By: Chris Larson
Looking back at this past summer's Trade Deadline, there were plenty of deals that happened as well as some headiner trades such as the Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds trade and the Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros trade. Both of those trades shock the marketplace and brought plenty of surprise throughout the industry when both happened.
However, along with both of those deals, there were plenty of other under-the-radar trades that happened as well. There was the Zac Gallen trade, where Gallen went from the Miami Marlins to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquisition of Jedd Gyorko from the St. Louis Cardinals, and a few others that didn't get as much attention as the aforementioned Bauer and Greinke trades.
Among those trades was the one that sent outfielder, Nicholas Castellanos, from the Detroit Tigers to the Chicago Cubs. At the time, many wondered how exactly Castellanos would fit into the bigger blueprint of the Cubs team for this season and many had questions about whether or not his overall defense would improve the Cubs enough to justify such a trade. Fast forward almost four weeks and it looks like those concerns were only petty things with how invaluable Castellanos has been thus far for the Chicago Cubs.
Since heading to the north side on July 31st, Castellanos has a cumulative stat line of: .378/.414/.756 over 87 plate appearances or 20 games. Granted, it's a small sample size, but the numbers continue to get impressive when you dig a little deeper. Over that span, Castellanos has recorded 31 hits, 7 doubles, 8 home runs, 12 RBI, 5 walks, and 17 strikeouts. In just that short period of time, Castellanos already has a (1.3) WAR (Wins Above Replacement) value along with a RAA (Runs Better Than Average) value of (11). That last stat is significant because it indicates that Castellanos has scored (11) runs more than the same average player at his position.
As such, since acquiring Nicholas Castellanos from the Detroit Tigers starting on August 1st, the Chicago Cubs have a cumulative record of 12-8. Over that span, the Cubs have scored (95) runs, (34) home runs, (93) RBI and have a team on-base percentage of (.337). Compared to the rest of this season, that is the third highest on-base percentage and there are still 7 games to go before the conclusion of August. Furthermore, up until yesterday, the Cubs have occupied 1st place in all but 4 days this month which could certainly be a credit to the contributions that Nicholas Castellanos has brought to the team.
Of course, baseball is a team sport and isn't centralized around one guy, but when a team gets an injection to their roster such as Castellanos, sometimes their success goes up a level and that's exactly what has happened with the Cubs. So, that begs the question: what exactly has changed for Nicholas Castellanos or is it simply a matter of playing in a new competitive environment that has brought out the best in him? Let's take a look at some data to try and draw a conclusion.
Prior to starting the discussion, it is important to remember that the Chicago Cubs are further ahead in the analytical processes and procedures that baseball has seemingly embraced over the past couple of seasons compared to the Detroit Tigers. Given that, some of the hitting formulas and methods are likely different on the north side of Chicago compared to in Detroit, but it's still important to give credit to the player since they are the ones doing the bulk of the work and absorbing/using the information being given to them.
For starters, let's begin by comparing Nicholas Castellano's walks, strikeout percentage and Isolated Power (ISO) values for the 2019 regular season between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. When it comes to walks, Castellanos walked (7.1%) of the time with the Tigers compared to (5.7%) so far with the Chicago Cubs. Granted, that sample size is composed of 439 plate appearances with Detroit compared to 87 plate appearances with Chicago. In addition, when it comes to strikeout percentage, Castellanos struck out (21.9%) of the time in Detroit compared to (19.5%) of the time so far in Chicago and has put up an Isolated Power value of nearly double what he did in Detroit. So far with the Cubs, Castellanos has an Isolated Power value of (.389) compared to the (.189) value that he had with the Tigers.
More plate appearances are going to be needed to come to a complete conclusion, but from these numbers it's fair to say that Nicholas Castellanos is striking out less and has a lot more power at Wrigley Field compared to the power that he displayed at Comerica Park. The field dynamics overall between Wrigley Field and Comerica Park tend to be different, as Comerica Park tends to be a pitchers ballpark while Wrigley Field tends to be a hitters haven, but the aerodynamical approach that Castellanos has started to embrace are already showing in his power at the plate. Also, with the strikeout percentage being down almost (2%) it indicates that Castellanos is being more patient at the plate and seeing the ball better in general. When you combine both the walks and strikeouts together, it comes out to an overall walks-to-strikeout rate of (0.29) with the Cubs compared to (0.32) in the Motor City with the Tigers.
To add to the discussion, the next focus of the discussion needs to center around the batted ball stats for Nicholas Castellanos so far with the Cubs compared to the start of this season with the Detroit Tigers. When it comes to pull percentage, Castellanos put up a (41.1%) pull percentage with the Tigers compared to (41.5%) so far with the Cubs. Next, in terms of Centerfield percentage, it is a little over three percentage points higher with the Cubs at (33.8%) compared to (30.4%) with the Tigers. Finally, based on the statistics so far, the data shows that Castellanos has focused on hitting the ball to the centerfield more compared to being the opposite field hitter that he was in Detroit. With the Tigers, Castellanos had an Opposite Field Percentage of (28.5%) compared to (24.6%) so far with the Cubs.
It's interesting to note some of the differences in those three categories of stats. Again, the ballpark dynamics come into play here because it changes the overall approach for every hitter, the overall dynamics of the baseball are different and more data needs to be seen with the Chicago Cubs before a definitive conclusion can be made up, but it's still important to note those differences in the percentage values. For a final conclusion of the discussion, let's focus on the type of pitches that Castellanos is seeing when he's inside the box.
For that, here's a chart to showcase the information in an understandable manner courtesy of FanGraphs. Again, there is recency bias involved because it's stats based on this season, but it helps to illustrate the overall hitting approach of Castellanos and the differences in the hit methods between Chicago and Detroit.
Based on this data, it's interesting because it shows that Nicholas Castellanos is seeing a lot more fastballs than he ever did to start the season with the Detroit Tigers. It could be that there is a difference in the overall pitch mixes of opposing teams in the American League Central compared to the National League Central, but it's an interesting trend nonetheless and one to watch over the remainder of the regular season. Beyond that, as the chart showcases, Nicholas Castellanos is seeing fewer sliders (26.0% in Detroit compared to 23.5% in Chicago), more cutters (5.5% in Detroit compared to 6.8% in Detroit) and fewer curveballs, changeups, and split-fingered fastballs overall. Again, it likely has something to do with the opposing team's approach, but the selection difference is fascinating.
While there were a couple of big blockbuster trades that happened prior to or on July 31st this year, there were also some under-the-radar trades that happened and the Nicholas Castellanos one is certainly one of those. In fact, you could very well make the argument that it might have been the best trade that happened at the Trade Deadline simply because of the value that Castellanos has provided to the Chicago Cubs so far. Whether it's because he has found his old self playing in a new competitive environment or simply because of a change in the overall analytics and his approach at the plate remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain - Nicholas Castellanos is going to be a big role player for the Cubs down the stretch and a significant piece in whether or not the Cubs end up winning the National League Central and taking away the crown from the St. Louis Cardinals or Milwaukee Brewers.