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Front Page: Nicholas Castellanos Can't Play First Base

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#1 Matthew Trueblood

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 04:49 PM

There’s a “Josh Donaldson or Bust” vibe hanging over the Twins’ offseason. The superstar third baseman would tie this winter together neatly. Missing out would create frustration. Naturally, there have been efforts to cook up alternatives. One of them: free agent Nicholas Castellanos as a first baseman.It’s important, as we gain ever greater insight into the game through statistics and quantitative evaluation, not to get lost in them. In the age of Big Data. It’s more important than ever to sift signal from noise, and to recognize when non-objective, qualitative sources are providing more valuable information than the hard, cold numbers. Baseball is still a game nicely suited to statistical measurements, and anyone who ignores those measurements in the modern environment is lost. On the other hand, one must know when to look around and through the numbers in order not to get tangled up in their traps.

Defensive statistics, especially, can be nasty snares. Decades ago, Bill James codified the Defensive Spectrum, using broad-spectrum historical study to identify the hierarchy of positional difficulty for defenders. He made important discoveries that way, and the hierarchy he sketched is still, more or less, the one we use today. From hardest to easiest, the stations go:
  • Shortstop
  • Second Base
  • Center Field
  • Third Base
  • Right Field
  • Left Field
  • First Base
That order tends to predict the way players change positions throughout their careers (sliding down the spectrum), and it has become especially relevant as versatility and position changes have become more important elements of defense in the last 15 years. Over the same period, we’ve gone from having almost no credible defensive metrics (that is, ones other than fielding percentage or raw assists and putouts) to having three or four of them.

As a result, the modern default in evaluating players as potential additions to a defense is to check their Defensive Runs Saved total, project that figure to hold steady if they remain at their current position, ponder a move down the defensive spectrum where appropriate, and call it close enough. Sometimes, that works. In cases like that of Castellanos, though, we can and should do better.

In September 2017 I wrote the following about Castellanos, then playing third base for the Tigers, as part of my ranking of all 30 teams’ starting third basemen in the field. (Castellanos ranked dead last on that list.)

[Castellanos] doesn’t use his speed well at the position. His lateral movements are robotic and his hands are stone. There was a reason why Detroit was willing to make this kid wait while Miguel Cabrera manned third base just a few years ago, and now that he’s learned to run and can access his full speed potential, they ought to move him back to the outfield for good.

The day after that article ran, Castellanos played his first game of the season in right field. He played two more games at third at the end of the season, but otherwise, has never returned to the dirt. He’s played over 2,500 innings in right field since September 2017. At first, he was a total butcher out there, too. However, his numbers improved considerably from 2018 to 2019:

Download attachment: NCChart.png

Given that, and given that Castellanos stands 6-foot-4, with improved athleticism, it’s easy to imagine a world in which he slides on a first baseman’s mitt, comes back to the infield at the cold corner, and continues to rake the way he has over the last two seasons. That’s the narrative the numbers want you to believe; it’s the trap his body and the data have conspired to lay.

Go back, though, and watch video of Castellanos playing third base. It wasn’t a dearth of athleticism that held him back when he played there. Nor was it an erratic arm. Rather, it was the fundamental skills required of any infielder—nimbleness, smooth motion, soft hands, and an underlying comfort with the ball coming in one’s direction—that were simply missing. Castellanos was drafted as a third baseman. He played there, with only a brief sojourn in the outfield, for seven professional seasons. If he had the instincts or the feel for the infield, it would have shown up by now.

Instead, he’s quickly becoming a viable outfielder, because his athleticism plays better there. As he gains experience, he can use his speed to make up for poor jumps and reads. In the infield, there’s no such margin for error, so Castellanos should never return there. The Defensive Spectrum, in this sense, does not apply.

Castellanos also isn’t what the Twins need at the plate. Donaldson would bring an approach consistent with everything the Twins already emphasize, and he’d add a dimension (extraordinary plate discipline) that was the only missing ingredient at times in 2019. Castellanos is a fun, enthusiastic, unorthodox hitter, but he’s an inveterate hacker. He swung at 40.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last year. He is, in a number of ways, a right-handed Eddie Rosario, and while Rosario is unfairly maligned at times, there are few times when Twins fans find themselves wishing they had two of him. After Castellanos signs, the Twins should call up whoever failed to get him and see whether that team would cough up something useful for the next best thing. Other than that, though, Castellanos’s free agency is irrelevant to the Twins’ winter.

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#2 tony&rodney

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 05:25 PM

Yah, Nick the Stick is a hack in the infield. He is fun to watch hit though. The Twins shouldn't even consider Castellanos.

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#3 h2oface

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 07:38 PM

I have never agreed that First Base is the least difficult. Involved in more plays that any position except catcher.... having the cover the base the most often and field the position, pick terrible throws...... I don't get how it becomes the easiest to play. Not a fan of adding Castellanos, regardless.

