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Water on La Tortuga

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 11 June 2019 · 2,174 views

willians astudillo andrelton simmons minnesota twins los angeles angels
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time on Twitter, you know that I’m skeptical when it comes to the Minnesota Twins cult hero. Willians Astudillo made his MLB debut last season, and after a September explosion, fans around Twins Territory lost their collective minds. Both from a conceptual and statistical perspective he’s been a lightning rod player for me, and someone I’ve struggled to get on board with.

Rather than tweeting in short bursts I thought it pertinent to organize my thoughts in a single blog post with supporting facts and use this as a point of reference. Maybe some number of months from now this will be something that you can point to as a massive miss for me. If that ends up being the case, Minnesota likely benefits, so we all win in that case.

To date Astudillo has 62 games in his major league career. 29 of those games came during September 2018 in which he posted an .887 OPS. He swatted eight extra-base hits (three homers), .379 wOBA and 139 wRC+. On top of his offensive contributions, he also played six defensive positions for Minnesota. The next 33 games came to open the 2019 season, in which he posted a .630 OPS, .267 wOBA, and a 62 wRC+.

As Twins Daily’s Nick Nelson alluded to me on Twitter, we’re dealing with two sample sizes spanning roughly 100 plate appearances. Generating definitive conclusions off either scenario is not entirely fair, but I’m attempting to tie feelings into statistical output. Without being completely dismissive of those 97 September plate appearances, they took place during the most watered-down portion of the big-league schedule. His slump or injury has been credited with the slide in 2019, but the reality is that aside from his first three games (6-for-9), he owns a .537 OPS across 110 plate appearances.

My belief is that Astudillo must entirely shift his approach at the plate in order to see sustained big-league success. Astudillo saw 2.93 P/PA this season, the lowest in baseball, with the next closest being the Angels Andrelton Simmons (3.03). It’s not that swinging early and often isn’t a viable process, it’s the way in which Astudillo uses it that’s the problem.

Minnesota’s utility man owned just a 28.8% hard hit rate this season (31.9% in 2018) and puts the ball on the ground 40% of the time. He also popped up on one-fifth of his batted balls. With as much swinging as Astudillo does, while avoiding strikeouts and walks, it’s not a surprise he has a 95% contact rate. Unfortunately, he also has chased 47% of the time (40% in 2018). The summary of his plate discipline and approach is a guy who doesn’t hit the ball hard, puts it on the ground, and isn’t fast enough to make a difference.

If there’s going to be a successful career ahead with the Twins or elsewhere, something must give for Astudillo. He’s done this swing early, avoid strikeouts, and don’t walk for the entirety of his pro career. A pop-up season in the PCL saw a strong OPS, but his minor league OPS is .759. There’s some pop in the bat, but he doesn’t work counts enough to find good pitches. Major league hurlers make him eat out of their hand, and he obliges regularly. This profile is the exact representation of why strikeouts aren’t bad and are arguably worse than any other out.

I touched on a guy who isn’t patient earlier. The Angels Simba swings often too, but he’s become a strong hitter (for average) with a hard-hit rate in the upper 30’s. The ground ball rate isn’t good (and it’s why his SLG will never be favorable), but he only chases pitches out of the zone roughly 30% of the time. Not a slugger by any means, Simmons finds a strike and attacks it while Astudillo attacks almost any pitch thrown his way.

The greatest asset Astudillo provided Minnesota in the early going this year was that he had positional flexibility. He’s able to stand almost anywhere on the diamond but grades out as roughly average at all those places. Lacking a standout defensive skill, and currently employing an approach not conducive to big league success, there’s an uphill battle ahead of him.

It’s great when players like this excite a fanbase or represent a polarizing figure in the clubhouse. What’s worth keeping in perspective, however, is that there’s still a game being played between the lines and casting aside reality, or the merits of other players is something that will only make the letdown that much more difficult. Here’s to hoping an overhaul can be made during his stint on the farm. The more contributors Rocco Baldelli has, the better.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

  • Oldgoat_MN, h2oface and nclahammer like this



Get on the turtle train. We can always make more room and it's slow enough that we won't have to stop so you can hop on

    • Oldgoat_MN, mikelink45 and David HK like this

I lean more toward Ted. I would get beat up this winter when I would mention names like Parmelee and Pinto in referring to Astudillo. 

