Coming into the 2014 season, Nick Castellanos was one of the premier prospects in the game. He had been a top-100 prospect in each of the last four years according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, and once the Detroit Tigers dealt off Prince Fielder, the team finally had a permanent place for Castellanos on the major-league roster.
The transition from minor-league stud to major-league starter was not a smooth one for Castellanos, though. In his rookie season, Castellanos was one of the worst regulars in the major leagues. He posted a -0.5 fWAR, fueled by a below average bat and horrific glove work.
Sadly, his sophomore effort wasn’t much of an improvement, with Castellanos’ fWAR improving but still remaining in the negative. In both of 2014 and 2015, Castellanos was in the bottom ten of all regular position players in fWAR. A poor sign for Castellanos’ career, to say the least.
But 2016 looks like Castellanos might finally be realizing the potential that talent evaluators saw in him as a minor leaguer. Currently, Castellanos has an OPS north of 1.000 and the highest batting average in the American League. Not bad for a player who had provided negative value to his team in each of the last two seasons. Is this success sustainable for Castellanos though?
The short answer is probably no.
But there is reason for optimism.
For his career, Castellanos had posted a slash line of .257/.304/.405 prior to this season. In 2016, his numbers are .378/.405/.640. His walk rate and strikeout rates are essentially unchanged, but the big difference makers for Castellanos this year have been an enormous spike in BABIP and ISO, which have lead to the drastic overall increase in his offensive numbers.
Castellanos’ BABIP is the primary reason why his current level of success is unsustainable. He leads the majors by a significant margin with a .449 BABIP, well above the league average of about .300, and well above his own career numbers that have hovered around .325 in the past. Castellanos has been absurdly lucky to this point in the year. Even the best major leaguers can’t come close to sustaining a .449 BABIP over an entire season. For this reason alone, Castellanos is due for a certain level of regression.
Castellanos has also managed to increase his power output, though, boosting his ISO by close to 100 points. For his career, Castellanos has been slightly above average in the ISO department, but this year he has gone through the roof. Unfortunately, his .261 ISO is completely unsustainable, just like his BABIP, but that doesn’t mean his power is simply going to go back to his career averages.
Luckily for Castellanos, there is a reason to think that these numbers are more than just a complete fluke. It’s still early in the season, but he has shown a difference in his batted ball profile up to this point. Through his first 31 games, Castellanos has cut back significantly on his ground ball rate (36.2 percent in 2015, down to 21.2 percent in 2016), and turned those grounders into line drives (23.3 percent to 31.8 percent) and fly balls (40.4 percent to 47.1 percent).
Not only has Castellanos been putting more balls in the air, but thanks to baseballheatmaps.com, we can see Castellanos has been hitting the ball farther thus far in 2016 as well. Castellanos’ average fly ball distance has gone up from 277 feet in 2015 to 296 feet in 2016 and his average home run distance has risen from 357 feet in 2015 to 369 feet in 2016. Each is a significant jump that points towards Castellanos hitting the ball harder.
Castellanos likely won’t be able to maintain a .449 BABIP or a .261 ISO for the entirety of the season, but now that he has started putting the ball in the air with more authority, he may have found a method to success that had been eluding him through his first two full seasons in the majors.