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Nicholas Castellanos - Unfortunate Barreler of Baseballs


In 2017, Nicholas Castellanos made outs on 17 of his barrels, which led Major League Baseball. In 2018, Castellanos again made outs on 17 of his barrels, which led Major League Baseball. Even stranger, it was a continuation from the 2016 season, when Castellanos barreled up 13 outs, which ranked ninth and was also the most of anyone who saw fewer than 2,000 pitches.

In all, since 2016 Castellanos hit into 47 barreled outs, a whopping 14 more than anyone else. It’s a bit weird to find the same guy leading the Majors in consecutive years in a stat that would seem to be mostly, and perhaps entirely, luck.

Castellanos became a popular sleeper pick in drafts last year for his hard-hit rate and untapped power potential. Instead, fantasy owners experienced much of the same and were left a bit disappointed when his home run total declined by three. Will Castellanos' luck turn around and lead him to be an underrated draft asset or are we due for more of the same?

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Don't Blame the Shift

The first thing that comes to mind is that Castellanos may be particularly susceptible to shifts since 2016, despite the fact he is right-handed. If his hard contact is going toward well-positioned fielders at an above average clip, that could explain leading the league in this unfortunate statistic.

Looking at the numbers, however, this does not seem to be the case. Castellanos got shifted on 8.6% of the time in 2016, 12% of the time in 2017, and 18.7% of the time in 2018. In 2018, he actually put up a better wOBA when being shifted (.385) than when not (.358).

All but one of Castellanos’ barreled outs in 2018 came against a standard outfield alignment. Compare to Joey Gallo, second with 16 barrels for outs but with four of them coming vs. shifted outfields. Unsurprisingly, Gallo was shifted on more than four times more often—84.2% of the time—than Castellanos.

Are Castellanos’ barrels somehow less impressive than most? This would appear to be closer to the truth than the shift theory. Castellanos’ average exit velocity on all barrels is 103.7 mph since 2016. This figure ranks 40th out of 52 players with 100 or more barrels in that time frame. His 25.9° launch angle is about average, tied for 27th. So, his absolute best contact is less great than some others. That said, he’s not dead last, or only hitting barrels that are two mph slower than anyone else’s.

After an unsurprising quartet of Stanton, Judge, Gallo, and Cruz (all of whom barrel up baseballs at 107.9 mph+), the other 48 players on that list are within an exit velocity range of 102-107 mph on their barrels. There’s nothing about a ball hit anywhere in that range that should result in one player hitting into so many more outs than anyone else.

Overall, those 47 outs Castellanos has made the last three seasons should be chalked up to bad luck more than anything else. Look at 2015, when he only made outs on four barrels, tied with 31 other players to rank 123rd. Since then, perhaps defenders are making spectacular plays, or the outfield positioning has been just so without going to shifts. Castellanos would have no control over either of those things, nor would they be repeatable.

Now, you’re a fantasy baseball player (presumably), so this glut of numbers shouldn’t have caused too much eye-glazing. But that also means that you might eventually want an answer to this question: What do these numbers all mean for Castellanos’ fantasy value?

 

The Decision Is...

Probably not much. Everyone runs into some number of barreled outs, as Willie McCovey and Charlie Brown found out in the 1962 World Series. But there’s a reason barrels are good: Castellanos had a 2.132 slugging percentage on his 53 barrels in 2018.

Still, this ranked 250th out of 284 players with at least 10 barrels. Castellanos’ xSLG on barrels was 2.446, so he underperformed by .314. Over 53 barrels that is 17 bases, or approximately four home runs worth. Pencil him in for 23+4=27 homers next year! (Don’t really; I hope you can see the problem with that methodology.)

Castellanos was one of just 16 players with at least 50 barrels in 2018 and had the worst slugging percentage of any of them. Three of the 16—Trevor Story, Khris Davis, and Christian Yelich—slugged over 3.000. If Castellanos had slugged exactly 3.000 on his 2018 barrels, he’d have accumulated 46 more bases than in actuality, and that would have made for a career year—slugging .574 overall instead of his actual mark of .500.

Although it’s true that no one player should be as unlucky as Castellanos has been, expecting him to get a year where he slugs 3.000 on barrels may also be a bridge too far. First off, that’s difficult for anyone. And yes, all barrels are impressively hit, that’s why they’re barrels, but 104 mph is still going to be marginally more catchable than 110. And barrels are not close to the majority of anyone’s contact, so Castellanos’ overall exit velocity of 89.6 mph in 2018, ranking 90th out of 332 players with 150+ batted ball events, is also relevant.

Nicholas Castellanos has clearly become an above-average hitter, but just because he’s gotten a fluky run of bad luck on his barrels doesn’t mean he’s due for a 40-HR year. What you saw from him in 2017-18 is likely to be about what you get in 2019, maybe plus a little bump if a few more of the barrels start to fall.

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