After adjustments, Castellanos getting back to himself

Slugger records two hits with lower chase rate in 2024

April 10th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- offered an honest answer to a simple question Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

What have you thought about your start?

“It’s [crap],” he said, before picking up two hits in a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals.

It has been 181 days since Castellanos helped the Phillies demolish the Braves in the 2023 NLDS, hitting two home runs in both Games 3 and 4 at Citizens Bank Park. Castellanos hit a home run in his first at-bat against Arizona in Game 1 of the NLCS. Everything was awesome then. But then the bullpen struggled in Phoenix and much of the lineup went cold, including Castellanos, who went hitless in his final 23 at-bats of the series. The Phillies lost Game 7 at home.

People have been talking about chase rates ever since.

You’ve heard about chase rates. It’s the percentage of pitches that a batter swings at out of the strike zone.

“I know that was brought to my attention, my chase rate and stuff and really wanting to not chase,” Castellanos said. “I've always been a free swinger, you know? I just think that being careful with the baseball kind of [messed] with my swing a little bit. So now it's just getting it back. But according to our hitting people I am chasing less.”

Castellanos entered Tuesday swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone (34.4 percent) than last season (41 percent) and his career (36.3 percent). He was walking more than last year. He was striking out less.

It should mean good things, except Castellanos’ other numbers were not good. He is batting .154 with two RBIs and a .421 OPS. His expected batting average (.145) and expected slugging percentage (.203) ranked among the bottom 10 percent of hitters in baseball. He had not barreled a ball yet. He was hitting the ball in the air more. He was hitting fewer line drives. He wasn’t hitting the ball as hard overall.

These are all super small sample sizes, of course. But five hours before Tuesday’s game, Castellanos and first base coach Paco Figueroa went onto the field to hit. Figueroa threw two buckets worth of baseballs to Castellanos, which is a lot before a game.

But Castellanos wants to fix this.

He singled to center field at 99.7 mph in the fifth inning. He broke his bat for an infield single in the seventh. In the ninth, he lined out to center field at 101.2 mph.

The balls in the fifth and ninth were two of his seven hardest-hit balls in play all season.

It looked different.

“I think that I put too much stress on my chase percentages and wanting so much to swing at good pitches that I feel like I lost the whippiness and the looseness I had attacking the ball,” he said. “I feel like I'm just not getting my swing off. I’m like, alright, get ‘em in the zone, get ‘em in the zone. Oh, it's in the zone, and I take a soft swing.”

Castellanos is making other adjustments, too. He has hit mostly seventh in the Phillies’ lineup since early September. In the past, he hit mostly in the middle.

He sees a difference.

“The game attacks you differently when you have a lot of protection behind you,” he said. “Right? They have to come to me more. Now I need to be a little bit more reserved with what I swing at because I need to give the game a reason to attack me.”

Castellanos said Tuesday afternoon that he believes he is one swing away from changing everything. Two three-hit games in a row and suddenly everything looks different.

He had two hits on Tuesday. That helps, too.

Of course, the million-dollar question is this: Can Castellanos do what he wants to do and chase less at the same time?

“My man,” he said, smiling. “If you figure it out ...”