Let me begin by giving Nick Castellanos his due praise.
He has easily been the most consistent threat this year in the team’s lineup, having a rebound year that has helped the Hoskins-less storm, as well as provide the leadership in the clubhouse that the team needed. His defense has improved again this year to the point where he is no longer a threat to himself and his team when a flyball is lofted his way. His All-Star appearance was completely and totally deserved.
But now there’s a problem.
Lately, Castellanos has joined his “Big 5” brethren in a hitting slump.
Phillies' Big 5 July numbers:— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) July 24, 2023
Schwarber: .190/.253/.418, wRC+ 76, 29.9% K-rate
Turner: .247/.293/.416, wRC+ 89, 26.8% K-rate
Castellanos: .173/.195/.260, wRC+ 43, 32.5% K-rate
Harper: .311/.391/.459, wRC+ 134, 21.7% K-rate
Realmuto: 246/.302/.491, wRC+ 109, 26.6% K-rate
We’ve all seen the games with our own eyes. We can attest to the struggles the team is having scoring runs right now. There is the occasional outburst of offense, but for the most part, the production has dipped of late. For our purposes, we can zero in on Castellanos and note the dip he has been having for a while now.
2022 felt like an exercise in the watcher screaming at the screen for Castellanos to stop chasing the same pitch that was seemingly getting him out on a nightly basis: the slider down and away. You remember these, don’t you?
From an anecdotal standpoint, this year has seen him improve in that area, with a smidge of data to back it up. He’s not swinging and missing at those pitches that bedeviled him as much as they did last year.
There was also, thankfully, a change in approach to how pitchers were attacking him, choosing to focus more on fastballs this year and dropping the percentage of breaking pitches he saw. What we’ve seen is that now he has gone back to being an effective hitter, the opposition has started to readjust back to him. Here is the breakdown of how pitchers have been pitching to Castellanos by month.
Since the beginning of the season, opposing pitchers have started to rely less on fastballs and offspeed pitches to get him out and shown an uptick in breaking pitches against him. It’s been particularly pronounced in the month of July, which happens to coincide with the beginning of his slump.
The thing to always worry about with Castellanos this year is that he would revert back to his free swinging ways of 2022. There has been plenty of documentation of how uncomfortable he was last year, that comfort level evening out this season as he has been more acclimated to his surroundings. We’ve now seen him revert back to the offensive player he was prior to 2022, a damn fine hitter. Yet with what we had seen last year, there was always that bit of doubt in the back of our minds that he would just go back to the 2022 version, justified or not. Lately, that’s what we’ve seen.
The thing to look at is his swinging percentage, to see if he’s been chasing more often. From this graph, we can see a small tale of his season.
In that middle section, where all of his rates were climbing, Castellanos was in the middle of another rougher stretch of the year. From games 26 through 49, he hit .245/.280/.372, coinciding a bit with what we see on this graph where he was free swinging again. After that time, when you see the rates falling, he started to find more success. Games 50-67, his hit .384/.418/.630. His current dry spell has gone hand in hand with his rates climbing yet again, though not as steeply as he was in the middle of the season. There is some definite cherry picking with numbers and date, but you can basically see what was happening. When he’s got more plate discipline, he sees more success.
A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that entire offense is struggling. You can see everyone pressing to help the team get out of their current offensive muck. Castellanos looks like he is no exception. What will be key for him moving forward with the season is that his plate discipline improve. It isn’t just a matter of laying off that slider down and away from right-handed pitchers. It’s just slowing the chase rate down to a more palatable level. His season has been a success this year no matter how you paint it. To finish with a flourish, he needs to go back to April Castellanos. That will help this team immensely.