Nick Castellanos is Channeling Chris Johnson

Plate discipline is an unheralded casualty of this new era of depressed offense. There have been 19 players with a .15-to-1 walk-to-strikeout rate or worse in a qualified season since the end of the dead ball era in 1920, and there are 11 players on that pace so far this season. Increasingly, that leaves fantasy owners stuck with sub-.300 on base players and their correspondingly low batting averages and runs totals in even moderately deep formats.

Nick Castellanos is buried among several low on-base options outside of the top 15 in consensus third base rankings. And Castellanos does not have the power potential of a Matt Dominguez or Will Middlebrooks to help offset his dreadful .256 OBP. He seems like an easy player to drop in order to pick up a hot third base bat like Chase Headley or Mike Olt, and while there is little risk in doing so when the waiver wire has those sorts of available players, I do expect Castellanos to improve.

Without much power or speed to speak of, Castellanos’ .268 BABIP does not scream regression the way it would for more toolsy players. However, Castellanos has demonstrated one elite tool so far, and that should drive an increase in his BABIP going forward.

Highest Line Drive Rate, 2014
Freddie Freeman 32.8% .330
Nick Castellanos 32.6% .268
Adam LaRoche 31.8% .373
Matt Carpenter 31.7% .322
Jason Kubel 31.1% .411
Chris Johnson 29.1% .353
Joe Mauer 28.1% .379
Angel Pagan 27.8% .358
James Loney 27.6% .341
Yadier Molina 27.4% .333

Castellanos is second among qualified hitters with a 32.6 percent line drive rate. He’s also the only member of the top 10 of that category with a BABIP below .322, and his is 54 points lower. And few of the other leaders stand out in terms of power or speed. Freddie Freeman is the only member with more than five home runs, and Angel Pagan is the only one with more than one stolen base.

Despite the obvious similarities, Castellanos has a profile radically different than most of the names on the list when you include his strikeout and walk rates. Amazingly, Castellanos has 30 strikeouts against only four walks so far this season. Eight of the nine other line drive rate leaders have a walk-to-strikeout rate at least twice that of Castellanos (.13-to-1), but Chris Johnson has a similar .11-to-1 ratio. And, in fact, Johnson is on his way to his third consecutive season with a walk rate of six percent or lower and a line drive rate of 25 percent or higher, which is more than a tenth of such similar seasons to what Castellanos is on pace for this year.

Aramis Ramirez 2014 5.1% 12.5% 26.9% .252 .252 .309 .390
Nick Castellanos 2014 3.3% 24.8% 32.6% .268 .230 .256 .389
Khris Davis 2014 1.4% 27.9% 25.5% .283 .224 .250 .396
Mark Kotsay 2005 6.4% 8.1% 25.5% .285 .280 .325 .421
Shea Hillenbrand 2003 4.3% 12.6% 26.3% .286 .280 .314 .468
Paul Lo Duca 2003 7.0% 8.6% 26.5% .291 .273 .335 .377
Juan Pierre 2005 5.7% 6.3% 25.5% .293 .276 .326 .354
Mark Loretta 2006 7.0% 9.0% 27.1% .308 .285 .345 .361
Chad Tracy 2005 6.3% 14.1% 25.1% .317 .308 .359 .553
Angel Berroa 2003 4.6% 15.7% 26.2% .319 .287 .338 .451
Brady Clark 2005 7.0% 8.2% 26.5% .319 .306 .372 .426
Marco Scutaro 2012 5.9% 7.2% 25.8% .319 .306 .348 .405
Mike Lieberthal 2003 6.8% 10.5% 27.0% .333 .313 .373 .453
Michael Young 2004 6.0% 12.0% 25.2% .333 .313 .353 .483
Placido Polanco 2005 6.0% 4.5% 28.2% .333 .331 .383 .447
Yadier Molina 2014 4.0% 13.2% 27.4% .333 .308 .338 .448
Howie Kendrick 2013 4.5% 17.3% 27.4% .340 .297 .335 .439
Michael Young 2003 5.0% 14.4% 27.2% .342 .306 .339 .446
Jordan Pacheco 2012 4.4% 12.1% 26.4% .344 .309 .341 .421
Chris Johnson 2014 2.8% 24.5% 29.1% .353 .270 .294 .336
Chris Johnson 2012 5.9% 25.0% 25.6% .354 .281 .326 .451
Mark Grudzielanek 2003 5.6% 12.1% 26.8% .356 .314 .366 .416
Adam Kennedy 2002 3.7% 15.7% 26.2% .361 .312 .345 .449
Freddy Sanchez 2006 4.9% 8.2% 27.5% .364 .344 .378 .473
Michael Young 2007 6.8% 15.5% 27.2% .366 .315 .366 .418
Michael Young 2011 6.8% 11.3% 26.2% .367 .338 .380 .474
David Wright 2014 5.7% 22.7% 26.6% .377 .296 .341 .395
Matt Adams 2014 2.6% 21.3% 27.1% .379 .307 .323 .440
Chris Johnson 2013 5.3% 21.2% 27.0% .394 .321 .358 .457
Marlon Byrd 2014 5.9% 28.3% 25.3% .411 .303 .349 .493

