Editor’s Note: Our dear friend Pegasus has been regaling me with tales of a player the Cardinals must acquire, and while he isn’t Giancarlo Stanton, Willians Astudillo clearly holds a place in the mythical horse’s heart. He just got around to writing an ode to this free agent, but no sooner could his post be placed in the queue, the devious Twins from Minnesota signed him to a minor league free agent contract just last night. Although it doesn’t look like the Cardinals will be acquiring Astudillo soon, I felt it was important that the universe not be deprived of this post. -CJE
Gather round, and I shall tell you a tale. A tale of the weirdest baseball player in the world.
His name is Willians Jose Astudillo, he’s a catcher, and he is a minor-league free agent. Here’s weird fact #1: he’s listed at 5’9” and 225 pounds. Body Mass Index isn’t a great tool for pro athletes, given that they are more muscular than average... but just for the record that’s a BMI of 33, which a medical doctor would technically classify as “obese.” You don’t see many guys like that in baseball, and when you do they tend to be big ol’ pitchers (Jon Broxton’s BMI: 35). So it is weird that Willians Astudillo is a pro baseball player in the first place.
It only gets weirder. As I was researching this post, I came across this description by Carson Cistulli a couple years ago, which is what led me to fall in love with Willians in the first place. I was unconsciously plagiarizing it, so I’ll quote it instead:
No qualified batter in affiliated baseball recorded a lower strikeout rate (2.4%) than Willians Astudillo in 2015. In 2014, no qualified batter in affiliated baseball recorded a lower strikeout rate (4.3%) than Willians Astudillo. Willians Astudillo conceded the entire 2013 season to injury and didn’t qualify in 2012 (although, if he had, he’d have recorded the lowest strikeout rate in affiliated baseball). Do you remember 2011? Not everyone does. If you do, however, you might also remember how Willians Astudillo recorded the lowest strikeout rate (0.9%) in affiliated baseball. And it would have reminded you, that distinction, of the previous year, by the conclusion of which Willians Astudillo had recorded the lowest strikeout rate (1.8%) in affiliated baseball.
In 2016 and 2017, Willians did not get enough plate appearances to qualify for leaderboards. But if he had, he would have recorded the lowest strikeout rates (3.2% and 3.9%, respectively) in affiliated baseball. In 2154 career minor-league plate appearances, Willians Astudillo has only struck out 67 times. In comparison, Kolten Wong (a very good contact hitter) has 175 strikeouts in 1404 MLB PAs.
There’s more. You’d think a guy who is literally the hardest to strike out would walk a fair bit — at the very least, elite bat control should mean a lot of deep counts. But you would be wrong, because Willians hates walks with only slightly less passion than he hates strikeouts: he has only drawn 75 in those 2154 MiLB PAs.
This guy is, to a freakish degree, up there to hit. I took all the qualified batters in affiliated baseball in 2017, added up their K%, BB%, and HBP%*, and looked for the highest percentage of plate appearances ending in anything else — in contact of some kind. Infielder Juan Almonte from the Rangers’ system was the highest among qualifiers, at 87.6%. The MLB leader among qualifiers was Yulieski Gurriel, at 83.7%. Willians Astudillo thinks those guys need to swing the damn bat. Over 90% of his career MiLB plate appearances have ended exactly the way Willians wanted them to: with the crack of the bat on the ball, and somebody trying to make a play.
*Okay seriously though: he’s been hit by 58 pitches in his minor-league career. He’s only struck out NINE MORE TIMES THAN HE’S BEEN HIT BY A PITCH. WHAT!?
And it’s worked for him. With the exception of 2009 (his very first pro season) and 2016, Astudillo has posted an above-average wRC+ every year. Yes, he’s generally been old for each level, but whatever. His weirdo contact-fetishist approach has been working.
The OH YEAH? That’s me. Also, that’s a legit nice swing.
Of course, a good minor-league hitter (no matter how weird) would not be in search of his fourth pro organization and first MLB promotion at age 26 if there were not drawbacks. However, each of those drawbacks comes along with just enough of something to squint at and buy into that I am here to tell you, you should ignore these drawbacks and convert to the Church of Willians:
- He has not hit for power. Buuuuut... last year his ISO was .217! Yes it was just 128 PAs (no idea why that’s all he played), and yes it was for the Reno Aces in an extreme hitters’ park, but he also had a career-high FB% and career-low GB%, so maybe he’s a flyball/bouncy-baseball revolution guy now. You cannot prove to me he’s not. Plus, he is better than anybody else in pro baseball at making contact, so, so what.
- He’s supposedly not a good defensive catcher. Buuuuut... he supposedly is a good pitch-framer, and also it’s just a AAA or backup catcher, who cares that much. Plus, he is better than anybody else in pro baseball at making contact, so, so what.
- He’s very slow. He’s short and fat. He doesn’t look like an athlete, period, let alone a pro. But at bottom, baseball is a game where one person tries to throw a ball past another person, and that person tries to hit the ball with a bat. And it turns out Willians Astudillo is better than anybody else in pro baseball at making contact. So so what.
Now, some of you are sitting there going okay, man, stop writing about this and go sit in a corner with DanUp dreaming up fictional rosters filled with novelty players. But as much fun as that sounds like (a considerable amount), I sincerely believe that Willians Astudillo would be a good addition.
He’d come on a minor-league deal — that’s all he’s gotten the last couple years as a free agent, and I doubt he can do better than a minor-league contract and non-roster invitation to Spring Training in 2018. He might prefer a situation with a less entrenched MLB incumbent, but he also might not have lots of choices.
He also fits a role Cardinals are thought to be looking to fill, namely a backup catcher option who can be stashed in Memphis, off the 40-man roster, unless and until a need arises:
Do you think the Cards will look for a non-roster invitee to stash at Memphis to act as the third-string catcher? Or is Knizer close enough that he would get the call if Molina or Kelly go on the DL?
by Mister November 13 at 1:21 PM
Frankly, though, I’d sign Astudillo, give him a NRI, take a long look in March, and consider flat out making him the Opening Day backup catcher. As I wrote late in the season, I see no compelling reason to keep making Carson Kelly ride the bench in MLB. It would be one thing if a real time-share with Yadier Molina were in the works, but last year Kelly only started once a week, and Yadi led the NL (like every year) in innings caught. It’s a waste of a good prospect’s time.
Let Willians Astudillo be the one riding the bench. Or if not Willians, somebody a lot like him, so Kelly can keep developing as a ballplayer by playing baseball in Memphis instead of trying to do it by watching everybody else very carefully from a very good seat.
Of course, there’s nobody remotely like Willians Jose Astudillo. So just make it him. It’ll be fun!