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Detroit Tigers: No defensive subs for Nicholas Castellanos the right move

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DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 16: Right fielder Nicholas Castellanos #9 of the Detroit Tigers catches a fly ball hit by Yolmer Sanchez of the Chicago White Sox for an out during the seventh inning at Comerica Park on September 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 16: Right fielder Nicholas Castellanos #9 of the Detroit Tigers catches a fly ball hit by Yolmer Sanchez of the Chicago White Sox for an out during the seventh inning at Comerica Park on September 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire adamantly insisted that Nicholas Castellanos, despite poor defense in right field, will not be subbed out in the late innings.

Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Nicholas Castellanos has been highly scrutinized for his sub-par defense since he was drafted. And while a position change has helped hide Castellanos in right field, it has not gotten rid of the critics.

During Detroit’s home opener, Shane Greene allowed a leadoff triple to Starling Marte. The ball was hit down the right field line and went in and out of Castellanos’ glove, just inside the foul line.

Statcast, MLB’s new advanced stat module that tracks balls in play, said that Marte’s hit had a 75% catch probability. It’s reasonable to assume that someone like JaCoby Jones or Victor Reyes, both of whom were on the Tigers bench, could have made the play.

That of course spurned questions directed at new manager Ron Gardenhire about the decision to leave Castellanos in. Gardenhire made it very clear his mind will not change on this manner.

“Nick’s going to play right field.  He is my right fielder. We will not substitute for him,” Gardenhire said. “The only way for him to get better and be confident out there is for me to leave him out there. I will not mess with him.”

Is this the right move?

Yes.

I’ll preface this by saying that I am a huge sabermetrics nerd, and am very aware of how bad Nick’s defense truly is.

UZR and Castellanos

For the uninitiated, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) is a measurement of how many runs a player prevents based on his defense. A negative number indicates the players defense allowed more runs than an average defender would.

Castellanos posted a -5.3 UZR over 173 innings in right field last year. That comes out to a UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating over 150 games) of -80.5, far far far and away the worst mark in baseball.

In fact, for outfielders who had over 150 innings in the outfield last year, Castellanos’ -80.5 mark was 55 points worse than the second place finisher, Eric Thames (-25.5 in 170 innings). The second, third and fourth worst outfielders (according to UZR) all have a combined negative UZR of -75.4, still not as bad as Castellanos’ mark.

So yeah, on paper a defensive replacement every now and again may not be such a bad idea.

Keeping Castellanos in Right

But this isn’t paper, this is real baseball, being played every day. And the Detroit Tigers need Castellanos to become a good right fielder. Or at least an average right fielder. Or at least not three times worse than the second worst outfielder.

The only way Castellanos is going to improve is to get reps. It may not make sense from an advanced analytics standpoint, and it may cost the Tigers some runs (and even some games) but that is not what it is important. This team is building toward the future, a future that they hope Castellanos is a big part of. In order for that to work they need two things to happen: 1.) Castellanos needs to improve his defense in right field. And 2.) Castellanos needs to stay in Detroit.

Taking him out in the late-innings for a defensive replacement may help the Tigers give up a few less runs in the short term, but it could have serious negative ramifications in the long term. So while Shane Greene’s ERA suffers now, the Detroit Tigers need to do their best to keep Castellanos happy while helping him improve defensively.

Both of those things happen with him playing full games in right field, and with his manager vehemently defending him to the media.

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That’s why, even though it may be hard to watch, Castellanos needs to stay in right field this season. After all, it is a rebuilding year. The difference between 88 losses and 93 losses is irrelevant when considering Castellanos’ long-term future with this club.

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