Buy or Sell: Reds edition
The Reds are off to a solid 9-6 start, good for first place in the National League Central. And while 15 games are hardly enough to know whether they are the best team in the division, we are starting to get an idea of what early season individual performances are for real and what’s flukey.
Here are some of Cincinnati’s most surprising early-season performances and whether they should be bought or sold.
Nick Castellanos: Hitting Machine
Fifteen games in, we are starting to see why the Reds signed Nicholas Castellanos to a four-year deal after the 2019 season. Castellanos is hitting .295 with five home runs, leading the team in hits, runs, and total bases. But he has been one of the league’s best hitters over the course of three seasons now.
Over his last 162 games, which covers time spent with the Tigers and Cubs, Castellanos is about a .280 hitter who hits close to 40 home runs, has 50 doubles, and well over 100 runs scored. If anyone put up those numbers in a single season, they would be among the top candidates to win league MVP.
What’s amazing, too, is that Castellanos isn’t walking a ton to get on base. It’s purely by swinging and putting the ball in play, which according to his xBA (expected batting average) of .371, he should be hitting even better than what he is now. Don’t expect Nick to drop off anytime soon.
Tyler Naquin: Power Threat
Among a team with several surprises, the breakout of Tyler Naquin has to be up there near the top. Naquin has never been a plus-offensive player, although the closest he came was his rookie year in Cleveland back in 2016 when he hit 14 home runs in 365 plate appearances while also racking up 18 doubles. But he has been mediocre as a whole over his five years with the Indians before signing a minor league contract with the Reds this last winter.
So it’s fairly surprising that Naquin now leads the team with six home runs and 15 RBI, slugging a remarkable .714 in 42 at-bats. He is hitting the ball harder than nearly everyone in baseball, currently owning a whopping 70 percent hard-hit percentage and 96.5 average exit velocity.
It’s a great development, but it’s hard to see it lasting even with the number of balls he’s hitting hard. Out of Naquin’s 11 hits, six of them are dingers, and he has just one double as his other extra-base hit. Being so home run or bust, especially for someone who’s normally not a home run hitter, isn’t a huge recipe for long-term success. It seems that eventually, Naquin’s power will fall off.
Luis Castillo: Ace in the Hole
With losing the reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer in free agency, Cincinnati is counting a lot more on Luis Castillo to anchor their rotation. But so far, the results have been less than exemplary.
Castillo’s first start of the year on Opening Day was a disaster, giving up eight earned runs and eight hits with no strikeouts in a loss to the Cardinals. He managed to bounce back in his next start, going seven shutout innings against the Pirates, maybe the league’s worst team once the season is over. But last week against the Giants, Castillo struggled again to the tune of runs and seven hits, two of them homers, in just five innings of work.
The biggest question mark surrounding Castillo is the lack of strikeouts. After averaging a K/9 of 10.7 and 11.4 in the last two seasons, Castillo currently has a K/9 of 7.0, the lowest of his career. However, that number may be skewed from his zero K outing against St. Louis on Opening Day.
Ultimately, there is hope for Castillo. Good things happen to those who are finding the strike zone, and right now, Castillo is doing that with just three walks for the year. His hard-hit percentage of 39.2, while still not great, is better than a guy like Jeff Hoffman, who owns the far better ERA despite equally bad WHIPs and K/9. While he may not be a Cy Young candidate, Castillo should bounce back and find some consistency soon.
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