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Nick Castellanos, the player we just can't quit

His results finally match his process. Is this time for real?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

For a certain section of MLB fans (a section of fans whose Venn Diagram is likely a near-perfect overlay of those who come to Beyond the Box Score with regularity), Nick Castellanos is one of the most intriguing players in baseball. For many other fans, the name Castellanos may not even ring a bell; for yet others they may think of him as merely a corner infielder for a team in the AL Central. But for the fans who have their homepage set to Baseball Savant and mutter “Barrel FIP” in their sleep, Castellanos is a player they just can’t quit.

Just look at some of the titles of articles from respected baseball outlets in the past six months. There’s “Turning Nick Castellanos into Nolan Arenado” and “Nick Castellanos: The Greek God of Hard Contact” from FanGraphs, as well as “Nick Castellanos is finally breaking out” on this very website earlier this season. Castellanos is the Jeff Mangum of the sabermetric baseball world, and the last few weeks look like they might just be “Holland, 1945.”

When Ryan Romano wrote his “Nick Castellanos is finally breaking out” article earlier this season, it was the perfect example of why, to a certain section of fans, Castellanos is the arguably the most interesting player in baseball. Romano lays out the case that although Castellanos is currently hitting just .217, he’s still having his breakout thanks to the highest exit velocity of any hitter in baseball to date (April 16). Romano states: “Know a good way to get hits? Make quality contact — i.e., hit the snot out of the ball, with regularity.” That sentence, combined with Castellanos’ career .261/.311/.434 slash line should be tattooed, Memento-style, onto every sabermetrically-inclined baseball fans’ chest. (“Nick C. murdered your fantasy team.”)

Not long after Romano’s article, despite some of the best batted ball numbers of any hitter in the league, Castellanos proceeded to post a wRC+ of 35 in the month of May. This shouldn’t be shocking, as for the three seasons we have for xwOBA-wOBA, Castellanos has finished the season with a positive result each season. What that means is that Castellanos keeps hitting the ball hard, but he also keeps missing out on the positive results that are supposed to come along with that. As Romano pointed out, if you hit the snot out of the ball, you should be able to get hits. And that’s why Castellanos is so intriguing. He is arguably the biggest and most consistent outlier of the Statcast era — at least until the last seven weeks. Since the start of June, Castellanos has seen a stark improvement in his results. He’s finally starting to see the results that his batted ball profile would suggest he should have.

Castellanos’s 2017 stats

April 4 - May 31 51 23 4 25 .209 .283 .353
June 2 - July 23 44 26 10 29 .295 .350 .572

The differences are stark. After posting an ISO of .144 in his first two months, that figure has jumped to .277 in the past seven weeks. His batting average has gone from barely usable to solidly above average.

So is this the Castellanos breakout we’ve been hyping for the entirety of his career? Can we finally trust Statcast blindly?! It’s almost impossible to say, since the classic underlying metrics we would typically use (hard hit ball rate, xwOBA) have always been on Castellanos’ side. They make him look good now, but they also made him look good in his atrocious start to the season.

Plus, in 2015, Castellanos had a 43-game stretch in which he hit .273/.343/.567 with 11 home runs, and he ended that season with an OPS of .722, so maybe it’s time to pump the brakes again. After all, if we’re speaking in small sample sizes, Castellanos has an OPS of .396 over the past five games.

That being said, this recent stretch is certainly a step in the right direction, and it’s something worth monitoring. Castellanos did manage a wRC+ of 119 last season, only missing out on his breakout season then because of injuries limiting his total number of games to 110. And despite the recent outburst, Castellanos still ranks 22nd among hitters with as plate appearances in xwOBA-wOBA, meaning he should hypothetically continue to improve his batting line as the season moves along. Of course, we’ve all said that before about Castellanos, and we’ve all been burned before. But, hey, maybe this is really the time. Even if it’s not, we all know we’ll be back for more eventually.

Stats current through the games of July 23.

Jim Turvey is a baseball diehard who also writes for DRays Bay, Call to the Pen, RotoBaller, and Insider Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @BaseballTurv.