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May 29, 2024

The Phillies have a Nick Castellanos problem

The first two years of Nick Castellanos' Phillies tenure were roller coaster rides with plenty of lows. But his struggles have escalated tremendously in 2024.

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Castellanos 5.29.24 Katie Stratman/USA TODAY Sports

Nick Castellanos' significant struggles in 2024 have been masked by the Phillies' red-hot start to the season.

Even amid a recent slump, the 2024 Phillies are 38-18, on pace to win 109 games with the best record in baseball. Most things are swell. But there is a $100 million elephant in the room: Nick Castellanos, who was a massive letdown in his first season with the team in 2022 and took everybody for a wild ride with incredible highs and devastating lows in 2023. He is having the worst season of his career by a massive margin.

There is simply not much to say about Castellanos' performance so far in 2024 other than that he is on the shortlist of least valuable players in the majors. According to FanGraphs, his Wins Above Replacement ranks 231st out of 232 players — pitchers and position players — who qualify entering Thursday's play. The only player who has had a worse season is Andrew Benintendi of the Chicago White Sox.

Castellanos is 32 years old — not young by baseball's standards, but certainly not archaic, either — and not even three years removed from a Silver Slugger-winning season in 2021 in which he hit 34 home runs. Even during his mostly disappointing Phillies tenure, he has had several standout moments. But Castellanos has simply displayed zero redeeming in-game qualities so far in 2024.

Castellanos is now slashing .199/.264/.308 on the season. His .572 OPS ranks 151st out of 158 players in the majors who qualify. Contextualizing all three components of his slash-line by comparing them to the rest of the league leaders paints a jarring picture:

CategoryCastellanos MLB rank (of 158 players)

Castellanos' approach remains putrid. He is chasing pitches out of the zone noticeably less frequently than he did last season, and still has one of the highest chase rates in all of baseball. He is swinging and missing at a massive frequency. When he does make contact, he is constantly rolling over to the left side of the infield and rarely doing any sort of damage by hitting the ball hard. Castellanos has managed just nine extra-base hits in 231 plate appearances in 2024 — six home runs and three doubles. 

In the field, Castellanos' extremely limited mobility hinders his production, preventing him from making nearly any remotely challenging plays, including many that an average right fielder makes on most occasions. On the base-paths, he has been thrown out after making decisions that are... ambitious... more times than any player should have been this early into a season.

Castellanos struck out twice in the Phillies' 10-inning, 1-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants Tuesday night. The first one, which came in his first at-bat, was the kind that Phillies fans have become used to. With a full count, Castellanos chased a changeup that was nearly in the dirt and whiffed. But the second strikeout was different: Howard threw a fastball right down the middle and Castellanos just swung through it.

The first punch-out was clearly the result of his infamous, undisciplined approach, but the second one might have been more concerning: Castellanos has always gone after pitches out of the zone during his years in the majors, even the highs of his career when he has been one of the game's best right-handed hitters. But not even making contact with a fastball at 94 miles per hour thrown over the heart of the plate has not been a typical occurrence for him. After all, it was just a handful of months ago that Castellanos turned around a triple-digit fastball from Atlanta Braves flamethrower Spencer Strider and sent it into the left field seats to help the Phillies advance to the National League Championship Series.

What is nearly as problematic as Castellanos' poor production is the manner in which he is being used. He is the only player to be in Phillies manager Rob Thomson's starting lineup in each and every game so far this season, and has been slotted within the top five spots in the order on 17 different occasions — including when he batted clean-up Tuesday night as Alec Bohm received the night off.

The Phillies are already sacrificing offense on most nights, starting Johan Rojas in center field. If Rojas plays the kind of defense he is capable of and the team's top-of-the-order bats do their jobs, having one weak bat in the ninth spot of the order can be justified quite easily. But adding another player with brutal offensive production to the mix — let alone one who is also a significant negative — puts a lot of pressure on the Phillies' established stars to bring their best every single night, and perhaps even more pressure on their middle-of-the-order hitters, like Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh, to avoid slumps.

It is a testament to the Phillies' remarkable roster that Castellanos has struggled to this extent and it is a mere footnote, not a leading story of any kind. And Castellanos very well may be entrenched in right field for the remainder of this season regardless of performance (barring an injury), due to his lofty $20 million salary, the fact that he is on the books for two more seasons after this one and that the team lacks an obvious in-house replacement. But at some point, Thomson and Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski cannot continue to settle for what is dangerously close to league-worst performance at the plate and on the field on a daily basis because of a track record that predates Castellanos' time in Philadelphia and simply does not reflect the player he appears to be any longer.

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