Ask BA: Is There Anyone Like Astudillo?

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Q:Are there any major league players (past or present) that are comparable to Willians Astudillo? John Schultz ? @sciaroyal
Willians Astudillo’s BB/K percentages are insane, who else can you think who has similar numbers? Ronald Torreyes? Chris Stephens ? @tercet86

BA: When it comes to Braves catcher Willians Astudillo, there aren’t really any true comparables. Astudillo is in the midst of a slump right now. He’s hitting .250/.288/.309 at Double-A Mississippi, but we really know he’s slumping because on Friday night, Astudillo struck out. Astudillo strikeouts are as rare as a full moon. You see one a month. Astudillo had not struck out in his first 15 games of this season and he’d gone without a strikeout in his final 27 games of the 2015 season at high Class A Clearwater. For his career, Astudillo has struck out in 2.9 percent of his plate appearances. This is an unfathomably low number. Since Astudillo arrived in pro ball in 2009, if he’s healthy, he’s led the minors in strikeout rate. Usually there is a massive gap from Astudillo to the next best contact hitter.

Year Astudillo (Rank) Rate Next Best Strikeout Rate Rate
2009 Willians Astudillo (1st) 4.9% Raywilly Gomez 5.5%
2010 Willians Astudillo (1st) 1.8% Yidid Batista 4.7%
2011 Willians Astudillo (1st) 0.9% Wilson Soriano 4.3%
*2012 Not eligible   Jair Morelos (1st) 3.9%
&2013 Not eligible   Juremi Profar (1st) 5.2%
2014 Willians Astudillo (1st) 4.3% Michael Pritchard 4.9%
2015 Willians Astudillo (1st) 2.4% Ildemargo Vargas 4.2%
2016 Willians Astudillo (1st) 1.4% Kevin Newman 5.6%
Minimum 200 plate appearances
*Astudillo had 153 plate appearances, his 3.2% strikeout rate was better than anyone with 200+ plate appearances.
&Astudillo missed the entire 2013 season.

While you can count on Astudillo to put the ball in play, it’s much less certain whether that will pay off in a big league career. Extreme contact ability is the full extent of Astudillo’s offensive game. He doesn’t hit for power–he has nine home runs in seven pro seasons and he has a career .074 isolated power. Astudillo does not run well and he doesn’t walk–he has 67 walks in 1,744 career plate appearances. Astudillo has almost as many hit-by-pitches (47) as walks as a pro.

Astudillo is the two-outcome poster child. He’ll either single or put the ball in play for an out. As one scout joked, he could end up as a .280/.280/.280 big leaguer with a .280 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). So how useful is Astudillo’s skill-set? His ability to stick on a big league roster will depend significantly on his improvement defensively at catcher. Astudillo has played first base, left field and third base in addition to catcher, but it’s at catcher that he has the best chance to be at least fringe-average defensively. Astudillo is unlikely to ever be a big league regular–he doesn’t do enough things to warrant an everyday job. But if his catching progressed to adequacy–he’s a fringy receiver but his arm is fine–he could end up having a role as a backup catcher/pinch hitter.

There are situations where an extreme ability to put the ball into play has value especially late in games. They are very different styles of players, but Astudillo’s skill set at the plate isn’t dramatically different from Manny Mota’s late-career role as a pinch hitter–Astudillo’s ability to catch could help him earn a roster spot as a third catcher, although such roles are much harder to find in the days of 12 and 13-man pitching staffs.

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