Aug 26, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (9) hits an RBI single sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Examining Nick Castellanos’s First Season with the Detroit Tigers

Before the season started, we at Motor City Bengals were asked what storyline we were going to watch for the 2014 season. I, along with some other writers, stated that we would watch the growth of Nick Castellanos through his rookie campaign with the Tigers. Now that it is September 1, the one year anniversary of Castellanos’s Major League Debut, and September call-ups are being made, I feel like it is a good time to review his season.

Castellanos was the man to watch on the Tigers when the season started, but he has quickly been forgotten which is a good thing. If your name is regularly on the lips of fans, you are either in the running for an award (Max Scherzer) or they want to send you packing (Joe Nathan). Castellanos has become a forgotten man because he has produced at a level this season that has pleased Tigers fans, but not at the rate of Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox.

Before the season, Castellanos’s ZiPS projection was a .277/.320/.429 split with 18 home runs and 64 RBI. I felt that if Castellanos could produce anywhere near these numbers, his season would be deemed a great success. I felt that a successful season for Castellanos was a season in which there was not serious discussion of a hole at third base for the Tigers, Castellanos was overmatched at the Major League level, and he needed to be sent back to Toledo.

So far in 2014, Castellanos has produced at a .262/.310/.410 split with 10 home runs and 57 RBI. When this is projected out for the rest of the season by mlb.com, Castellanos projects at a 261/.307/.404 split with 12 home runs and 66 RBI. There has not been talk in the Tigers’ fan base that Nick Castellanos has been a disaster at third base and the Tigers needed to acquire a new third baseman. There has not been a time where there was serious discussion to send Castellanos back to Toledo to work on anything.

The most remarkable thing about Castellanos is how hard he hits the ball and how often he hits it hard. According to FanGraphs, Nick Castellanos has a line drive percentage of 27.9% on the year. This leads the Tigers by a considerable amount (2nd is Austin Jackson at 24.6% and 3rd is Miguel Cabrera at 23.3%). Castellanos’s line drive percentage ranks 3rd in all of Major League Baseball behind only Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets. You may have noticed that both of those players play in the National League so Nick Castellanos leads the American League in line drive percentage.

Castellanos’s line drive percentage also means that he is not popping the ball up. Castellanos’s infield popup percentage on the infield is only 2.4%. For perspective, Ian Kinsler’s rate is the 23rd highest in the Major Leagues at 12.6%.

If one was to complain about Castellanos’s performance at the plate, one could cite his strikeout and walk rates. Castellanos is aggressive at the plate and only draws walks 6.6% of the time (the league average is around 10%). Castellanos’s plate discipline has also raised his strikeout rate to 23.3% (the league average is 18.5%) thanks in part to Castellanos swinging at 33.7% of the pitches out of the strike zone according to FanGraphs. This number is down compared to the 41.9% rate that Castellanos swung at pitches out of the strike zone in September 2013. I believe that one can be coached patience if it is started early enough and Castellanos has improved through the season and definitely from last season.

Defensively, we knew that Castellanos was below average and the numbers agree. In 2014, Castellanos has a fielding percentage of .953 and has made 12 errors. The advanced stats further show Castellanos’s struggles in the field. His total defensive runs saved compared to the league average is -27 and his UZR (ultimate defensive zone rating) is -12.1 because Castellanos’s range is limited at best. These numbers should improve with the return of Jose Iglesias next season, but they aren’t great at this time.

Overall, I have come away very impressed with Nick Castellanos in his first full season with the Tigers. I feel like the Tigers have a 3rd baseman for the future and a future top half/middle of the order batter. If he avoids injury, Castellanos has a very nice Major League career ahead of him.

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