When Nick Castellanos signed a 5 year, $100 million contract this past offseason, the Phillies were officially all-in as they pushed past the $230 million luxury tax threshold for the first time in franchise history. At the time, Castellanos was coming off an All-Star season where he slashed .309/.362/.576 with 34 home runs, 100 RBIs, and 38 doubles. He was the bat that would put the Phillies offense over the top, giving them the depth and power to mash their way into October. But three-and-a-half months into his Phillies tenure have been disappointing, to say the least.
Entering Saturday night’s matchup against what’s left of the Washington Nationals, Castellanos has hit just .257/.300/.384 with only 10 home runs and 53 RBIs. His strikeout rate is up, walk rate is down, and all of his career averages are well-below normal. His 90 wRC+, which measures a player’s offensive production in terms of runs while accounting for external factors (i.e. ballparks), is 10% below the league average of 100. For reference, Castellanos amassed 140 wRC+ in his 2021 season with Cincinnati and has typically been 11% above league average over the course of his career. With this in mind, why have Castellanos’ struggles extended this deep into the season when he has traditionally been a consistent middle-of-the-order bat?
In his July 1 article on the topic, Matt Gelb of The Athletic explains numerous factors that could be at play. The ball, which has been the subject of conversation for the majority of the season, could be one such cause for his struggles. At the time of the article, Castellanos had lost seven home runs in 2022 based on exit velocities and launch angles in tandem with historical trends. For someone who relies on high exit velocities and towering blasts hit to the big part of the field for home runs, the seemingly deadened baseballs could be impacting production.
In addition, Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long suggested at the time that Castellanos’ swing was too jumpy––meaning his contact point is further out in front than years past. A swing can be compared to a screw: if the swing is tight and compact, it is significantly more powerful than one that is long and loose. As a result, by reaching for the baseball, Castellanos has limited his ability to tap into his power stroke and increased his chances of medium to soft contact. This explains why his hard hit percentage is down 12.2% while his soft and medium contact percentages have both risen exponentially.
Or, maybe Castellanos’ struggles are a little more…simple. He could be trying to do too much rather than letting the game come to him. He mentioned this could be the reason for his struggles after the Phillies 3-1 victory over the Braves on August 3. The right fielder is not one who likes to get into the nitty and gritty parts of hitting mechanics. He doesn’t beat around the bush and would prefer to leave the science to the analytics department. As he said himself in his introductory press conference, “I don’t have a college degree. I hit baseballs.” Hitting baseballs––and hitting them hard––is exactly what Castellanos has been doing as of late.
In 11 games since July 25, Castellanos is hitting .357 (15-42) with a .934 OPS. Though 11 of his 15 hits have been singles, his swing seems to have more conviction and purpose, which the results justify. However, the slugger is still missing the power that he’s been accustomed to over the course of his nine year career. But in the eighth inning of a tie game in Atlanta on August 3, Castellanos hit a deep drive into center field to make it a 3-1 ballgame. The ball was scorched at 104 mph and traveled 420 feet into the trees of Truist Park. It’s the swing and the result that can get a hitter going. As someone that labels himself as a “feel” guy, or someone that can get hot after one swing, maybe this was finally the one that we’ll look back on with the Fightins in the postseason and say, “This is what got Castellanos rolling.”
Winners in nine of their last eleven, the Phillies themselves have gotten hot at the right time. The club is entering the dog days of summer and have 34 of their final 56 games against league bottom feeders. With the reinforcements acquired at the trade deadline, the return of Jean Segura, and the eventual arrival of Bryce Harper, the time is now to cement themselves in the playoffs. But, if Nick Castellanos has indeed finally found his swing, start dusting off the rally towels. October baseball in South Philadelphia is coming.
Photo: Kyle Ross/USA Today