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#4 Twodogs

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 07:55 PM

Kepler has some experience playing first? That would allow Castellanos to move into Right Field??

58 doubles and 27 bombas are hard to ignore??
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#5 yeahyabetcha

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 08:16 PM

Signing Castellanos might make the team a little better this year, but I would prefer developing Kirilloff, Raley, Graterol, Duran, Berríos, Lewis etc into major league contributors next year
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#6 specialiststeve

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 09:29 PM

 

I have never agreed that First Base is the least difficult. Involved in more plays that any position except catcher.... having the cover the base the most often and field the position, pick terrible throws...... I don't get how it becomes the easiest to play. Not a fan of adding Castellanos, regardless.

 

Was blessed to be able to play some college baseball and was that "utility guy" until I was a senior. Played C, 3B, SS, 2B, 1B and OF.... Of these I thought Left field was the easiest but in the IF - 1B was clearly the easiest. Basically short area to cover.... very little throws that have to be made and basically just need a good skillset to catch the ball. 

 

Mind you it may be the easiest but a great 1B (Kent Hrbek) can save your IF and make an ordinary IF look pretty darn good. That said like Castellanos bat but just don't think it would be wise to sign him for that spot. 

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#7 Platoon

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 06:28 AM

IF Bill James made a list of Twins needs it would look like this:

LH SP 

RH Sp
LH RP

RH RP

Ambidextrous any kind of pitching 

An IF who could field.

A catcher who could catch.

 

A 1B who could hit!

 

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#8 srlarson

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 07:16 AM

Forget Donaldson.....no way is he worth what he is asking.....if you are not going to go find pitching...hang on to the $'s.......


#9 LewFordLives

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 07:58 AM

Good article.

#10 Linus

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 08:47 AM

Nope. I too also believe first base is more important defensively than conventional wisdom. There was a drop off from Mauer to Cron that was noticeable.

#11 mikelink45

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 09:54 AM

Hands if stone!For a first baseman?That rules him out.


#12 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 10:39 AM

If the article tells me anything, it's that we shouldn't count on Sano improving defensively if he switches to 1st... 

 

I'm with the others on this. Our IF defense was already pretty bad, adding Castellanos would be a mistake. I'd rather get Donaldson, who at the very least is a plus defender at 3rd presently. Hopefully Polanco can regress closer to career averages and Arraez can improve with age. 


#13 jkcarew

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 10:52 AM

There have been many world series won by teams with first-baseman that had no defensive skill whatsoever other than that they could catch a ball thrown to them. Almost every major-league player (almost) has that skill. A wizard at first is nice, fun to watch, but not a necessity. The first-baseman needs to hit.

 

The best argument for not acquiring Castellanos IMO is the argument that his aggressiveness (over-aggressiveness) is not an ideal fit for our lineup. Definitely could use another guy for the middle of the lineup that has some good plate discipline, and Castellanos ain't that.

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#14 spycake

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 11:47 AM

 

Kepler has some experience playing first? That would allow Castellanos to move into Right Field??

58 doubles and 27 bombas are hard to ignore??

Kepler to Castellanos in the outfield would be a huge defensive downgrade, though. Likely wiping out much of the gains from Castellanos' hitting.

 

(And it's no sure thing Kepler would be a good first baseman either, at least not right away -- he hasn't really played there in about 5 years. He only had 76 games there in his whole minor league career too.)


#15 cmoss84

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 12:54 PM

Would it be amazing if we signed Donaldson? Sure! Would he make us a better all-around team? Yes!

 

Just to shed some light...it might not happen. Crazy, huh?

 

Then what? Some of you say let our utility guys and prospects take over. Some of you say to sign Moreland. There is not a whole lot left as far as FA 1st baseman. Take a look. It's bad. 

 

Signing a FA who can hit and is in his prime would not be the worst case scenario. Would Castellanos be an awful 1B? Who knows. Maybe. But at least he can play OF and eventually take over at DH if the experiment did not work. To me, worth a shot...especially if the price is right. The options are pretty thin after Donaldson. 

 

*Also, no QO attached to Castellanos, for whatever it is worth. 

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#16 howeda7

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 01:04 PM

 

Forget Donaldson.....no way is he worth what he is asking.....if you are not going to go find pitching...hang on to the $'s.......

For what purpose?

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#17 Twodogs

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 08:40 PM

Kepler to Castellanos in the outfield would be a huge defensive downgrade, though. Likely wiping out much of the gains from Castellanos' hitting.

(And it's no sure thing Kepler would be a good first baseman either, at least not right away -- he hasn't really played there in about 5 years. He only had 76 games there in his whole minor league career too.)


Yeah it was just an idea, but now that they signed Donaldson it's a moot point. Yayyyy

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