Throw in the similarity in strikeout rate (20 percent-plus), and Johnson provides nearly half of the most similar seasons to Castellanos, joining the 2014 efforts of Marlon Byrd, Matt Adams, David Wright, and Khris Davis.

Of course, Castellanos’ potential following in the footsteps of Johnson only matters if Johnson is a fantasy asset, and, really, Johnson’s BABIP-aided 2013 season that featured a .321 batting average seems to be a one-time deal. However, even if Castellanos’ true talent is as a .280 hitter with 20 home runs per season, that is valuable at a position that declines quickly after an elite top five of Cabrera, Beltre, Wright, Longoria, and Donaldson. Expect a .280-15-55-60 line the rest of the way, which should have him closer to the top 10 at the position than outside the top 25.

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Scott Spratt contributes to ESPN Insider as a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions. He also writes for Pro Football Focus, and he is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt

6 Responses to “Nick Castellanos is Channeling Chris Johnson”

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  1. murphyluke says:

    He also has yet to pop up. If he can keep that and the LD% up his BABIP should go way higher.

    He’s just getting really unlucky with only 2 of his groundballs getting through for hits and only 1 non-HR fly ball falling in for a hit. He’s actually hitting league average (.700) on his line drives. I regressed his AVG on ground balls from his abysmal .080 to the AL average of .232, and his AVG on non-HR/non-popup fly balls from .037 to .158, and calculated that he should have had 7 more hits by now. That would be enough to bump his average up from .230 to .292.

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  2. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I think its a bit too early to start using Castellanos major league stats to comp him to anyone. His performance to-date at the MLB level is not indicative of his overall skill level, as evidenced by his minor league numbers, and that type of sub-par (relative to talent) performance is very normal in the adjustment period for a new level of competition.

    While different players and different skillsets, take a look at the BB% and K% over their first 200ABs for guys like Goldschmidt or Rizzo. Walks dropped, strikeouts went up, until they were able to adjust to the league. By no means am I guaranteeing that Castellanos will adjust to the league, but its silly to comp him to someone based on a sample of the first 200ABs of a player career.

    Chris Johnson was always Chris Johnson — he never took a walk in the minors and still hasn’t since. Castellanos only looks like Chris Johnson because he’s stepped up a level and still adjusting. I’d say you start keeping score with him and grading him pass/fail come June. If he hasn’t adapted by then, this may be the new normal for him.

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  3. BABIP Skeptic says:

    While I think BABIP is useful in looking at the big picture of a player’s batted balls, if you’re going to at LD% I think it would be more insightful to look at BALD (Batting Average of Line Drives). I don’t know if you have the data necessary to produce this, but I think it would be a better indicator for any sort of regression. If Nick Castellanos’ BALD is much lower than the other players on the list, only then can you attribute his low BABIP to being unlucky on line drives. Otherwise, it would mean that he’s getting his fair share of hits on line drives and his other batted balls are driving his low BABIP.

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    • BABIP Skeptic says:

      Freeman and Castellanos have very similar batted ball profiles (about 1/3 each of LD, GB, FB). In fact, Castellanos BABIP on LD is higher than Freeman’s! But his BABIP on GB and FB are .080 and .034 respectively. That’s driving his BABIP way down. Is that bad luck or are his grounders and fly balls really weak?

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  4. Spa City says:

    Middlebrooks and Castellanos… They both swing at everything (right handedly) and often miss. They both strike out a lot and rarely draw walks. They both play defense poorly at 3B. They both run the bases poorly and slowly. When they make contact the ball tends to travel rather far.

    The current baseball Zeitgeist is centered on hard-throwing strikeout pitchers (bad for Will and Nick) and very few right-handed power hitters (good for Will and Nick). All I know for sure is Will and Nick will wind up with lucrative jobs for many years, but not because they are much better than replacement level.

    My entire comment, in hindsight, is pretty much meaningless. I have been enjoying a few beverages of an adult nature, so please forgive my tendency to make long-winded meaningless comments.

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