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La Tortuga’s extra-innings Achilles’ heel

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Willians Astudillo should be the man you want at the plate with a runner at second in a tie game. His approach is famously contact-heavy, and the evidence is his .313/.308/.484 batting performance. That isn’t a typo, by the way, he still hasn’t walked, so his batting average remains higher than his OBP.

Perhaps by coincidence, but Astudillo has batted five times in the tenth inning or later. In those five plate appearances, he is hitting .000/.000/.000 and has struck out twice—half his strikeouts this season. There isn’t much else in common—he’s faced four righties and a lefty, He’s been up thrice at home and two times away. Twice he was used as a pinch hitter, and the other three times it was just his turn in the batting order.

Of the three times that Astudillo made contact, one at-bat resulted in a ground out, and two resulted in pop-flies. None scored a runner.

If we expand to Astudillo’s career numbers, the sample remains small, but he is hitting .298/.317/.438 overall across 382 plate appearances. An additional two of those, in 2019, came in the tenth inning or later, giving us a total, tiny sample of seven extra inning appearances. One of those resulted in a flyout, while the other was his only post-ninth inning hit, a single, which means that Astudillo is hitting .143/.143/.143 in extras for his career. He’s appeared in every batting order position except lead-off and third and come up with zero, one, and two outs in the inning.

Perhaps you’re thinking “this guy must just suck under pressure.” I would have gone there—but we have a number to prove that isn’t the case. Leverage Index measures pressure, with 1.00 considered “average,” while lower than 1.00 is below average and higher is more pressure. Astudillo’s extra inning appearances have ranged from .67 to 4.30. The only hit occurred in a near-median LI performance, at 2.38.

So, what gives? Well, a BABIP of .200 is certainly unlucky. But mostly its a small sample weirdness situation. Astudillo has struck out in 4% of his career at bats, yet 20% of his extra-inning at bats. That won’t stay that way over time. His career BABIP is .284, which is much closer to league average (typically around .300 in a stable sample.) In the long term, he’s probably the guy you want at the plate with a runner at second. There is one reason why I would consider a pinch hitter right now in these situations though.

Astudillo, as everyone knows, is going to be coming up swinging. Its not working right now for him, or for the the Twins, who are 0-7 in extra innings. He’s seen a total of 15 pitches in five plate 2021 extra-inning appearances, once each has he seen one or five, and the remaining three he’s seen three pitches. He’s never been ahead in the count. Someone with a different approach might be called for here, especially if you have a guy like Josh Donaldson or Max Kepler on the bench. It might be a little old school, but the more pitches you see, the more likely something positive is to happen. Astudillo hasn’t, Josh Hader excepted, faced a lot of elite relievers— Deolis Guerra (there is a name I haven’t seen in awhile,) Ian Kennedy, Josh Sborz, and Kenyan Middleton. He need to make those guys work, and beat themselves. If he can’t, Rocco needs to force him to take a strike, and if that just doesn’t work, then maybe you call in the pinch hitter.

What do you think?