Arraez Is What Minnesota Has Craved
Image courtesy of © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY SportsSample size was part of the reason that I found myself out on Astudillo. We were talking about 29 games, but more importantly they all took place against September rosters. Just shy of 40 games this season the fan-favorite has posted a .665 OPS with a total of 10 extra-base hits. We’ve had a theme night, and plenty of fanfare directed towards Astudillo, but it’s been the emergence of Luis Arraez that has provided the profile of what Willians would hope to be.
Problematic for Astudillo in his batted-ball profile was that the ability to make contact looked the part of a downfall. Instead of adjusting to big league pitching he simply ate whatever was presented to him directly from the palm of their hand. This season Astudillo has chased 45.8% of the time, up 3% from 2018, but his contact rate remains identical at 91.7%. He’s not whiffing much more (5.2%) and he still owns a miniscule 3.5% strikeout rate. All those inputs are the same, but it’s the output that has changed.
Willians has the same batted-ball profile from 2018 and has stayed true to the process that had him develop a track record in the minors. What’s different is that pitchers have changed their approach and he hasn’t adapted. Instead of getting pitches middle in he’s being fed a significant number of pitches low and away. Continuing to be aggressive, he owns an .842 OPS on the first pitch, but sits at just .715 after 1-0 or a worse .522 after 0-1. Not taking walks or striking out is great, but only if you’re doing something with the baseball.
Enter Luis Arraez.
The Venezuelan infielder doesn’t have the same extreme strikeout or walk numbers that Astudillo did in the minors, but the ratio is equally impressive. Across 367 minor league games Arraez has struck out 129 times with 122 walks. Certainly, that’s a guy who could be described as having a similar ability to command the zone. The difference for Arraez is that there’s a plan in which he decides to attack.
At each level on the farm Arraez has hit. The career slash line sits at .331/.385/.799. There isn’t much power in the bat, and that’s noted with just six long balls to his credit. The approach is one of understanding as opposed to what may be considered as ambushing.
Minnesota employs one of the best offenses in baseball this season, and 22 different players have stepped in for a plate appearance. At 4.01 pitches per plate appearance Arraez ranks fourth among regulars. On the flip side, Astudillo’s 2.84 qualifies for last on the club. In 109 plate appearances Arraez has forced three-ball counts 27 times, owns a 1.881 OPS in those spots, and has drawn 12 walks. Astudillo has 142 plate appearances this season, seeing just 7 thr-e ball counts, owning a .286 OPS, and walking just twice. Here again patience and approach are a common theme.
It’s not as though their batted ball results are substantially different. Arraez hits the ball a bit harder with a slightly less amount of loft. The make contact at nearly the same rate, but Luis chases almost half as often. Both whiff less than 5% of the time and striking out either player is among the toughest things to do in the big leagues. It’s the decision-making process that allows for one to find success while the other has stumbled.
By definition a contact hitter is at the plate to put the bat on the ball. Luis Arraez takes that to a place where productivity is also the name of the game by choosing to put his bat on the right ball. Rather than swinging at the first good pitch, Arraez works a count, is comfortable getting deep into an at-bat, and seeks the optimal offering to make an impact. It can be said that Luis is also just 30 games into his career, and the small sample may catch up to him. Viewing the numbers through the process he employs, and noting the rosters are not inclusive of September promotions, the assumption that staying power is more realistic seems fair.
There’s never not been a point which Willians Astudillo isn’t fun. He’s the pudgy everyman playing a game that many live vicariously through. From an approach, talent, and sustainability standpoint however, it’s Luis Arraez who embodies the player so many Minnesotans were lulled into believing emerged last fall. We can’t be naïve enough to think that this will consistently translate to a .385 average for Arraez, but a high-average, tough out is something we can come to expect, and Edwin Diaz got a taste of that for himself last night.
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