In Appreciation of Nick Castellanos and the Season he's Given the Phillies Both On and Off the Field
By now, you’ve seen the highlights of the Phillies’ 6-5 win in extra innings in Atlanta. You’ve heard all about the voices in Nick Castellanos’ head that told him to catch a ball he shouldn’t have caught and make a perfect throw from right field to home plate to throw out a runner that he shouldn’t have thrown out.
And yet he did:
“A voice popped in my head and said catch it and throw him out!”
Nick Castellanos talks about his game-saving play in the ninth 😳 pic.twitter.com/bQpajxo4Px
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) September 20, 2023
And in case you haven’t seen it, or just want to enjoy it again…
Nick Castellanos the man that you are!!!! pic.twitter.com/xWXjhJH84n
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) September 20, 2023
There’s no doubt, that even though Bryson Stott had the game-winning hit, a two-out double in the top of the 10th off of lefty A.J. Minter, that Castellanos was the star of the game. Not only did he make catch and throw, but he also hit two home runs.
Here’s the second:
CASTELLANOS IS RED HOT AS HE HITS HIS SECOND HOME RUN OF THE GAME AND HIS FIFTH IN THE LAST EIGHT GAMES pic.twitter.com/Pynktynn4y
— Mismatch Philadelphia (@MismatchPhilly) September 20, 2023
It was the latest outcome in the ever-adventurous amusement park ride that is Castellanos.
And that’s not said to be derogatory. I purposely didn’t use “roller coaster” because that image only makes people think of things being up-and-down with twists and turns and going at a high rate of speed not knowing what’s coming next.
No, I went with “amusement park ride” specifically because it’s vague enough to let you, the reader, determine what ride comes to mind, but it’s specific enough to let you know that regardless of which you choose, it’s always fun.
After all, we wouldn’t go on those rides if we didn’t enjoy them, right? I mean, I guess there can be a masochist out there who abhors going to amusement parks and getting on rides and yet still does so to feed some kind of obscure hate-fetish, but for the 99.9% of the rest of the amusement park-going public, we go because it’s fun, and sometimes thrilling.
That’s how I choose to describe what it’s like watching Castellanos play baseball – fun, and sometimes thrilling.
I mean, just looking back at this season alone, the things that come to mind are him fist pumping with each ball Hunter Greene threw to Brandon Marsh in the home opener, as he tried to get into the Cincinnati pitcher’s head, leading to Greene walking in a run.
Or the next day, dancing down the third base line, trying to unnerve Cincinnati closer Alexis Diaz as the Phillies were attempting to have their first late-inning rally of the season – and it worked.
Or when he declared Scooby Doo a superhero. And after we all laughed at the notion, he gave an explanation that actually made sense:
Nick Castellanos’ favorite superhero being Scooby Doo makes so much sense pic.twitter.com/l2zltQhYUR
— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) July 11, 2023
Or any time we saw him interacting with his son Liam, either in the clubhouse, or during warm-ups, or in-game with the fist pounds behind the plate:
— MLB (@MLB) June 18, 2023
He represented the Phillies well at the All-Star game. He was easily the team’s offensive MVP in the first half of the season. It was most notable when the offense was completely sputtering – because he kept it afloat.
Now he’s having games like Wednesday at critical junctures of the season, against the league’s best team, inching the Phillies ever-closer to another postseason appearance.
Sure, there were the times in the season when he really struggled. July was a mess. He had a rough start to September. May wasn’t as good as either April or June. But you can equate those periods of time to the queue line for your favorite ride at an amusement park. Hell, it was just last year that I stood in line for nearly two hours with hundreds of other people of my generation at Disney World to get on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Those of us who like going to amusement parks understand the patience needed and that it’s all part of the process of getting the reward at the end. So, maybe, we are the people who appreciate Castellanos the most.
He’s having a season that probably doesn’t get enough publicity when looked at in totality. It’s been lost in the shuffle with the whole Trea Turner in-season renaissance, the never-ending debate of Kyle Schwarber’s leadoff-worthiness, the rediscovering of a Bryce Harper power stroke, and the anything-less-than-perfection-isn’t good-enough mentality that has been borne from a disappointing Aaron Nola season (although he had an encouraging start Wednesday).