 

But I don't think it would require him to "entirely shift his approach." I don't think I would want that. And frankly, it's not realistic. The key is for him to understand where he can barrel up the baseball. That doesn't have to mean just in the strike zone. He''s not going to become Mitch Garver at the plate, ,and that's OK. But he just can't swing at everything.

 

Eddie Rosario went through that struggle early in 2016 and got sent down. I talked to someone at that time and they said that Eddie's going to be aggressive ,and that can be OK IF he understands which pitches he can hit hard. Kirby Puckett was able to barrel up baseballs that weren't in the strike zone. Rosario can do the same. What Rosario has done successfully is tame down his approach enough to lay off a few more non-strikes that he just can''t' do anything with and crush pitches he can. 

 

If Astudillo can do that he can be an OK backup catcher or fill that 25th man job that he started the season with. 

 

The other thing is defense... it''s just not good. He's not a good defensive catcher at all. And that is easily his best defensive position. So on this current Twins roster where is he going to play consistently enough to make it worth it?

 

C: Behind Garver and Castro.

1B: Behind Cron, Gonzalez, Sano and Adrianza.

3B: Behind Sano, Gonzalez and Adrianza

OF: Behind the three starters and Gonzalez and Adrianza. 

 

Hard to get at bats. But again, a nice luxury to have when he is hitting. But MLB pitchers are too good and they have adjusted to him. Like all MLB hitters, the onus is now on Astudillo to make the next adjustment... and that will determine what his career path will be.

 

If he can make an adjustment, he can be that 25th man and #2 or #3 catcher. If not ,I know I don't want a pinch hitter who swings at the first pitch no matter where it's thrown. 

    • h2oface, LA VIkes Fan and Tomj14 like this
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Ted Schwerzler
Jun 11 2019 12:40 PM

Well worded by Seth up there. I think "entirely change" is drastic and meant for effect as much as it is in practice. Realistically the change is that he has to swing at pitches in the zone that he can hit hard. Right now he swings at everything, and hits very little hard.

    • h2oface likes this

I wish the turtle well and I think he will could be either a passing phenomenon or he could have you and Seth eat your words.I am hoping for the latter.No stats, no analysis, I find him refreshing and look for better things to come. 

The Turtle gives us fat folks someone to root for. and there a lot of fat folks in MN.:)

Not a fan of Astudillo, expect for the no look pick-off throw to first base in spring training a couple years ago. His OBP follows his average, and even it that is .270, it becomes horrible. Plus, he is mediocre at all positions he plays. We have a need for him only as a backup catcher with flexibilty if Garver or Castro get hurt. There is no future for Astudillo, even if he does have more plate disipline, I think.

    • jud6312 likes this
Astudillo has impressed me as being a "baseball player". He is aware of what goes on during a game, and is involved. Like Rosario, Puckett, Oliva, and some other "bad ball" hitters he needs to determine which bad balls to lay off of. I think he will. I am a little surprised by the shade thrown at his glove. One comment was that he had flexibility but wasn't good at any position. That comment on itself doesn't make sense. Players who aren't good at any position aren't flexible, they are likely the 4th OF. You don't get sent to three IF positions, two OF ones, and catch if you aren't any good at any of the positions. That doesn't mean you are a gold glove winner at anyone of them, but you are easily adequate. If that were not the case Sano would be an OF, Gonsales would catch, and Buxton would be at second base. Trust me, none of this will happen! Lastly, while Garver has worked hard and made his glove work less offensive, I don't see anything remotely giving him an edge behind the plate defensively. Garver is a hitter who can catch. He is not a catcher who can hit. And yes, there is a difference.
    • Oldgoat_MN and Dave The Dastardly like this
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Ted Schwerzler
Jun 11 2019 08:52 PM

 

