Our long national nightmare is over: Willians Astudillo has returned from the 10-day injured list. La Tortuga succumbed to a hamstring strain near the end of April, and the baseball world has been deprived of his mirth and supernatural contact skills for weeks. Okay, maybe like a week and a half, but that’s a long time to go without this virtuoso.
He returned just in time to receive a first pitch from his mother, Ana Mercedes.
In his first game back, Astudillo went 1-for-5 with a double and characteristically did not draw a walk or strike out. In 58 plate appearances this season, Astudillo has only struck out once, and there was some controversy surrounding the play. Astudillo believed that he had fouled the pitch off, but he was called out anyway.
In 155 major league plate appearances, Astudillo has only struck out 4 times. For comparison, Joe Panik has gone down on strikes 16 times in 134 plate appearances this year, and Panik is about 50 percent better at avoiding strikeouts than the league.
It’s as if every pitcher Astudillo has faced has been Kirk Rueter, but not Rueter circa 2000, Rueter now. It’d be one thing if Astudillo had excellent discipline to buttress his contact, but he’s as free-swinging as they come. He swings at over 40 percent of pitches outside the strike zone which is about what Pablo Sandoval has done throughout his career, but Pablo swings and misses like a mortal man.
Astudillo is an impossible combination of extremely high contact and extremely low plate vision. He should not exist, not in 2019 when strikeouts keep going up and pitchers are forming pacts with elder gods to increase the depth and spin of their sliders.
It’d be one thing if Astudillo were just this statistical anomaly, but he’s also one of the most fun baseball players you can lay your peepers on. In Spring Training last season, he executed a no-look pick-off from behind the plate.
In the Venezuelan Winter League, he hit a dramatic postseason home run and then went down to one knee as if he were pledging fealty to a king. (The king is himself).
In case you didn’t love Willians Astudillo enough already, he hit a home run in the Venezuelan Winter League and then did this. pic.twitter.com/A9Wy9N0avX— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) January 9, 2019
I am not a visual artist. Graphic design is not my passion. But that moment was so inspiring that I had to draw it.
There’s no telling what other joys Astudillo might bring this season. More scoring from first? More archery in the bullpen? As it stands now, Astudillo’s Twins are in line for a playoff spot, so Astudillo might be taking a national stage this season instead of simply being an internet folk hero. It’s good to have him back. Baseball is much worse without him.