Optimism is good. It’s usually a good quality in a person, and writing pessimistic things provides me with no joy. I’d love to be writing a different piece, in which I laud the positive changes made by Nick Castellanos so far this year, but unfortunately, the reality of the situation precludes that. Even with a small sample and noisy defensive stats, everyone is pretty much in agreement that is defense is better, even if it isn’t great. The problem is that getting his defense above water was only part of the equation for the 23 year old’s development for 2015. We knew he wasn’t ever going to be a gloveman, but we expected the bat to flourish if given time. As we check in at the end of May of Year 2, the signs of growth are nonexistent.
Let’s start with the basics. The strikeout and walk rates aren’t better. The power is up the slightest bit, and the overall results are down.
Okay, so more swings at pitches outside the zone; bad. You’ll also notice pitches are throwing far fewer pitches in the zone.
And that’s what has me worried. The goal should be to swing at less junk to force the pitcher to either walk you or to throw you better pitches. Nick isn’t doing that. Let’s get even finer. Using Bill Petti’s Edge%, you can see pitchers learning to expand the zone.
Pitchers are living on the edge and in the heart less in favor of more pitches outside the zone. This isn’t a bad thing inherently, but you would want to see this matched with fewer swings. It would be one thing to swing more at more strikes, but it’s going the wrong way.
So what does this all mean? I’m the last person to bury a young player because they don’t reach their potential early. And Castellanos clearly has a high aptitude when it comes to the game’s hardest skill. The problem isn’t so much that Castellanos is still struggling to find his footing, the problem is that he doesn’t seem to be improving at the part of the game that is very obviously holding him back; strike zone management.
This is kind of a soft comment, but I think the biggest difference between non-superstars who stick and those who don’t is the ability to come to terms with the pitches they cannot hit. For whatever reason, Castellanos is much better on the pitch inside than the stuff away from him and down.
I’m not an expert on swing mechanics, so I have no idea how much he can fix that problem, but he at least has to be able to recognize it as a deficiency and alter his behavior accordingly. I don’t expect him to just learn to hit those pitches better, but it’s not too much to ask that he stops swinging at them.
That’s what I’d be looking for over the next four months. It’s not the Castellanos has to be good right now. He’s 23 and has lots of time to get it right, but it is somewhat concerning that there’s no forward progress this year. I don’t really care if he’s not BABIPing into hits or if he hasn’t hit for enough power at this age, but you want to see a guy identify a problem and work on it. And that isn’t evident in the results. So either he hasn’t worked on it or he doesn’t have the tools to correct it. Both are concerns.
It’s still early in the season and in his career, but the absence of good news is slowly starting to matter.