Astudillo has impressed me as being a "baseball player". He is aware of what goes on during a game, and is involved. Like Rosario, Puckett, Oliva, and some other "bad ball" hitters he needs to determine which bad balls to lay off of. I think he will. I am a little surprised by the shade thrown at his glove. One comment was that he had flexibility but wasn't good at any position. That comment on itself doesn't make sense. Players who aren't good at any position aren't flexible, they are likely the 4th OF. You don't get sent to three IF positions, two OF ones, and catch if you aren't any good at any of the positions. That doesn't mean you are a gold glove winner at anyone of them, but you are easily adequate. If that were not the case Sano would be an OF, Gonsales would catch, and Buxton would be at second base. Trust me, none of this will happen! Lastly, while Garver has worked hard and made his glove work less offensive, I don't see anything remotely giving him an edge behind the plate defensively. Garver is a hitter who can catch. He is not a catcher who can hit. And yes, there is a difference.

Couple of things I want to address here:

 

1. Astudillo is not a bad ball hitter. He chases because that's his process, swing and make contact with everything. He doesn't hit anything hard, so he's not really a hitter at all yet. Bad ball hitters make it work because they still barrel pitches out of the zone. They aren't just chasing.

 

2. He's below average defensively everywhere, the metrics and eye test both corroborate that. A catcher by trade, that actually may be one of his worst positions defensively. Because he can occupy the space doesn't, in and of itself, provide value. Marwin Gonzalez CAN play SS, but you never WANT him to.

 

3. Mitch Garver rated well below average defensively in 2018. After the work he put in with Tanner Swanson this offseason, he rates avg or slightly above across the board. Adding in the fact that he can hit, he's produced as the best catcher in baseball (when healthy) to start 2019. Is that sustainable? No. Defining him as "a catcher who can hit" drastically downplays the fact that he's a high level regular for the position.

    • jud6312 and Tomj14 like this
Oddly during a discussion on Andrainza and the idea of releasing him, someone who was posting made the comment that Gonsales would be an adequate backup to Polanco because the Houston manager considered him there best defensive SS? Do I know this for a fact? No! In fact I found it odd having watched him play. I think his defense overall is over rated. My point being that defensive ability remains very subjective. And defensive abilities also are colored by the players bat. I did not imply that Garver was a catcher who could hit, I implied that he is a hitter who can catch. He is the behind the plate version of Polanco who is a hitter who can play SS. Neither is particularly adept at their defensive positions, but their obvious success with the bat covers those shortcomings. I am not suggesting they shouldn't play, I simply prefer to differentiate between the two different aspects of the game. It's similar to the old bugaboo of giving a Gold Glove to a ham handed first baseman who hits 32 HR's, even though he didn't hit them with his glove! And yes, even I cringed at some of the balls Astudillo swung at recently. He needs to narrow down the zone, but that zone for him like Rosario doesn't include simply the strike zone. He won't ever have the power Rosario does, but one has to have a short memory not to remember the hacks Eddie took for a couple years. You could have filled a book the size of War and Peace with the calls for his demotion both offensively and for his route running on fly balls. Patience in baseball is a virtue!
    • Circus Boy and TFRazor like this

I could see him being the second catcher next year if Garver can handle 130 games behind-the-plate. If something happens to Garver, you can always call up a shared position player.

 

So, in that sense, you may not lose much if he can call a decent game. That he can also play in the field in a pinch is a plus. I wish I knew better if he can come off the bench and put that ball in play in a positive way (fly ball or non-double-play).

 

Right now, he is better served in the minors as the Twins have two outstanding catchers and no place for him to get other at bats.

 

At Rochester, he has an opportunity to showcase what he can do if he plays everyday, with most of the calls behind-the-plate. Hope he shines!

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jdmurphy315
Jun 16 2019 07:25 PM

 

Astudillo has impressed me as being a "baseball player". He is aware of what goes on during a game, and is involved. 

Last season in Rochester Astudillo make one of the most heads-up plays I've ever seen. There was a man on second and none out and he was playing third base. A ball got hit very sharply to him on the ground and he caught it and immediately threw to second base, behind the runner who of course was not advancing. The runner managed to retreat in time to avoid the out, but there was still plenty of time to relay on for a 5-4-3 put-out at first. I'd never seen that before in my life, and he executed it so quickly that he'd obviously thought it through ahead of time.