Nick Castellanos was solid for Cincinnati in his first season, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 34. A .257 BABIP tanked his batting average to a career low .225, but he should rebound in 2021. His strikeout rate jumped considerably, which is bad, but 2020 featured a lot of anomalies for many players, not just Castellanos. He continued to make solid contact, albeit not overwhelmingly forceful, and his batted ball profile lends itself to 30+ home runs in Great American Small Park. Oops, Ball Park*.
Before we get into his batted ball profile, we have to start with the strikeout rate. His strikeout rate ballooned to 28.5 percent, and for a frame of reference, his previous career high was 25.5 percent back in 2015. He actually chased less compared to years past, so what happened? Well, he just whiffed more. His swinging strike rate was way up, and he missed more fastballs and off-speed stuff in the zone.
Furthermore, the chart below may not do it justice, so I’ll put it in a tabular fashion below the graphic, but the whiffs out of the zone are concerning. And, to top it off, fastball has increased each of the last three years.
Chase Miss Rate
The issues with his strikeout rate obviously hurt his batting average, but per Fangraphs and the graphic I placed above, did you see his contact rate? It was far and away a career low. It’s hard to hit for a good average when you don’t make contact. There were 11 qualified hitters last year who posted a swinging strike rate, per FanGraphs of at least 16 percent. The highest average was Franmil Reyes ’ .275 and the average of the 11 guys was .236. His contact rate will need to rebound in 2021.
It has been mentioned in other player profiles, but it takes a different entity with Castellanos. Not all hard contact is created equal, and typically we’ve talked about it in a manner where a player’s exit velocity increased compared to a recent season, but the increases were all on ground balls. For a power hitter, an increase in overall exit velocity on anything other than fly balls and line drives doesn’t do much for their power profile.
In this instance of not all hard contact being created equal, Castellanos makes hard contact at a solid rate, but his max exit velocity isn’t on the same scale. I don’t want to say warning track power, considering I think Castellanos hits 30+ home runs in 2021, but his average league rank on his average and max exit velocity do not line up.
Avg. Exit Velo League Rank
Max Exit Velo League Rank
Other than 2019, his marks have not been in line with one another. He posted a career high exit velocity and barrel rate in 2020, and a sizable jump in hard contact on fly balls helped push his HR/FB ratio (23.7% in 2020) more than nine percentage points higher than any year of his career. Castellanos has pop, but I think we can say he doesn’t have elite pop, or top-end pop. However, he has a great home park that helps him overcome this.
Lastly, he hit breaking stuff harder in 2020, but unfortunately didn’t have much to show for it. Continued success here should parlay into actual results in 2021. Ten of his 16 hits against breaking pitches went for extra bases, but the elevated whiff rate hurt him here, resulting in a .198 average. When he did make contact with breaking stuff, he was decent for the most part. Better luck in 2021 will help.
Despite lacking the top-tier, out of the stadium power, Castellanos runs into enough balls in a great home park that 2021 should be a solid statistical campaign for him. His pace from 2020 put him in the upper-30s, and 2021 will be the year he breaks the 30 home run threshold. Striking out less should with his batting average, and that Cincinnati offense is going to be lethal in 2021. Castellanos will have plenty of chances to drive in runs, and be driven in himself, all while popping 30+ home runs.
After four straight years of hitting at least .272, I’m not as worried that his average will stink in 2021, and if I can get an average in that range with his first career 30 homer season and his second season with 100+ RBI, I love the value.