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  • Assessing One Internal Bullpen Candidate


    Allen Post

    What if I told you one of the 2021 Twins’ best relievers ERA-wise was only given four opportunities to strut his stuff? That’s right, here’s the case for Willians Astudillo as a full-time relief pitcher.

    Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson, USA TODAY Sports

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    Okay, let me start by saying this is an absolutely terrible idea. If you want a serious look at bullpen options for 2022, check out Jamie Cameron’s article from Friday on that very topic. Astudillo will never be seriously considered as a pitcher, partially because selling such a decision to the fanbase unironically would be impossible, but what if he was? What if he got a full sixty innings of relief work?

    As a primer, let’s look at Astudillo’s pitching numbers from 2021. He was given four opportunities to toe the rubber, all as a mop-up dude in blowout losses. In those four games, he pitched four full innings and allowed only one (rather infamous) run. That’s an ERA of 2.25, which is better than every actual reliever the Twins put out there this year except for four innings of Devin Smeltzer and 12 innings of Nick Vincent. Also, with only one hit allowed all year, Astudillo’s WHIP of .750 was second on the club, trailing only Smeltzer.

    On the other hand, having walked two and struck out exactly zero (0) hitters, Astudillo’s strikeouts per walk rate is in the mud (at 0.00), but, as Twins fans, we like to pretend that Wes Johnson can fix everything, so let’s assume he gets at least a strikeout every two innings out of Astudillo. 

    Now, obviously, La Tortuga’s four innings pitched is a ridiculously small sample size, but if that’s the type of thing that bothers you, this may not be the article for you, because this entire flimsy argument is based on that small sample size. And, even with that said, we’ve seen position players be immediately terrible on the mound before, and the fact that Astudillo gave the Twins even just four innings of competence means something. 

    With his stats settled (just don’t look at his FIP), let’s examine Astudillo’s stuff. According to FanGraphs, Willians has a fastball that sits in the low-80s, a seldom-used changeup in the low 60s and a heavily-used eephus that comes in at a bizarrely slow 45 miles per hour. Now he’s certainly not blowing up the radar gun, but he can throw each of these pitches for strikes (a remarkable skill) and pitchers have gotten Major League hitters out before with little velocity. Heck, Jamie Moyer’s fastball was tipping the scales at 78 mph when he was pitching real innings in the majors as a 49-year-old. 

    The key is the difference in velocity between your fastest and slowest pitch. In Moyer’s autobiography, Just Tell Me I Can’t, he repeatedly mentioned that he aimed for a 10 mph difference between his fastball and changeup velocity. Well, check out Astudillo; he’s got a 35+ mph difference between his fastest and slowest pitch. This overlay shows you exactly what that looks like:

    I mean, these pitches cross the plate in completely different time zones. And, it’s not as if those are the only two pitches he throws. If that were the case, hitters could either sit on one or the other and smack the baseball into next week. But Astudillo can get the ball across the plate at virtually any velocity between 45mph and 85 mph, so hitters never really know when the pitch is going to cross. With this bizarre pitch arsenal, there is reason to believe that Astudillo would be unpredictable enough on the mound to have real success. Just check out this highlight tape:

    It’s clear that big league hitters just simply don’t know what to do with 45 mph over the middle, and then after seeing it a few times, Astudillo shows them the same delivery but fires it in at 72, which is suddenly way too fast to adjust to. 

    Now, obviously, professional hitters would be able to adjust to Astudillo’s antics if he actually became a full-time reliever. The eephus surely wouldn’t be as effective the 100th time Astudillo threw it and his fastball might start to look like batting practice fodder more than anything else. But, given that Astudillo is the only guy in the league that pitches like he does, I’m just not sure hitters would be spending time preparing for the one at-bat a series they might get off him. 

    And, even if they did, it might not matter. When you spend all your career preparing for—and all day hitting off of—high velocity, high spin rate guys, adjusting to hitting off Astudillo likely feels like playing a completely different sport. And that might be just enough to make him viable as a full-time reliever. 

    Again, Falvey and Levine certainly won’t be able to trot out an Opening Day roster that has Astudillo as a pitcher, because, you know, we want the team to be good. However, if the team is going to be bad again—if we make it to July and Minnesota baseball is just as depressing as it was this year—I’d love to see him coming out of the bullpen on a regular basis. I only kind of believe he could do it, but if the Twins are going to be bad, I’d rather they be fun to watch.

    What do you think? Could La Tortuga actually do it? Let us know in the comments!

     

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    The excellent* overlay shows that he has a “highly repeatable” motion. That’s a buzzword that’s worth something for him, isn’t it?

     

    *And by excellent, I mean it had me laughing at the variation. It’s almost like a live batter could have swung at both of them. 

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    Entertaining and fun!! 

    That eephus pitch is hilarious but surprisingly effective. He actually does have very good control of his "stuff".

    In semi-seriousness, if he is on the roster as the 26th man again, it might be worth him working 15-20 IP...MAX...in a few blowouts just to save the pen a little. Of course, my preference for blowouts is the Twins doing that to other teams.

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    Okay, let me start by saying this is an absolutely terrible idea. 

    That is no reason not to have an article about it in the off-season. It shows creativity. It also shows why you don't write for Sports Illustrated.

    You be you, Allen. 

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