FACTS/FLUKES: Castellanos, Hicks, Junis, Santana, Tanaka

Maybe this is just who he is? ... Nick Castellanos (OF, DET) was tabbed for a 35-HR upside in 2018’s Baseball Forecaster. While he didn’t reach that lofty plateau, he did hold 2017’s power gains and deliver an excellent .298 BA, making 2018 his best fantasy season yet.  Does he still have 35-HR upside?

Year   AB  HR/SB     BA/xBA   HctX  ct%  bb%  h%   OPS   PX/xPX   G/L/F    HR/F
====  ===  =====   =========  ====  ===  ===  ==   ===  =======  ========  ====
2014  533   11/2   .259/.252   108   74    6  33   700  108/135  35/29/37   8%
2015  549   15/0   .255/.243   103   72    7  33   721  118/118  36/23/40   9%
2016  411   18/1   .285/.260   106   73    6  35   827  135/166  31/26/43  14%
2017  610   26/4   .272/.275   135   77    6  32   813  123/142  37/24/38  14%
2018  620   23/2   .298/.276   133   76    7  36   854  128/139  35/29/36  14%

His skills are solid, but he doesn’t look poised for another breakthrough:

  • 2018’s BA uptick was entirely due to h% luck; plate skills, xBA show he essentially duplicated 2017.
  • His HctX was elite for the second year in a row, but it hasn’t turned into better than average HR/F.
  • xPX continues to excellent, but PX has lagged in four of his five seasons.

Our xPX metric is based on hard hit line drives and hard hit fly balls, which Castellanos has in spades. But it’s worth noting that our study of fly ball carry showed that the ability (or inability) to impart carry to fly balls is at least in part a batter skill. In fact, Castellanos has, in each of his five seasons, been about one standard deviation below average in fly ball carry. It is therefore possible that the huge power breakout is not around the corner, and that owners will have to be content with the 2017-2018 version of Castellanos.

 

Junis on the right track ... Jakob Junis (RHP, KC) started 2018 well, with a ERA of 3.61 and 3.6 Cmd though May, then struggled in the middle months before bouncing back in August and September. In the end, he put up a 2018 only slightly better than 2017.  Are there signs of growth underneath the surface?

Year     IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK    G/L/F    H%  S% hr/f  BPV
====    ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  === === ====  ===   
2016^   149  5.37  5.22  2.2   6.9  3.2  N/A  N/A    N/A      35  65  N/A   68
2017*   169  4.09  4.24  2.2   7.9  3.6  62%   9%  40/20/40   32  72  12%   90
2018    177  4.37  4.06  2.2   8.3  3.8  63%  10%  42/21/37   31  72  16%  111
----    ---  ----  ----  ---  ----  ---  ---  ---  --------  --- --- ----  ---
’18 1H   96  4.67  4.39  2.5   8.4  3.3  63%  10%  39/17/44   29  72  17%  100
’18 2H   81  4.02  3.67  1.8   8.3  4.6  63%  10%  46/25/29   33  72  14%  124

^MLEs
*inc. MLEs

Junis has a solid, though not spectacular, foundation and trends are in the right direction:

  • His season totals mask a significant uptick in groundball rate in the second half, which helped cut into his issues with the gopher ball.
  • Junis’ FpK is consistently strong, supporting a Ctl ratio in the low twos.
  • Though his SwK rate is below average, he didn’t give away Dom as he added GB.

Looking a little deeper, Junis made some changes to his pitch deployment and mechanics in 2018.

  • He decreased fourseam usage by 10 percentage points and added a commensurate number of sliders, which delivered higher rates in both SwK and grounders.
  • He made significant improvements to his release point repeatability. He eliminated his curve, which was coming from a spot inches away from his other four pitches, and tightened the spread of the average vertical release point from three inches to two.

As noted in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster, Junis still needs a second pitch to complement his superb slider; his fourseam, sinker, and change have each surrendered SLG north of .500. But in the meantime he appears to be learning to master the arsenal that he has already, as evidenced by BPV trending in the right direction, supported both by the peripherals and changes behind the scenes. These factors make Junis an intriguing pitcher to gamble on in 2019.

 

An ace when healthy ... Ever since Masahiro Tanaka (RHP, NYY) was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in 2014, owning him has felt like a game of hot potato. The fact is that while he has struggled with various injuries, he hasn’t lost any time to his elbow or forearm since 2015. Furthermore, he has put up 150+ quality innings in every year since. Should we count on him to continue?

Year  IP   ERA   xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB%  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK   Vel  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  =====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ===
2014  136  2.77  2.76  1.4  9.3  6.7  47%  31/79   14%  62%  14%  91.2  155
2015  154  3.51  3.34  1.6  8.1  5.1  47%  25/73   17%  63%  12%  91.8  129
2016  200  3.07  3.68  1.6  7.4  4.6  48%  28/76   12%  64%  11%  90.6  116
2017  178  4.74  3.53  2.1  9.8  4.7  49%  32/68   21%  64%  15%  92.2  147
2018  156  3.75  3.44  2.0  9.2  4.5  47%  29/74   18%  68%  14%  91.7  136

In a word, yes.

