Were you to look at the dashboard stats on the player page of Nick Castellanos, you might be very concerned about his batting average next year. He hit just .259 despite a robust .326 BABIP because he struck out too much (24.2% K%). Because BABIP is less within the control of the player than strikeout rate is, it’s fair to be concerned that Castellanos’ BABIP could fall and his batting average along with it unless accompanied by a surprising drop in strikeout rate. But BABIP isn’t completely out of a hitter’s control, and Castellanos might have more control over his.
The reason is that Castellanos was one of the best hitters in baseball this year in terms of squaring the ball up. Among 146 qualified hitters, Castellanos had the second highest line drive rate (28.5%) and the 12th lowest infield fly ball percentage (2.1%). There were only four other qualified hitters with a line drive rate higher than 25% and an IFFB% lower than 3%. All four of those hitters had a BABIP between .342 and .351. You could pretty easily make the argument that Castellanos’ BABIP was actually unlucky.
The four guys similar to Castellanos are Freddie Freeman, Joe Mauer, Matt Kemp and Chris Johnson. Going back to 2012, those guys all have a .340 BABIP or higher over the last three years. That makes me think Castellanos can maintain the better-than-average BABIP going forward. If that’s true, the floor is set on his batting average, and there is upside if a) his BABIP rises as seems possible and/or b) he cuts down the strikeouts.
Whether his BABIP is above average or way above average is probably impossible to predict, but nothing jumps out to indicate that his strikeout rate may fall. His strikeout rate didn’t get better as the year went along according to his monthly splits. And if you split his year in half, it doesn’t appear that he improved his plate discipline or made more contact in the second half of the year. As a crude way of way explaining that without having to post four images from BrooksBaseball.net, Castellanos’ strikeout rate was about 4% higher post-All Star break.
The best hope for an improving strikeout rate is simply his age. As Jeff Zimmerman showed us at the beginning of the year (picture below), young hitters see a decline in strikeouts until age 25 on average.
If that holds true for Castellanos and his BABIP rises, Castellanos could easily hit .285 or higher as have all players similar to him mentioned above since 2012. With an extra 25+ points of batting average, Castellanos probably would have finished the year as the 15th best third baseman as opposed to 20th and being almost exactly average for the position according to Zach Sanders’ end-of-season valuations.
The problem is that it’s hard to see Castellanos having upside in any other categories. He might be able to hit more than 11 home runs. But probably not too many more. Assuming his HR/FB rate rose from 7.5% to the league average of 9.5%, he’d hit 14 home runs in the same number of plate appearances if all his other rate stats stayed the same. But if we’re going to cite Zimmerman’s research on aging curves to be hopeful that Castellanos strikes out less, we can’t expect his power production to grow too much.
The only other hope for upside with Castellanos is that he moves up in the batting order. He hit 6-7-8 almost exclusively in 2014, and only scored 50 runs and drove in 66 runs from that position. Were to he hit higher in the order, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to do what Pablo Sandoval did this year: .279, 16 HR, 68 R, 73 RBI. That would make him a top 10 player at the position. But a move up the lineup doesn’t seem likely, so he’s probably a top 15 type 3B with an outside shot to crack the top 12.