Thoughts On Nick Castellanos’ Future

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

A couple of weeks ago, when discussing the Tigers need to upgrade in the outfield, I suggested that one option the Tigers have in front of them is to move Nick Castellanos to the outfield and sign 3B Chase Headley. I didn’t and still don’t consider that a likely option because the Tigers probably can’t afford to meet his price without increasing payroll and they typically only push the envelope for name value players. But I also got a little push back on my suggestion that Castellanos might need to move off third base, so let’s consider his future.

Nick’s entering his age 23 season in 2015, so he’s plenty young and is an extremely hard worker by all accounts. There’s tremendous potential there, because of the effort and the raw ability to bring the barrel to the baseball, but you cannot simply ignore his faults as signs of youth as if they are certain to reverse course.

Let’s play this out a little. At age 22 he posted a -0.5 fWAR and -1.5 rWAR. Those are both horrible numbers. That doesn’t make him a bad player, it just means he wasn’t a productive player in his rookie year. That’s fine. It happens. But it’s also important information and we can’t pretend it didn’t happen entirely.

Now let’s look at his 2015 Steamer projection. Steamer says 0.8 fWAR in 530 PA (~50 fewer than 2014). Let’s round it up to 1.0 WAR just to keep it clean. That’s a 1.5 WAR bump year to year, which is a big improvement. Some of that is the expectation that he’ll be a touch better on defense, a little better on the bases, and a little better at the plate.

In 2014 he had a .307 wOBA. He’s projected for a .323 wOBA in 2015. Steamer’s calling him something like a -15 fielder at 3B, which is 5 to 15 runs better than he was in 2014, depending if you prefer UZR or DRS. It’s not a good number either way.

A couple of things stand out. First of all, some people will try to tell you that Castellanos was fine defensively in 2014. They’re wrong. Perhaps you can argue he showed the ability to perform well in the future (i.e. flashed good enough tools), but his actual performance was extremely poor.

Twenty eight players had 700+ innings at 3B in 2014. He was last in DRS by an amount so high it’s essentially inappropriate to say out loud. He was last in UZR by a more reasonably 5 runs (-18.4 runs). Take away the “run values” and just take about plays made compared to balls in his zone and he’s dead last by a lot. To argue that Nick was fine at third base last year, well, I honestly don’t know how you could do that.

But that’s okay for two reasons. First, Nick’s a bat first guy. He’s never going to be Chase Headley or Adrian Beltre. Second, you’re going to cut him some slack for spending the last year and a half in the OF before shifting back to 3B. He was already stumbling through his defensive development when the shift to the OF came and then he was asked to play the position again with no real chance to get reps before Spring Training.

So let’s play a little game. We know he’s not a plus defender. No one’s ever seen that from him. Let’s say it’s somewhere between average at 3B (+2.5 positional adjustment plus fielding runs) and -15 runs. Let’s say he gets 600 PA. Let’s just say he’s a -1 base runner (he was -3 in 2014). What kind of offensive production would he need in order to put up various WAR levels? Hopefully the chart is clear enough:

Screenshot 2014-11-28 at 4.14.32 PM

The numbers are slightly rounded, so don’t treat anything as perfectly accurate to the decimal because we don’t know some of the precise constants for the 2015 season, but let’s call this accurate enough. This should give you a sense about Nick’s potential given a set of defensive constraints. If you think he’s a -15 defender at 3B then he’s maxing out at 2 WAR. If you think he might be average, he can maybe make it to 4 WAR with an awesome offensive leap too.

The green boxes reflect wOBA values at or below his projection, the yellow ones are close enough but above his projection and the red ones would indicate a massive breakout offensively. Realistically, he’s probably a 1-2 win player in 2015. And realistically, the best we can hope for defensively is -5. There just isn’t enough there for him to be much better.

For him to turn into an All-Star, he’s going to have to post .360 wOBAs or better. That’s a tall order. He has the raw talent to the point where I wouldn’t discount the possibility, but I think it’s important to put these expectations in front of you. There’s potential here, but he has to improve on two dimensions to get there.

The talent exists, but everything has to break right. The bat will grow but it has to grow an awful lot if the defense doesn’t rally. It might happen, but let’s not act as if a move to a corner outfield spot is out of the question in the next year or two.

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