  • xERA and BPV, while never elite, are consistently upper-tier.
  • FpK is elite, not only supporting his Ctl ratio, but also hinting at possible improvement.
  • GB% is excellent, providing some buffer against his home park’s home run liabilities.
  • Dom has surged in the last two years, supported by elite SwK numbers due to increased slider and splitter usage.

As in past years, the concern with Tanaka is his health (note D grade). If he’s healthy, he’s a solid SP2 for any but the shallowest of formats.

It’s also worth noting that Tanaka struggled the third time through the lineup in 2018, yielding a .914 OPS. This was the first season he showed such a split; over his career the oOPS the first three times through order are  .659, .708, .715. Possibly in response to this, opposing hitters saw him a third time in only 24% of plate appearances, in line with league averages but down from 29% in 2017 and his career. This is perhaps a side-effect of heavy reliance on breaking pitches. As long as the usage pattern continues, his ERA and whip should be protected, but both IP and K will be capped in the 160-180 range.

 

Hicks establishes himself ... After struggling with injuries through his career, Aaron Hicks (OF, NYY) finally played (nearly) full-time in 2018, and appeared finally to realize the promise that earned him an 8C prospect rating way back in 2013. His HR/SB combo earned a tidy profit for most who drafted him. What are the chances of a repeat?

Year   AB   BA/  xBA HR/SB  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====  ===  ========= =====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  =======
2014  186  .215/.210  1/ 4   16   70  54/20/26  30    73   59/ 45    3%  102/10%
2015  352  .256/.256 11/13    9   81  42/23/35  29    92   84/ 93   11%  124/16%
2016  327  .217/.232  8/ 3    8   79  46/17/37  25    93   72/104    8%   94/ 9%
2017  301  .266/.261 15/10   14   78  44/16/40  30    97  119/119   16%   87/15%
2018  480  .248/.264 27/11   15   77  40/22/38  27   112  122/131   19%  111/ 8%

Overall, they look pretty good.

  • Rising xPX & HctX support his power surge.
  • Spd bounced back, though SB were flat since SBO fell.
  • He repeated 2017’s superb plate skills, indicating BA will be an asset given nominal batted ball luck.
  • Platoon splits have been flat over the last two years, so Hicks is viable in a full-time role.

All of Hicks' peripherals support a repeat, with better BA, making him an asset in five categories. His iffy health history will gain be the main obstacle to overcome. If he earns full-time AB, he could boost production by another 20%.

 

Santana on thin ice … Domingo Santana (OF, SEA) broke out in 2017, delivering value in five categories. His success was built on exceptional power, enough to overcome his other shortcomings. His 2018 was a polar opposite, delivering negligible value. It effectively ended in June when he was demoted to the minors, leaving his owners hugely disappointed. Then came an offseason trade to SEA. Should we expect him to bounce back?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA/xBA  bb% ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX   hr/f  Spd/SBO
===== ===  =====  ========= === ===  ========  ==  ====  =======   ====  ======= 
2013* 416  21/10  .263/ -     3  81     --     32    --   53/ -          141/29%
2014# 460  12/ 4  .245/.224  10  60  33/33/33  38    86  133/235    0%    92/ 7%  
2015# 514  23/ 5  .274/.240  10  63  52/19/29  39    82  154/133   28%   112/ 8%
2016  246  11/ 2  .256/.252  12  63  44/30/26  36    98  143/107   28%    83/ 7%
2017  525  30/15  .278/.266  12  66  45/27/28  36   106  148/120   31%    96/12%
2018  211   5/ 1  .265/.228   9  64  49/23/28  40    94  117/ 95   13%   114/ 4%
*MLEs
#Includes MLEs

He’ll need to reverse some disturbing trends:

  • His ct% rate is reliably terrible; without hard contact to bolster his h%, his BA will be a drag as it was in 2018.
  • BA was bolstered by extreme h% luck, dip in walk rate and aforementioned ct% took xBA the other direction.
  • As HctX and xPX dropped below average, his hr/f dropped below league average as well, taking HR with it.
  • GB rate crept up further—not what you want to see from a power hitter.

To sum up: 2017 resulted from everything going right. Extreme hr/f and lots of hard contact allowed him to overcome his poor plate skills and high GB%, while driving a high h%. In 2018, he struggled mightily against non-FB, missing on over 50% of his swings.

That said, his outsized hr/f is well-established; he owns that skill. To approach 2017s output again, it’s a matter of either hitting more fly balls, or whiffing less, or at least resuming hitting the ball hard, often. He’s young enough to make at least one of these adjustments and capitalize on his raw power. You can safely pass on him in all but the deepest leagues, but keep an eye on him and pounce if he starts to show real improvements.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.