Sunday was certainly one of the most exciting games of a dreadful Detroit Tigers season. Matt Boyd tossed an absolute gem through eight and two-thirds innings, before being robbed of a no-hitter by a double to right field with two outs in the ninth. The offense had his back, pounding 12 runs off the Chicago White Sox and Boyd finished with a complete game shutout retiring the next batter he faced, but the story didn’t end there.
Nick Castellanos was — of course — still out in right field during the ninth when Tim Anderson broke up the no-hitter with a double. This has shocked much of the Tigers fan base and even members of the media, given the implications of the game for Boyd.
Tim Anderson's double which broke up Matt Boyd's no-hitter with two outs in the ninth. pic.twitter.com/r1cTufSHsv— Ron W (@FIPmyWHIP) September 17, 2017
Whether or not Castellanos should have been replaced defensively was a hot button topic on Twitter following the conclusion of Sunday’s game. The media had the same line of thinking as the fans did, since their first question to Brad Ausmus after the game was why he chose not to replace Castellanos. Ausmus didn’t take too kindly to that line of questioning, as he lashed out at the media.
Ausmus livid when asked why he didn't replace Castellanos in right. Said it was a bad question. Said he expected me to ask it. Lol— Jeff Riger (@riger1984) September 17, 2017
Ausmus "Nick's been out there all day, should I have taken him out there earlier? We got a 12 run lead, I'm not defending for Nick there"— Jeff Riger (@riger1984) September 17, 2017
Ausmus said 2 reasons it was a bad question. 1. Nobody catches that ball. 2. If ball isn't hit there nobody asks it.— Jeff Riger (@riger1984) September 17, 2017
I’m not even going to touch “If ball isn't hit there nobody asks it,” because that’s really a nonsensical answer and quite obvious on it’s own. However, his argument that the ball wasn’t catchable is somewhat debatable, and doesn’t change the fact that Castellanos shouldn’t have been out there..
First and foremost is the poor route that Castellanos took to the ball. Thanks to Baseball Savant and Daren Wilman’s awesome advancements in the Statcast system, we have a diagram of Castellanos’ route take to the ball—and any routes taken on balls in play for that matter.
You can see how bad the route is. The route is the green line, the black line is the ball. Geometry 101 states that the quickest way between any two points is a straight line and that route was nothing close to a straight line. Castellanos clearly didn’t read how well the ball was struck by Anderson, and had to run back after coming across initially. He’ll have to learn to read the ball better in the outfield at Comerica where the territory is vast.
Another metric we can use to gauge the play is Catch Probability — although not yet publicly available — MLB.com’s Mike Petriello was kind enough to provide the Catch Probability for the Castellanos play in right field. Catch Probability is determined by three things, first where the fielder is positioned, how many feet he has to run to make the catch, and how much time he has to run. The Catch Probability based where Castellanos was positioned was only 1%.
Since I'm told half of Detroit is mad at Nick Castellanos for not saving Boyd's no-hitter: It was a 1% Catch Probability. He had no shot.— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 18, 2017
Hit percentage is another good metric to gauge the likelihood that ball falls for a ball hit. According to Statcast via Baseball Savant, the Anderson double only had a 29 percent chance of being a hit. Which means there was perhaps an opportunity for the play to be made had a different defender been in right field.
There has been debate on the merit of the hit percentage metric, especially at large ballparks like Comerica, but when you factor in the 94.8 mph exit velocity which is pretty low for a ball hit 343 feet and a hang time of 3.96 seconds — according to frame by frame video review — there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that someone faster and better defensively could have made the catch. At the very least we have to acknowledge someone else would’ve had a much better chance at catching it.
Let’s not forget it’s September so your bench is deep and you’re up by 12 runs so Castellanos’ bat isn’t needed at all. Additionally, Castellanos was replaced defensively in the eighth inning or later on 20 occasions this season alone, so Ausmus has felt the need to have a stronger defender on previous occasions. He was at third base during those substitutions but Castellanos is still very green in the outfield, and has a lengthy resume of mistakes defensively.
Between Castellanos lack of experience in the outfield, his average speed, and a history of defensive blunders, it’s clear he shouldn’t have been out there. Now, it’s by no means certain that Alex Presley, for example, would have made the catch, but he’s a better outfield defender with far more experience out there, and substantially faster than Castellanos. You could say the same about Andrew Romine. Frankly even Tyler Collins is a better option when you consider how new that position is to Castellanos. That the ball wasn’t caught, and was unlikely to be caught by anyone else, doesn’t really change the discussion, however.
Regardless of the catchability of that ball, you cannot leave a sub-par defender like Castellanos in a situation like that. Sure it was only a no-hitter for Matt Boyd, this time. What happens next time when there’s more on the line? How can we trust that Ausmus will make the right move and replace him defensively? After all he is vehemently opposing any notion that Castallanos should’ve been replaced, even to the point of becoming confrontational with the media.
The truth is, Ausmus knows he screwed up. He was ready with his answer too. Whether Presley or someone else would’ve made the play is really beside the point in the final analysis. Maybe no one catches it. But no one Ausmus could’ve had in the game right there is less equipped to make that play right now than Nick Castellanos.
Ausmus "whats pathetic is, before you guys got here I knew that was going to be the 1st question, which says something about the media"— Jeff Riger (@riger1984) September 17, 2017
At the end of the day we’re only left with what if’s and frustration over a move that should’ve been made. Even more frustrating than seeing Castellanos in right field during that play is Brad’s ridiculous and bitter defense of that move when every piece of empirical evidence says otherwise. Why Castellanos wasn’t replaced with a better defender is a perfectly reasonable question for a media member to ask in that situation. Is this the proverbial hill that Ausmus really wants to die on? It appears so, and this only further hurts his credibility with the media and more importantly the fans, as his current contract nears its expiration date.
Updated: The paragraph on hit probability was edited and the catch probability paragraph was added after getting that information from Mike Petriello of MLB.com.