphs’ hard contact percentage, and is fifth from the bottom in soft contact.
With a batted ball profile like Nick’s, it seems unusual that his traditional numbers would be so lackluster in comparison. Even though his walk rate has improved slightly, his on-base percentage is more than 40 points lower than it was last year. His .221 batting average would be the lowest of his career, even though he’s hitting more line drives than ever.
One number that stands out is Nick’s batting average on balls in play: currently at .286, 40 points lower than his career average. Defense and luck both factor into BABIP, and over a short period of time a batter can produce deflated numbers despite doing everything right at the plate. So far this season the Tigers have played more than half their games against three of the better defensive teams in baseball: the Red Sox, the Rays, and, somehow, the Twins. As the season goes on we start seeing the likes of the A’s, Astros, and Orioles, you can probably expect Nick’s BABIP to improve – and with it, the rest of his numbers.
2017 is shaping up to be a continuation of the major breakout Nick Castellanos started in his injury-shortened 2016. While it’s only April and he might not remain at the top of the batted ball leaderboards all year, it’s still exciting to see him continue to grow as a hitter, hit the cover off the ball, and live up to the Blastellanos moniker.