Section 313, Seat No. 22: Nicholas Castellanos is getting better in right field, whether you like it or not

Oh, Nicholas Castellanos. Probably the most scrutinized of all the Detroit Tigers players of the last two years. Once heralded as our top prospect, Castellanos has started to break out into a leader of our rebuilding franchise and a player the younger guys (even though he’s only 26!) can look to as an example. Starting in the 2017 season, Nicholas came under a barrage of fire for his (lack of) defensive skills. It has been the common refrain, “he must be our designated hitter, he’s killing us in the field.” And, while shaky at third base, to make those claims now is just asinine. Let me explain.

Before Castellanos solidified his spot in the Tigers lineup, he was blocked at third base by Miguel Cabrera while Prince Fielder manned first base. After the trade of Fielder for Ian Kinsler, a spot opened up for Castellanos to become a regular on a pretty damn good Tigers team. And, to be fair and unbiased, he was not very good at third base in 2017. Thus, the organization decided to move him to right field after acquiring Jeimer Candelario from the Chicago Cubs. In 21 games in right field last season, Nicholas again was a pretty shaky defender, garnering a -6 defensive runs saved, making everyone wonder if he truly is just a designated hitter. However, in 2018, Castellanos has proved that he can improve and doesn’t need to be relegated to designated hitter, something he will never become in a Detroit uniform anyway.


Jul 19, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (9) makes a throw to first to retire Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (not pictured) in the eighth inning at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s just nip this in the bud right now, Nicholas Castellanos will not be the Tigers designated hitter full-time. Sure, he may “take a day” and play DH, but he will never be what Victor Martinez is, penciled into that spot on a daily basis. And the reason, Miguel Cabrera. Miguel is owed $184M over the next five seasons, and that albatross of a contract is one that will not be moved easily. Like it or not, odds are that Miguel will finish his career here in Detroit, hopefully mentoring the young and upcoming players. That means, that with Cabrera’s health continuing to dwindleeven though he plays an above average first base, he will have to transition to the designated hitter role probably starting next season.

That means for Castellanos, it is not an option to just “hide” him as the DH. So anyone who thinks it’s plausible to do so, just stop, you’re embarrassing yourself. While he has been very good with the bat over the last couple of years, and arguably is our best hitter in 2018, a full-time role as designated hitter does not give with logic. Ron Gardenhire has been very adamant this season that Nicholas is his right fielder, and that’s not changing. And for that, I applaud Gardy. Because, whether you like it or not, Castellanos is doing everything he needs to be an adequate right fielder. Here’s the proof.


Will Nicholas Castellanos ever win a Gold Glove? No, most likely not. But that’s okay. The reality is that players do not have to be Gold Glove-caliber to be an effective player on a team. And, given the team’s current state in rebuilding, Nicholas is doing everything he needs to do to prove his long-term worth to this club. As stated before, he spent 21 games in right field at the end of the 2017 campaign. His defense actually improved from third base, but let’s just call that fewer chances and small sample size. However, in 30 games in 2018, Castellanos is already a better right fielder than he was a year ago, in a close-but-larger sample size. Take a look at the numbers:

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs

I have highlighted the points of emphasis. For those not schooled in advanced defensive metrics let me break it down for you:

  • rPm (Plus/Minus runs saved above average): This plus/minus systems measures range and a players ability to turn batted balls into outs. Average is zero.
  • DRS (Defensive Runs Saved): “Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is a defensive statistic calculated by The Fielding Bible, an organization run by John Dewan, that rates individual players as above or below average on defense,” according to FanGraphs.  Average is zero.
  • RZR (Revised Zone Rating)Revised Zone Rating (RZR) measures, “the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out” (Hardball Times).
  • UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating in runs above average): “UZR puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof),” from FanGraphs.

So, what do all these numbers mean?

Nicholas Castellanos is an improving right fielder. He’s not “god-awful,” “the worst,” or even “hopeless.” Actually, he’s become pretty average in right field and if the trend continues, may just be a solid right fielders. His RZR, according to a FanGraphs chart, is above the .940 they consider to be “excellent.”  His defensive runs saved and his plus/minus runs saved have both improved this season and his Ultimate Zone Rating is up there with the average right fielders. On a team that is rebuilding, one of your young stars is improving. We should be applauding this, not condemning this.


Since making the transition to right field, Nicholas has found his groove at the plate. Since 2017 he has played the most amount of games in right field for the Tigers. In that time he is slashing at the plate .341/.388/.568 with 8 home runs and 43 RBIs.

This season, Castellanos is in his second year of arbitration with one more season of team control. This season he is making $6.05 M, and would probably be looking at something around $10 M next year. Given the numbers, he’s putting up at the plate and the vast improvement he is making in the field that would be a bargain. And, in order to make full use of the rebuild, it would behoove the Tigers to extend Castellanos now. He’s getting better every day and for a 26-year-old rising slugger, what more can you ask for?

Written by AJ Reilly

A.J. is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid storyteller. His debut novel, The Askren Boys, won the Literary Classics Gold Medal and Seal of Approval in November of 2018. When not writing, he is spending time with his wife Jessica, son Jack, daughter Nora, and new arrival Teddy. A.J. lives in Metro Detroit.

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