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Gilberto Celestino - The Contact King


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Gilberto Celestino has had an interesting path to the majors, and one that reduced his initial shine for most of the fanbase. Celestino was acquired for Ryan Pressly at the 2018 trade deadline, alongside Jorge Alcala, in a very unpopular deal at the time. MLB Pipeline ranked Celestino the 15th best prospect in 2019, and 14th best in 2020. The consensus was that Celestino was a standout defensive center fielder, but questions about his bat and power limited his overall projection.

When Celestino was called up out of emergency in 2021, his initial performance not only confirmed the offensive questions in the prospect rankings but the calling card of his defense was also poor with -2 Outs Above Average coming from 56 attempts. Celestino was clearly overmatched at the major league level, as he played a handful of games at AA before making the jump to the Twins. Celestino accumulated a 22 wRC+ and -0.7 fWAR in only 62 plate appearances in 2021. 

Needless to say, when Celestino was added to the 2022 Opening Day roster the reaction amid the fanbase was tepid. It's probable that the Twins didn't even envision Celestino making the roster, as they optioned him to Triple-A St. Paul on 3/31. Many believed that his status on the roster was to be temporary, with rumors swirling about the Twins adding Justin Upton to be a source of right-handed power in the outfield. 

Derek Falvey even went as far to say that Celestino could be off the major league roster in a week's time. 

Flashing forward to early May, Celestino has outperformed expectations, and probably any output that could have come from Justin Upton. As of 5/9, Celestino has provided some of the best offensive and defensive numbers on the team. 

  AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ wRC+ wOBA fWAR bWAR
Gilberto Celestino .324 .390 .405 .796 144 143 .361 0.6 0.4

FanGraphs has Celestino as the 6th most valuable offensive player on the Twins in fWAR and his wRC+ is the third highest on team behind Byron Buxton and the legendary Kyle Garlick. On the defensive side of his game, Celestino has 2 Outs Above Average (84th percentile). It's a small sample size, but how has Celestino been so valuable this early on? 

The answer to that question: Celestino has had amazing plate discipline. 

Season
Pitches
Zone %
Zone Swing %
Zone Contact %
Chase %
Chase Contact %
Edge %
1st Pitch Swing %
Swing %
Whiff %
Meatball %
Meatball Swing %
2021 235 51.5 64.5 82.1 26.3 63.3 43.8 30.6 46 23.1 6 85.7
2022 145 52.4 65.8 96 15.9 72.7 46.2 28.6 42.1 8.2 8.3 66.7
MLB   48.5 66.8 82 28.3 58.4 42.6 29.2 47 24.6 7.2 76


The highlighted cells show that areas where Celestino has been outperforming both his 2021 self, and the MLB average. He's simply become one of the most contact-oriented players in the game, and one of the most discerning about balls and strikes. He's swinging and making contact at pitches that are meant to be swung at in the zone, and spitting at the outside pitches that usually result in outs. 

Among all players with at least 25 plate appearances, Celestino ranks 3rd in Whiff % (8.2%) , and 16th in Chase Rate (15.9%). To put that in further perspective, here's a look at Celestino compared to two other players with great plate discipline reputations. 

 
Pitches
Zone %
Zone Swing %
Zone Contact %
Chase %
Chase Contact %
Edge %
1st Pitch Swing %
Swing %
Whiff %
Meatball %
Meatball Swing %
Gilberto Celestino 145 52.4 65.8 96 15.9 72.7 46.2 28.6 42.1 8.2 8.3 66.7
Luis Arraez 351 43.6 66 92.1 25.8 88.2 46.4 19.5 43.3 8.6 5.7 60
Juan Soto 549 43.4 56.7 80.7 19.3 66.7 41 20.3 35.5 23.1 5.8 78.1
MLB   48.5 66.8 82 28.3 58.4 42.6 29.2 47 24.6 7.2 76

Am I saying that Gilberto Celestino is the next Juan Soto or Luis Arráez? No, but I am saying that Celestino is a supremely disciplined hitter with extreme contact skill. That doesn't always take a large sample to determine. Soto has a chase rate of 19.3%, which ranks in the 90th percentile. Arráez has a miniscule whiff rate of 8.6%, which is in the 100th percentile of MLB players. Celestino tops both players in these areas at this point in the season. 

The only knock on Celestino this year can be his lack of power. Both his Barrel Rate (3.2%) and his average exit velocity (86.9 MPH) rank below the MLB average. However, the Twins have plenty of slugging across their lineup to make up for that. Luis Arráez used to be the lone bat-to-ball man in the lineup with names like Miguel Sano, Gary Sanchez, Alex Kiriloff, and Gio Urshela. It helps to have offensive diversity, and Gilberto Celestino may be filling a needed niche that nobody expected. 

If Celestino's current blend of strong defense and astounding swing decisions holds up, he probably ranks as a starting-caliber outfielder on most major league teams. The lack of power will always hold him back from being a true star, but his skillset fits today's game more so than the previous half-decade. The surprise addition to Opening Day roster may have been the perfect fit for the 2022 brand of baseball. 

 

 

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A high-contact, walk-taking, slap-hitting, speedster has a lot of value. This version of him is better than I had hoped for. Let's see if he can keep it up!

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Before I get in too much trouble here, I'm looking at the Twins stats so far this year and Celestino has 8 strike outs in 39 at bats, while Arraez has 6 strike outs in 73 at bats.  What about Miranda?  Not getting hits much, but only 1 strike out in 30 at bats.  I guess the "King of contact" concept is based on what?  Advanced analytics?  What does that mean if it still results in a strike out every 5 at bats (so far - that might improve)?  I like Celestino so far, and I hope he is for real, but what do they mean by contact?  Do foul balls count?  Or only balls put in play?  

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9 hours ago, Mark G said:

Before I get in too much trouble here, I'm looking at the Twins stats so far this year and Celestino has 8 strike outs in 39 at bats, while Arraez has 6 strike outs in 73 at bats.  What about Miranda?  Not getting hits much, but only 1 strike out in 30 at bats.  I guess the "King of contact" concept is based on what?  Advanced analytics?  What does that mean if it still results in a strike out every 5 at bats (so far - that might improve)?  I like Celestino so far, and I hope he is for real, but what do they mean by contact?  Do foul balls count?  Or only balls put in play?  

It's true Arraez has struck out less, but Arraez is swinging and missing more often during at bats than Celestino (Whiff %). He's also swinging at pitches outside the zone more often than Celestino, which doesn't produce great outcomes of contact. That's no knock on Arraez, but more of a point to highlight Celestino's plate discipline so far. 

I couldn't think of a great title for this entry, and probably meant to reflect "plate discipline" over contact. Celestino's making contact far more often than the MLB average on both pitches in the zone, and outside the zone- but the huge value is that he doesn't swing at pitches outside the zone at all. 


As for Miranda - you are on to something. MLB averages in parentheses. 

  • Swing: 51.3% (47%)
  • Zone Swing: 76.2% (66.8%)
  • Zone Contact: 93.8% (82%)
  • Chase %: 21.2% (28.3%)
  • Chase Contact: 63.6% (58.4%)
  • Whiff: 11.9% (24.6%)

He's very comparable to Arraez and Celestino to this point, but makes contact on outside pitches a bit less than those two. All categories listed above are still above the MLB average. More to come... 


 

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Celestino is clearly tracking in the right direction; and I hope that he keeps it up.  But bestowing upon him the moniker of  "Contact King" seems premature when he's struck out in 23% of AB in MLB play to date and in 31% of 895 MiLB AB.

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