Remember where you were when you heard about “Merry Cliffmas”? I remember waking up one morning before I knew to set alarms for things like certain writers on Twitter, only to see that there were several notifications that the Phillies had signed Cliff Lee unexpectedly. It was a great feeling that led to heightened expectations for my favorite baseball team. Surely, with a combination of Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, there was nothing that could slow that team from an eventual World Series championship, right?
Fast forward to March 2022.
The Phillies had already landed Kyle Schwarber as a free agent and looked like they were going to be a solid offensive group moving forward. They had thunder in bats of Schwarber, Harper and Hoskins, contact in the form of Realmuto and Segura and looked like one of the better units in the game. Then they signed Nick Castellanos, putting, on paper, another hitter who could hit for solid contact and excellent power to a lineup that suddenly appeared unstoppably deep. There was nothing that could slow that team from an eventual World Series championship, right?
2022 stats: .263/.305/.389, 13 HR, 62 RBI, 23.3 K%, 2.3 BB%, 94 wRC+, -0.1 bWAR
There were times when Castellanos showed how good a hitter he is and why the team signed him in the first place. His April (138 wRC+) and August (132 wRC+) were legitimately good months at the plate. He hit with average, he hit with power and, no he didn’t have patience, but he still showed why the team was interested in signing him in the first place.
The postseason wasn’t kind to him at the plate, but defensively?
Nick Castellanos’ game-saving catch in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1 of the NLDS happened a month ago today.— Phillies Nation (@PhilliesNation) November 11, 2022
He seemed to find that play to get easier and easier as the games ticked on. It was actually quite surprising, considering how his defense is rated publicly.
<exhales slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwly> Where do you begin? Everything - EVERYTHING - just seemed to go backwards for him.
Walk rate? Went down.
Strike out rate? Went up.
Soft contact rate? Went up.
Hard hit rate? Went down.
Average exit velocity? Went down.
Barrel rate? Went down.
The list could go on and on, but it would be beating a dead horse. It almost got to the point where we all knew what was coming (slider, down and away) and we all knew the result (swing and a miss). Castellanos just couldn’t seem to get it going. There is probably no doubt he would want some kind of do over, and while I won’t excuse his showing this season, I’m going to go on the defensive a bit here. Allow me to make the case for why this season should be a punted one for Castellanos, two factors conspiring to maybe explain a little bit of his poor performance.
First, he signed in late March, news breaking on March 19th. Spring games had already started and he missed a few of them by not being in camp. Though a lot of players had played through an abbreviated camp due to the lockout, Castellanos didn’t even get that. His April numbers didn’t show any rust, but he had to acclimate himself to a new team, a new city, a new home and a new child in a whirlwind of days. That’s not easy to do. We don’t know how all of that affected him. He’s been on record as not wanting to be the face of a franchise, but when he signed his big free agent deal, he became the talk of the town. That is going to make someone uncomfortable if that kind of exposure doesn’t fit their personality. Should he have been more prepared to deal with it? Possibly, but that’s also 20/20 hindsight.
Second, we likely won’t ever know how much his getting hit on the wrist affected his season.
Prior to his getting hit on that wrist, Castellanos was hitting quite well. Afterwards?
pre-HBP: 103 PA, .308/.379/.506. 4 HR, 15 RBI
post-HBP: 455 PA, .254/.288/.365, 9 HR, 47 RBI
There is a noticeable drop off after he got hit from where he was prior to being hit. It doesn’t explain everything about his season. After all, he still hit well in August, but it is possible he developed some bad habits after that due to maybe some pain he was hiding, some undisclosed injury. If you really want to lean into this theory, there is a little bit of evidence that something wasn’t right with him.
Let’s play a game of “bend the evidence towards your argument.” Wrist injuries are notorious for sapping a hitter’s strength, right?
I know, I know, there is already a group of you saying, “objection, speculative” and I would agree with it. It’s all merely me speculating that the hit by pitch on Castellanos is related to his dip in production, specifically his ability to hit the ball with any kind of power. Unless Castellanos himself goes on the record and says that they’re related, it’s just me in a tinfoil hat, connecting strings on a map. However, I also found this quite interesting as well. It was around that time that pitchers starting throwing him more fastballs.
Did they know there was an issue with him? Does it make at least some sense that maybe they were throwing him more fastballs around this time, knowing his injured wrist wouldn’t allow him to hit with any kind of authority? Maybe, maybe not. Like I said, unless Castellanos himself will say it, this is just me speculating that the wrist injury was a reason for his bad season.
One of the bigger questions of this offseason is going to be: should the Phillies try and move on from Castellanos and the remainder of his contract, or should they try and fix him? The team looks like they’re leaning towards keeping him, probably rightly so, but what are the benefits of moving on?
First, that’s some decent money they would be moving out from under. Although to move him, they’d have to eat some of the contract, but it would be hard to imagine them eating the entirety of the $80 million still owed to him. Some of that money could be reallocated toward the roster, be it the bullpen, the rotation or the bench. Second, that is another roster spot open that the team can use to get someone that fits them a little more. There is already more than enough thunder in the lineup, so losing his power potential wouldn’t hurt as much.
Scene from #Phillies' clubhouse after G6: Alec Bohm, Matt Vierling,Darick Hall & Garrett Stubbs sat in a semicircle around Kyle Schwarber, who gave short pep talk. Rhys Hoskins and Nick Castellanos joined later for a few beers. Disappointed? Yep. Devastated? Nope. No reason to be— Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) November 6, 2022
This was not the first time we heard about this with Castellanos and other players on the team. It was mentioned on more than one occasion how often he took younger players aside. Even if he wasn’t having the season he wanted to, he was still finding ways to contribute. That is not something to simply be brushed aside.
We heard all during the World Series how the announcers were convinced that Castellanos is going to bounce back in 2023. “He’s too good a hitter” was the common refrain why. He has all the makings of being able to do so, too. He’s shown in the past that he is actually a really good hitter. It’s possible he just needed this season to end and he’ll be back to his previously established heights next season. The team is actually depending on it. Whether that dependence is wise will remain one of the bigger questions for the Phillies in 2023.