Nick Castellanos’ Launch-Angle Improvements

If you look at Nick Castellanos‘ traditional statistics, you obviously will notice that something is different. His OPS is nearing 1.000 after messing around in the 700 level before. This was the kind of improvement we were hoping for! The wait is over!

If you look at the next level, things begin to muddy. Basically 40% of the third baseman’s balls in play have fallen for hits, compared to 33% in the past. His walks and strikeouts are about the same as his previously established levels, and his batted-ball spray, in terms of pulling versus going oppo, remain roughly the same, too. He’s added a few fly balls, as he’s cut his grounder rate nearly 40%, so we could call it a little bit of power growth plus a lot of luck, and call it a day.

But we’ve got another level of statistics now, and if we look into those numbers, we see the type of growth that seems sustainable, and points to a small step in approach that may lead to a giant leap in production — even if projection systems usually call for restraint in such situations, even for a 24-year-old.

In short, you could say that the Castellanos has improved his average exit velocity from 88.5 to 89.5, a tick that brings him ever so much closer to the golden standard, the 95-mph band that turns outs into hits.

Look again at Alan Nathan’s excellent chart on the relationship of launch angle and exit velocity to outcomes, though, and you’ll notice that a mile per hour here and a mile per hour there aren’t a big deal if they’re in the wrong angles. Hit a pitch into the ground at 100 and you’re probably still out.


From that chart, and other pieces like Nathan’s excellent look at the long ball or Mike Petriello’s deep dive into the line drive, we can divine two ideal launch angles for the hard batted ball. Between 25 and 30 degrees is where you want to hit it for homers (ideally at 95-plus mph), and 10-25 is where you want to hit for line drives (ideally at 100-plus mph). Adam Dunn was right: hit line drives and home runs will follow.

So let’s look at Castellanos’ distribution of balls in play last year and this year, with those ideal launch angles annotated on the graph.

You can see in the graph that he’s shifted his balls in play towards that red box in particular. But maybe the graph isn’t compelling, so here it is in table form. “Home runs” are balls in that 25-30 degree band over 95mph, and “line drives” are those 100+ mph balls in the 10-25 degree band.

Nick Castellanos’ Launch-Angle and Velocity Mix Changes
Year “Line Drives” “Home Runs”
2015 7.2% 4.0%
2016 17.5% 6.2%
SOURCE: Statcast
“Home runs” are balls in a 25-30 degree band that left the bat over 95mph, and “line drives” are 100+ mph balls in the 10-25 degree band.

Had he put that “line drive” rate up last year over the full year, Castellanos would have led baseball in that statistic, over Miguel Sano, Paul Goldschmidt, and Randal Grichuk.

Now that we’ve gone in this deep, though, we have to wonder if we’ve cut up the data to the point that it’s less useful — the splits on splits on splits problem, if you will. While we know that overall exit velocity is steady after 40 or so balls in play, thanks to Russell Carleton’s research, the sample gets smaller once you add angle to the equation.

Here’s the good news: Castellanos has hit 44 balls in play in that band between 10 and 30 degrees so far this year, so that subset alone has a good heft to it. We did look at velocity, though, and cut that sample up some more, so let’s just look at raw number of balls in the “good-outcomes band” this year versus last year, so that we keep that nice sample.

This year, Nick Castellanos has hit 45% of his balls at the launch angles that best lead to good outcomes. Last year, that number was 32%. And while we spent a while getting here, and looked at more than a few numbers, it’s that number that describes his breakout best, and it comes in a sufficiently robust sample to believe it.

So, while the BABIP regresses somewhat, and the defensive numbers steady themselves as they become more meaningful, we at least know one thing: Castellanos is launching it at a better angle this year, and that’s going to fuel the best year of his career (so far).

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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He still can’t field and still can’t run. Nice DH type, though.