Detroit — It’s saying something when offensive numbers as impressive as the ones Tigers right fielder Nick Castellanos put up last season don’t fully describe how good a year he had.
Castellanos, who was voted the Tiger of the Year by the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America Thursday, hit .298, with a .354 on-base percentage, slugging .500 and leading the Tigers with 23 home runs, 46 doubles, 310 total bases, 88 runs scored, 110 runs created and 89 runs batted in.
All that despite having virtually no protection in the lineup, meaning teams could and often did try to pitch around him.
“If we had more people around him, he’d have better pitches to hit,” manager Ron Gardenhire said last September. “But even if they are pitching around him, he’s still going to reach out and get the barrel on the ball. He’s always been like that.
“I don’t think he worries about too many things. He’s worked really hard in the outfield and he’s having a really good year, especially with the circumstances of our lineup…I don’t know where we would be without that guy. He’s carried us a lot of different times.”
He produced at an All-Star level at the plate, but upon closer inspection, it could have been so much more with a little better fortune. According to the 2019 Bill James Handbook, Castellanos' hard-hit percentage of 47.9 was eighth highest in baseball.
He hit 88 balls 330 feet or farther that were caught for outs. Only the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter had more long outs (92). He and Red Sox's Mookie Betts were the only players to have four balls hit over 400 feet caught for outs.
“It’s just experience, more at-bats,” Gardenhire said of Castellanos’ growth as a hitter. “We’re always talking about the number of at-bats it takes in this league to get a feel for who you are and what you can do. He’s in what, his fifth (full) year? It doesn’t seem like it, he’s still so young. But he’s getting to that number of at-bats where he’s got it figured out.”
Castellanos has 2,982 plate appearances in six seasons.
“He’s seen enough pitches and enough pitchers now,” Gardenhire said. “That’s when you start figuring out if a guy can or he can’t. Nicky is there. We know he can.”
Castellanos, on top of everything, was also the Tigers’ most efficient base runner. According to the data compiled in James’ handbook, Castellanos achieved a net gain on the bases of plus-16 — which takes into account bases taken (going from first to third, second to home, etc.), outs advancing, double-play balls and stolen bases.
Castellanos, who received every first-place vote but one (which went to Joe Jimenez) for the Tiger of the Year Award, is arbitration eligible this offseason and can be a free agent in 2020. According to projections by MLBTradeRumors.com, Castellanos could be awarded as much as $11.2 million in arbitration, should it go that far.
The Tigers have a long history of signing players before arbitration.
“This is his last year of arbitration,” general manager Al Avila said in his season-ending press conference on Sept. 29. “He’s going into the same situation J.D. (Martinez) was in not too long ago. With the exception that after next year there’s the possibility of a qualifying offer.”
The Tigers in 2016 signed Martinez to a two-year deal worth $18.5 million and traded him to Arizona in 2017. If the Tigers were to sign Castellanos for one season and then use the qualifying offer after the 2019 season (it’s set at $17.9 million for this offseason and would likely increase), they would get a draft pick compensation if they lose him in free agency.
“As we are playing it today, Nick will be our right fielder going into 2019,” Avila said. “Things can change over the winter time. They can change as we start spring training and the season. I’ve already talked to Nick. I told him right now we just have to take it one day at a time and see where it goes.
“Obviously, he’s still young. He’s a very good hitter and there is a big future for Nick.”
Avila wasn’t exactly optimistic about trying to work out a contract extension for Castellanos this offseason, but he didn’t completely rule it out.
“It’s something we have to figure out — will he be here when we’re ready to contend for the playoffs?” Avila said. “That’s the big question. If you could tell me in the next couple of years we’re going to be a team that’s going to the postseason, then it’d be easy to answer that and keep Nick around.
“He’s a great hitter.”