While off-days are never fun from a ‘consumption of live baseball’ perspective, they do afford us the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve already seen, at least. While their record doesn’t yet reflect it, many of the offensive stats the 2021 Cincinnati Reds have posted so far certainly do provide some enjoyment when given a glance.
They’re the league-leaders in runs scored so far with 151 filed away, also topping the league in homers (43), ISO (.198), slugging percentage (.451), and wOBA (.338), too. And while there have been ample contributions to those from a number of different hitters, it’s been Nick Castellanos who has provided the most potent combination of quantity and quality so far, as he’s tied for the MLB lead in homers (9) while leading all NL players with 70 total bases.
That paragraph alone lists six different statistical categories in which the Reds, or a Red, is the league leader. They’re all pretty damn relevant stats, too, the kind of potent offensive metrics that are some of the best measures of how well a team, or player, is actually performing. So stupidly, I’m going to focus the rest of this article on a stat which doesn’t even come close to telling a story as intricate as those.
Nick Castellanos also leads the NL in hits at the moment. Hits, a stat that doesn’t even show up on the go-to Dashboard tab when you open the league leaders page at FanGraphs. If you slide over to the Standard tab, though, you’ll see his name right at the top in the senior circuit, with only Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox above him among all MLB players.
Hits, of course, doesn’t really tell us anything. It doesn’t tell us if they’re doubles or dingers, and it certainly doesn’t tell us how long it took to tally them. Is 100 hits good? Did they come in 200 PA, or 600? Were they all singles? Who knows?!
While I willfully concede that that statistical category as a whole is a bit superfluous, noting Nick Castellanos is leading the NL in hits right now is much less about the category itself, and much more about a unique aspect of Cincinnati Reds history that has stood out for longer than I have walked, crawled, and drooled on this planet. Nick has 35 hits while the Reds have played 27 games, a rate of 1.29 hits per team game. There are 162 games on the Reds schedule this year, and 1.29 hits per team game times 162 team games equals 210 hits in total.
The Cincinnati Reds have not had a player log a 200 hit season since 1977. There are grandparents alive right now who weren’t even born then.
Back in the middle of the 2018 season, I dove into this same wormhole when Scooter Gennett was still bonking balls all over the place, at the time noting that there had been 166 individual instances between 1977 and the end of the 2017 season where an MLB player had recorded at least 200 hits in a season. None of those were Reds, for whatever reason, and since the time of that article both Whit Merrifield and Rafael Devers have added to that total, meaning of the 168 most recent 200 hit seasons, nary a one has been logged by a player in a Cincinnati uniform.
So, while hits as a statistical category of importance still carries little to no merit in the grander scheme, a Reds player chasing an arbitrary, round number in the category has taken on an importance to me bent on scarcity alone. It’s as if my brain chooses to track a thing like this in order to retire it from thought altogether, and Castellanos fits the profile both of a player a) already on the right start to getting there and b) whose tendencies suggest he could maintain a proper pace in that chase.
Back in that 2018 article, I noted that in order for a player to fit the mold of what it takes to reach 200 hits, they needed these there primary qualities:
a) plays everyday
b) hits for high average
c) rarely walks
Two-game suspension aside, Castellanos has played everyday for the Reds, and will continue to do so - especially if he’s producing anywhere close to as well as he has been so far this season.
As for hitting for high average, he hit .294 across 1342 PA between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and that’s a rate that he’ll likely have to improve upon just slightly to crack the 200 hit mark. Merrifield, who picked up 206 hits in the 2019 season, hit .302 for the season, doing so mostly out of the leadoff spot in 681 total PA. Castellanos has hit primarily 2nd in the order and should, in theory, get nearly that many opportunities to step into the batter’s box, and his .330 start so far this season gives him a bit of a cushion should things regress back to his more recent averages.
Rarely walking is just as crucial an aspect to this particularly odd quest I’m sending Nick on, too. A free pass to 1B is undoubtedly a good thing, and a positive outcome in the grand scheme, but each one is also a notahit in this dumb scenario I’m spinning. His 4.5% rate ranks tied for 137th out of 164 qualified MLB hitters at the moment, and even his career rate of 6.5% would sit roughly 116th, meaning that likely qualifies him for rarely walking in this imprecise experiment I have so rudimentarily created here.
I hope Nick socks 50 dingers. I hope he leads the world in ISO and SLG, posts a 7 fWAR season, and wins an MVP. But for some stupid reason, I really, really hope he manages to scratch 200 hits into the scorebooks, too, so my series of articles on the topic can be released like the Dead Men of Dunharrow.