How Phil Hughes Walked Nick Castellanos, In Real Life

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Normally, you can’t do a lot of detailed analysis early in the season because the small sample size monster is everywhere. We can’t say things like, “Jose Iglesias is going to steal a ton of bases” because he stole two today. We don’t have enough information to say that, but we can look into how certain interesting things happened. And boy did an interesting thing happen today.

In the 4th inning of today’s game, Nick Castellanos came to the plate with one out and no one on base. The Tigers were already up 3-0 and Price was cruising. The Tigers had an 84% win probability, so it wasn’t the most important plate appearance in the world, but man did it turn out to be a doozy.

Of the 146 batters who qualified in 2014, Castellanos had the 44th lowest walk rate (6.2%), which puts him in the bottom 30% of hitters or so. He swung way more than average and made far less contact than the average hitter. In other words, he’s a hard guy to walk and went through stretches where it was darn near impossible to walk him.

Of the 88 pitches who qualified in 2014, Phil Hughes had the lowest walk rate (1.9%). In fact, he had a lower walk rate than anyone who threw 10 innings. In other words, he filled up the zone and never walked anyone.

So you can see where this is going. Castellanos rarely walked and Hughes never walked anyone, so it would be pretty unlikely that Hughes would walk Castellanos! But it actually gets worse because Castellanos only walked 4.5% of the time against righties and Hughes only walked a righty 1.2% of the time. There are a couple of matchups that might lead you to predict a lower walk rate, but this is right up there, even factoring in the obvious regression to the mean.

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But would you look at that?

Suzuki sets up low and away for the first pitch and Hughes misses over the plate, leading Nick to foul it off. Hughes misses with the second pitch and then comes back right over the plate for pitch three. Nick fouled it off.

Right here, it’s a 1-2 count and Castellanos hasn’t been able to handle two pretty hittable pitches. In other words, advantage Hughes in a big way. This should be cake if the two players are anything like there normal selves. Nick had a .179 wOBA after a 1-2 count last year.

Naturally, Hughes and Suzuki try to get Castellanos to chase away, but the pitch drifts far enough outside to allow him to layoff. It’s 2-2 now, but it’s still advantage Hughes.

Suzuki sets up down and in, and Hughes basically hits the spot. Castellanos laid off. So now it’s 3-2 and he’s got a shot to take the at bat back. The 3-2 pitch is the interesting one because Suzuki set up down and in and Hughes missed low, and towards the outside corner. If you watch the tape Suzuki did a horrible job receiving it. If Lucroy was catching, he might have been able to steal it back, but the point stands: Hughes missed in a big way.

Now this could all be nonsense because it’s one at bat in one game, but it’s might be a nice sign for Castellanos and a sign that Hughes probably isn’t the superhuman control guy we saw last year (duh!). But I think what we saw in this at bat is Suzuki and Hughes employing a strategy that definitely would have worked against the 2014 version of Castellanos. On pitches #4 and #5 they tried to get him to chase outside and then low. I think he probably goes after both of those more often than not last year, but when he laid off, it shifted to put the pressure back on Hughes. No margin of error and he threw a bad pitch.

Again, it could be a random event, or it could be a sign of a maturing hitter. Let’s hope for the latter.

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