Willians Astudillo and Hanser Alberto Are Here To Swing the Bat

In her 2012 novel Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn wrote that the Midwest is full of people who are nice enough, but easy to manipulate. “Easy to mold, easy to wipe down,” Flynn wrote of these people, who she described as having plastic souls. But she could not have foreseen two current Midwest residents who are breaking the mold of modern baseball.

The major-league walk rate has comfortably sat around 8% for the last 100 years, and with 21st-century front offices emphasizing on-base percentage, the game’s elite offensive players regularly walk more than 10% of the time while boasting on-base percentages in the .400 club.

This season, the American League Central plays home to two players that don’t seem to care about any of that. The Twins’ Willians Astudillo and the Royals’ Hanser Alberto have each strode to the plate at least 55 times in 2021. They have combined for zero walks.

The pair of Midwest transplants are the only players in the league who have batted at least 50 times without drawing a walk. They are also the only players in the league who have batted at least 40 times without drawing a walk, and the only players who have batted at least 30 times without a walk. The player with the third-highest amount of plate appearances this year without a base on balls is Angels journeyman Scott Schebler, who’s all the way down at 27. Red Sox backup catcher Kevin Plawecki had made 35 straight walkless plate appearances to begin his season before inexplicably drawing two on Thursday against the Tigers’ bullpen.

Astudillo and Alberto have never been paragons of patience during their careers. Both players have career walk rates under 2.5%, with Astudillo at 1.9% and Alberto at a slightly more selective 2.4%. Since Astudillo was summoned to the big leagues in 2018, he and Alberto have the lowest walk rates of any players with at least 300 plate appearances. Yet, they can each claim on-base percentages above .310 during that span, which certainly isn’t great, but is much better than almost all of their classmates in the remedial walk room.

The reason for that stems from both players’ hit tool. It’s probably not how you’d teach a young player, but the Astudillo and Alberto school of thought is that if you can get the bat on anything and everything, why ever take a free pass? Each guy has managed to hit .290 or better since 2018 because of their insane bat to ball skills, even if said ball is out of the strike zone.

Of those players with 300 plate appearances since 2018 – the group in which Astudillo and Alberto have the lowest percentage of walks – Alberto has the highest percentage of swings on pitches outside the strike zone. Astudillo has made the second-highest percentage of contact on those pitches at a truly mind boggling 86.3%, trailing only his teammate Luis Arraez. It’s not just that Astudillo can connect on those pitches, either. He can drive them for extra bases. This was a home run.

Astudillo only recorded 16 plate appearances during the shortened 2020 season, and unsurprisingly went up there hacking in each one. His last walk came all the way back on September 24, 2019. Alberto picked one up at the end of 2020, miraculously working the count back to his favor after falling behind 0-2 on Aroldis Chapman. The free-swinging infielder spat on two 100 mph pitches that were not close, watched a slider nearly take out his ankles, then fouled two pitches off before one of the easiest takes of his career.

As far as swing selection goes, this plate appearance was pretty elementary, even for one of the most trigger-happy batsmen in the world.

This season, neither hitter has left the door open for walks very often. The Twins’ fan favorite has seen all of two three-ball counts. Pitches to him that could have even theoretically gone for ball four are so few and far between that we can just show you all of them right now.

Trevor Cahill’s 3-2 pitch in the first clip looked to be a few stitches off the plate, but was too close to watch with two strikes, and far too close for Astudillo to leave the bat on his shoulder. Nick Wittgren’s pitch was about as center cut as they come, and it ended up harmlessly in his center fielder’s glove. Whether it was intentional or not, Wittgren may have been on to something. We’re still dealing with a limited sample just over a month into the season, but Astudillo’s expected batting average is far higher on pitches outside the zone than it is on ones right down the middle.

Alberto has taken four plate appearances to a three-ball count, but unlike Astudillo, he actually got a hit out of one.

He’s also swung at some pitches that totally would have given him a free base.

Neither player is getting the opportunity to play every day, which could explain their eagerness at the plate. No one wants to sit around for days at a time only to spectate when they finally get their chance. With their contact skills, both players have made the fly swatter approach work to some extent. After a truly bizarre 2016 season in which he struck out 17 times with zero walks in 58 plate appearances, Alberto kicked his strikeout habit following a shoulder surgery that ended his 2017 campaign. Since returning in 2018, he has struck out just 10.5% of the time, a pretty wild feat for the guy who literally swings at the most wayward pitches of anyone in the game.

This is child’s play for Astudillo, who not only has the aforementioned lowest walk rate since 2018, he also has the lowest strikeout rate. Throw the ball anywhere you want to Astudillo, and La Tortuga will put it in play. His 110 wRC+ is also making it harder and harder for Rocco Baldelli to keep him off the lineup card. Should either player get some action this weekend, don’t expect their first walks of the season to follow. Astudillo and the Twins head to Detroit while Alberto’s Royals host the White Sox. Of the six probable pitchers listed for the Tigers and ChiSox, only two (Detroit’s José Ureña and Tarik Skubal) have double-digit walk rates. The other four have been flooding the strike zone all season, and if their respective teams are paying attention, a free pass to either Astudillo or Alberto will surely come with a heavy fine in kangaroo court.

Matthew is a contributor at FanGraphs and a staff writer/podcast host at Lookout Landing. His previous work includes bylines at Baseball Prospectus, Riot Fest, and one-on-one interviews with Sue Bird, Megan Rapinoe, Brenden Dillon, David Fizdale, and several minor league players. He goes by the full Matthew, and it's pronounced RAW-berson.

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1 year ago

Astudillo is an interesting case. I would say he seems to have traded contact for power, except he still literally always makes contact, he just added power. I noticed he hit a few home runs in spring training this year and took a look at him and noticed a difference in his approach. Sometimes early in the count he swings so hard if he fouls it back (or misses it, which hardly ever happens) he literally falls over. I took a look at his batted ball profile and he is currently sporting a 51% fly ball percentage, which is far higher than his career 40%. It might all be noise, but it certainly matches up with the eye test.

kick me in the GO NATSmember
1 year ago
Reply to  carter

I know he is a multiple winner of the MVP trophy in the Venezuelian league. Leading them in home runs at least once.