Compare Castellanos’ numbers to 2022 – and to his career – and you’ll see just how good this season has been:
- 2022 – .263/.305/.389 13 HR, 62 RBI, 27 2B, .694OPS, 96 OPS+
- 2023 – .272/.310/.470 27 HR, 99 RBI, 36 2B, .780OPS. 110 OPS+
- Career Avg. Season – .276/.324/.474, 21 HR, 76 RBI, 34 2B, .799 OPS, 113 OPS+
There’s no doubt the 2023 season blows away the 2022 season across the board, but even comparing him to what he has done in 10 previous MLB seasons with Detroit, the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, and the Phillies, Castellanos is bettering his career average output in homers, RBI, and doubles while coming very close in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS+, all of which are within reach if he gets hot over the final 10 games of the season.
In fact, He’s three homers and four doubles away from a 30-homer, 40-double, 100+RBI season.
If I told you those were Harper’s numbers, you’d be one of the people in the crowd chanting “MVP.”
Good offense aside, and also setting aside his vastly improved defense – transforming himself from an outfield liability to an average MLB right fielder in the span of one season – if I really want to make this a complete Castellanos appreciation post, it has to include who the guy is off the field.
He’s a teammate – and a damn good one:
Nick Castellanos says Trea Turner has earned the contract he was given.
“When Trea’s playing his last year here, I’m going to be in the bar with Liam having a drink.”
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) August 31, 2023
He’s a mentor, and a damn good one:
Nick Castellanos is Turning Johan Rojas into a Dirty Little Sluthttps://t.co/5Pr1hkicgS
— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) September 19, 2023
OK, Pagan looked at it from that perspective, but I wrote a story back in July that featured the big brother/little brother relationship between Castellanos and Johan Rojas that went all the way back to Spring Training.
Also, during Michael Lorenzen’s postgame press conference following his no-hitter last month, Castellanos, his former teammate in Cincinnati, stood about 10 feet away, shirtless and enjoying a cold one, with his arm around President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, smiling. After it was over, he politely clapped for his teammate.
You can’t measure that value in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). If you could, it would be off the charts.
Other players are vital to the Phillies’ success in their own ways – Harper and Turner are the superstars. Zack Wheeler and Nola are the rotation anchors. Schwarber is the tone setter, both in the lineup and in the clubhouse. You can make a valid argument that J.T. Realmuto is no longer the best catcher in baseball, but he’s still near the tippy top. Stott, Alec Bohm and Brandon Marsh are the younger guys who have taken huge steps forward. The list goes on and on.
But there’s a reason the Phillies committed five years and $100 million to Castellanos. Yes, with 2022 aside, he’s been a consistent offensive force in whatever lineup he’s been in, but Dombrowski knew what else he was getting with Castellanos.
Dombrowski drafted him when he was GM of the Detroit Tigers in 2010. He gave Castellanos his first shot at the big-league level when he was just 21-years old. He watched Castellanos mature from a brash, young, Florida high schooler who had a knack for hitting baseballs, into a veteran All-Star who is willing to serve as a mentor to young talent, speak his mind publicly to support a struggling teammate, and be an absolute gem of a father in an industry that makes it hard, sometimes, to be a good parent.
The Phillies may not have the most talent in baseball, and Castellanos still has his flaws – hell, he has struck out more times this season (178) than any season in his career – but the reason the Phillies are on the precipice of another postseason and are among the best teams in the sport is they can mix their top-end talent with an unmatched, family-style culture. Culture goes a long way in baseball. We saw it here a season ago. It’s an intangible that has a greater impact than maybe in any other sport.
Castellanos is one of the biggest ingredients in the Phillies culture – and Dombrowski knew he would be, which was part of the reason to bring him to Philadelphia.
It may have taken a year, but now it’s a great fit – even if you don’t always agree with what the voices in his head are telling him he should do.