Let's Talk About Willians Astudillo
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsIt seems like we all have an affinity for baseball players who are more rotund than the trim beefcakes we come to expect from the sport. There’s certainly something to be said about an athlete who looks like someone you would see at a Golden Corral who also somehow is playing a sport at the highest level possible.
Knowing this, when Willians Astudillo made his major league debut in 2018 and made waves by actually hitting well, never striking out or walking, and hauling ass around third base to help beat the Yankees, it seemed like we would be telling stories about his greatness for a while.
This past season was a much different story for Astudillo. The health of Jason Castro and break out of Mitch Garver ensured that any playing time was going to be scarce for Astudillo and he would have to take on a somewhat super utility role in order to claw his way into the starting lineup. But even when he was able to find playing time at the major league level, he was not cutting it at the plate.
A player like Astudillo exemplifies the fact that there is a difference between “hitting the ball” and “being a good hitter”. Dads across the world will argue this fact but we know through analytics that getting on base and slugging are even more important measures of a hitters ability than batting average or “putting the ball in play”. Miguel Sanó struck out over 36% of the time last season and nearly doubled Astudillo’s wRC+ because he also walked a ton and slugged the ball to the moon.
Speaking of wRC+, Astudillo’s last year was a paltry 76. Keep in mind that wRC+ points are equal to percentage points with 100 being average, so Astudillo was 24% worse than the average hitter in 2019. Set the minimum to 200 plate appearances and you’ll find that Astudillo was the 305th best hitter in baseball last year around names like Elvis Andrus, Dee Gordon, and Cheslor Cuthbert. While this is literally quite the collection of names, they aren’t ones that you want to be associated with as far as your ability to hit go.
What crushed Astudillo was that he started to increase his rate of softly hit balls which is not really something you want to do as a hitter. His soft hit rate jumped from 14.3% in 2018 to 22.6% in 2019 which is the 24th worst among all hitters with at least 200 PA. His hard hit rate stayed relatively the same but the increase in softly hit balls was a major reason for his regression.
The thing about swinging at everything is that teams will eventually realize that you will literally swing at everything. Really, this entire article could be just that sentence but I digress. Teams adjusted to this play style and Astudillo saw way fewer first pitch strikes in 2019 while staying about as aggressive as he has always been. Until that changes, he is going to struggle in the majors.
Astudillo will likely not be a major factor in the catcher rotation with Mitch Garver becoming Mike Piazza and Alex Avila taking over as the veteran with excellent defense. He will be aided by the roster expanding to 26 men but I would be hesitant to write his name down in permanent ink as he will spend more time in Rochester if the bat stays the same as it did in 2019. Personally, I do like Astudillo as an interesting counter off the bench late in the game against great stuff relievers as he will be unfazed as whatever kitchen sink they throw at him. But such a role is too niche for a roster with limited spots and a pragmatic front office.
I do apologize again for being a fun sucker, but as a non-prospect 28-year-old with an exploitable gimmick, Astudillo is closer to being DFA’d than being an everyday player on the Twins going forward.
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