On April 7th, the Detroit Tigers completed a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals, extending their winning streak to five games (which still remains the longest winning streak of their season), rising to four games above .500 (7-3), and ascending to the top of the AL Central. However, from that point forward, the Tigers underwent a complete collapse…
- March/April: 13-14 (.481)
- May: 9-18 (.333)
- June: 5-20 (.200)
- July: 2-10 (.167)
Since the start of May, the Tigers are 16-48 (.250). In other words, they have lost three games for every game won. No team in baseball has won fewer games during that time (even the lowly Orioles won 19). Overall, Detroit has the second worst record in baseball (29-62), merely two games up on Baltimore, and the second lowest run differential (-174).
With the much-anticipated July 31st trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Tigers have some highly coveted pieces to deal, including Shane Greene, Matt Boyd, and Nick Castellanos. In this piece, we will focus solely on Castellanos and the adjustments he’s made over the course of the last calendar month.
|3/28 – 6/16||6/18 – 7/17|
In the last 30 days or so, Castellanos has been performing significantly better in every single category listed above. Here’s what Tigers’ manager Ron Gardenhire had to say about Castellanos’ hot run…
“He’s swinging good,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of his cleanup hitter. “He made a nice adjustment a few weeks ago with his swing, changed a little bit, and I think he’s been barreling up a lot more baseballs. He hits it really hard.”Jason Beck of MLB.com
Let’s compare Castellanos’ swing pre- and post-breakout to see if we can identify any of the changes Gardenhire is alluding to…
Castellanos HR in early May:
Castellanos long fly out in early July:
In recent weeks, Castellanos has seemingly made an effort to tone down his leg-kick. This likely has allowed him to better his timing, which would hypothetically lead to a higher average exit velocity and estimated batting average…
|Source: Baseball Savant||3/28 – 6/16||6/18 – 7/17||Change|
|Average exit velocity||88.3||90.1||+1.8|
Castellanos has been doing a number of things differently of late, and they are definitely paying off. He’s angling his bat much higher up (previously, he was holding it at a 180 degree angle). His front foot is lifted up farther from the ground, he’s raising his back elbow, and he has lowered his hands into a more feasible position.
When Castellanos lifts up his front foot, his feet are closer together now, whereas as in the past they were much further apart. Once again, his leg kick is more subtle now, which can serve as an explanation for part of the reason as to why Nick has lowered his strikeout rate.
The other reason being the fact that Castellanos’ plate discipline has improved dramatically…
“He’s working on not chasing as much out of the [strike] zone,” Gardenhire said. “And when he stays in the zone, you see the ball jumping all over the place. Nick can hit. He’s always been able to hit.”Jason Beck of MLB.com
|Source: FanGraphs||Career||3/28 – 6/16||6/18 – 7/17|
He’s been swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone, more pitches inside the zone, and Nick has been making contact with a greater percentage of those pitches. Basically, he has progressed in every possible area when it comes down to plate discipline.
Castellanos is due to hit the free agent market after this season, so teams looking to bolster their offensive capabilities will presumably show interest in the Tigers’ bat-first rental outfielder.
In terms of fielding, Nick has made some tiny strides towards become an average defender in right field. According to Baseball Savant’s OAA metric, Castellanos has been -6 runs below average in 2019, which ranks 81st out of 93 qualified outfielders. That is by no means good, but when you consider that Nick’s OAA last season was (-24) — which was dead last in the majors — one can deem that an improvement.
His reaction time is slow, and the routes he takes are indirect. Here is a breakdown of the changes in Castellanos’ Directional OAA dating back to last season…
|Source: Baseball Savant||2018||2019|
Ultimately, Castellanos’ has graded better in every area this year. With that being said, he still has plenty of work to do.
By making several notable adjustments to his swing (such as the toning down of his leg kick and the raising of his bat and back elbow) and approach (swinging more at strikes and less at balls), Castellanos has turned around his 2019 campaign and boosted his trade value by a sizable margin, and he has potentially earned himself an extra few millions dollars in the process (as he is a pending 2019 FA).