Searching for Nicky Sticks

Will the TTPD of Phillies players return to form in '24?

In addition to being one of the best teams in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies feature the distinction of more personality than many teams you will find around the game. Bryce Harper, Brandon Marsh, Nick Castellanos, etc. It runs deep in the personality department. This is true to the point that you can apply virtually any “Phillies players as ________” social media bit and find yourself spiraling into a rather severe rabbit hole.

For example, if we were to go with Phillies players as Taylor Swift albums, you’d have a few options:

  • Bryce Harper as Reputation. Big. Bold. Occasionally angry.
  • Bryson Stott as 1989. More youthful with a dash of whimsy.
  • Zack Wheeler as Speak Now. Ol’ reliable. A bit of darkness underneath.
  • Brandon Marsh as Folklore/Evermore. Woods. Forest. Etc.

And if we continued the process of oversimplifying the very complex world of Taylor Swift albums, we’d be liable to throw Nick Castellanos in there as her most recent: The Tortured Poets Department. A different vibe altogether. Plenty of angst against a backdrop of softer black-and-white imagery. Plus, he’s from Florida(!!!).

Nick Castellanos isn’t your average ballplayer. He’s an artist. Last postseason, he was using batting gloves featuring work from Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was noted in 2021 to still be using a flip phone. While all of this is well-known at this point, it bears note, as he’s a wholly unique individual in a sport that tends to be somewhat cookie-cutter in terms of the respective personas of its athletes.

But the 2024 season hasn’t been super kind to the veteran from a performance standpoint. He’s been below average in terms of his overall production against his big league counterparts. He’s also been below average against his own career norms. With the Phillies going the way they are, one wonders if there’s another level to be reached for the collective if Castellanos can recover his former ways as we hit the summer months.


Down [Really] Bad


If you were to glance at Nick Castellanos‘ percentile rankings, you’d be greeted with a chill. Across the board, they are not great. He’s in the 36th in xBA, 33rd in xwOBA, 47th in K%, and 34th in BB%. Worse yet, he’s 10th percentile in Contact% and third in Whiff%. That’s a lot of blue. Hence the chill.

Castellanos’ slash sits at .212/.271/.338/.609. He’s at a .126 ISO, while striking out a shade under 22 percent of the time against a 6.8 percent walk rate. He’s making quality contact at his second-worst rate since 2016. Essentially every type of output at which we can look would represent a career-worst on the stat sheet. And if it’s not his worst, it’s likely in league with the early Detroit iteration of himself.

But it’s not all a total loss. He’s 51st percentile in Barrel% & 57th in Ideal Contact Rate. So there’s been some good contact. Just not enough of it.

It’s especially problematic for Castellanos because he doesn’t really contribute in other areas. He plies his trade in his bat. He’s a below-average-to-bad defender. While his 60th percentile sprint speed isn’t poor by definition, he’s also not an exceptional baserunner or going to add you much in the swipe game. So when the bat isn’t where it needs to be, the value that Nick Castellanos provides to the roster plummets.

Such is where we find ourselves as June gets underway.


I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)


One of the more obnoxious things that transpires when a marquee player struggles is the necessity by many to vilify the contract within the struggle. It’s always about pointing to the numbers and screaming that the player is overpaid. This is instead of taking into account the unquantifiable components that a player might bring, how much they’re not inhibiting the performance of others around them, or how they might come out of said struggle. Obviously that observation is crucial in regards to Castellanos’ specific situation.

Therefore, rather than discussing his performance in the context of money, let’s discuss the performance within the context of performance. Because while Castellanos is struggling, he’s also not doing a ton differently than he has in previous seasons.

The first thing we tend to look at when a hitter is struggling are some of the approach and contact trends. Is the approach different than it was previously? Is there more aggression? Less? Are they swinging at a zone or pitch type against which they don’t have a great track record? These are the questions. Here are the answers:

  • A 21.9 K% is below his career average and actually six points lower than it was last year.
  • His BB%, at 6.8, is narrowly above his career average and up 1.4% from 2023.
  • No real change in aggression. A Swing% of 57.3 is several points higher than his career norm, but is almost identical to his swing rate during his time in Philadelphia. In fact, he’s only experienced a rate increase on pitches inside of the strike zone.
  • CSW% (28.1) is actually down on both sides.

So there hasn’t been really any change in Castellanos from an approach standpoint for his own part. Even when we look at a notable change from opposing pitchers, he’s remained steadfast:

  • Pitchers are throwing hard stuff to Castellanos roughly five percent less than they did in 2023. Breaking stuff has essentially swapped places, raising five percent.
  • Castellanos, though, has jumped up his swing rate against fastballs, while essentially maintaining his swing rate against breaking pitches.

Within that, though, it’s important to note that while fastballs have always represented his highest quality of contact, he’s actually struggled in generating quality contact against both breaking and offspeed pitches in 2024. Those have also historically represented his highest source of whiffs. That seems a noteworthy aspect, especially as pitchers are throwing those two pitch types more frequently inside the strike zone. Castellanos is taking those pitches more frequently, while swinging only at more fastballs within the zone.

It’s a trend that only deepens our line of questioning. While Castellanos has long been an aggressive hitter, he’s actually lined up his discipline more than in more recent seasons. Yet, he hasn’t been able to parlay that into a higher quality of contact. And because he isn’t making hard contact, his BABIP sits at a miserable .247 that is somehow exactly matching his .247 xBA.


I Can Do It with a Broken Heart Approach


Hilariously, the most quantifiable element of Nick Castellanos‘ struggles lies in one of the more unquantifiable baseball experiences. His overall approach seems fine. But the results haven’t followed. Instead, he’s in the purgatory of hitter purgatories; he’s caught in-between approaches.

Matt Gelb of The Athletic wrote a piece in early April about the Phils’ collective struggle wrought by reigning in their approach. Only a handful of teams were more aggressive than last year’s Fightins. Only three swung at more pitches outside the strike zone. The team attempted to bring a more measured approach to their swings, despite the aggressiveness working to create a pretty unique identity. While others have adjusted since, Castellanos appears to still be stuck in such a mindset.

What doesn’t help is that Castellanos has one of the longer swings in baseball. His 7.6 ft swing length is comfortably above league average and trails only Kyle Schwarber as the team’s longest. It’s more difficult to make adjustments in the respect we’re talking about when you’ve got that type of length. Especially on the pitch types that Castellanos is struggling to generate contact against.


Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me Nick?


Identifying the problem is one thing. Fixing it is another. The good news is that it isn’t necessarily something mechanical. Such an issue would likely require an offseason’s worth of work in order to fight through. Instead, we’ve got a situation where the sample needs to expand in order for the adjustment to develop.

More encouraging is that it appears to be on its way. Prior to an 0-for-3 Monday, Castellanos had hits in six straight and eight of his last 10. That’s going back to May 24th. He’s barreled 8.8 percent of pitches and posted a 47.1 HardHit%, with a .214 ISO over that stretch. It’s a minuscule sample size, but one that also features exactly the type of results we’re looking for.

We’re not looking for more contact or a more refined approach from Nick Castellanos. We just want the results to level out in the way that they probably should, given his history (even with the streakiness that serves as a byproduct of his aggressiveness). We’ve seen some absolutely torrid stretches throughout his career with the approach and contact being essentially what it is now. There’s just been more of a confidence and a flow state within his own game that eliminates the impact of the “in-between” occurrence.

We haven’t seen it yet, but there’s simply too much history to think that it’ll be a cruel summer for Nick Castellanos.

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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