For several years, now-unemployed pitcher Bartolo Colon became a beloved figure in Baseball Twitter because, well, because he was fat. It seems pointless to argue that he was beloved for any other reason. Once a somewhat chubby but still relatively athletic looking Cy Young-level pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and then-Anaheim Angels, among others, Colon’s career fell off in the late aughts. But after a career resurgence starting in 2013 with the Oakland Athletics, Colon became a fairly effective pitcher while being listed at 280 pounds and probably being quite a bit above that weight.
But the Bartolo Colon infatuation drove me crazy. First of all, as somebody who has spent much of his life battling weight problems and the subsequent emotional inadequacy that can come with it, it was impossible for me to see this not as bullying. No, I didn’t want a player to be hated for being overweight, but I didn’t want him to be liked exclusively because of it. Also, he tested positive for PEDs and allegedly had a secret family. These are normally reasons for players to be loathed.
The new overweight baseball player of choice among baseball fans is Minnesota Twins catcher Willians Astudillo. And as for Willians…I rather like Willians.
Astudillo is listed at 5’9, 225 pounds, and while I think this undersells his weight, he certainly weighs less and looks more generally athletic than late-stage Bartolo Colon and virtually no other Major League Baseball players. But in every other conceivable way, Astudillo has an advantage. He plays with an unabashed joy. As a position player, he has a more pressing need to be athletic, and yet he is able to overcome his atypical body shape. But the most extreme thing about Willians Astudillo isn’t his size; it is his game.
Major League Baseball has become a Three True Outcomes sport, a game dominated by batters drawing walks, striking out, and hitting home runs, thus not putting balls in play. Consider a player like Matt Carpenter. In 2018, Matt Carpenter walked, struck out, or dingered in 43.7% of plate appearances. The rise of this type of player can be largely attributed to the rise of sabermetrics in the sport. New-school statistical analysis leans on the side that walks have been historically underrated, striking out isn’t nearly as fatal of a flaw as it was once considered, and home runs are instant runs so who wouldn’t love them? I believe that this is largely accurate and that Matt Carpenter is a great player. But also, I find this style of baseball extraordinarily boring. I like balls in play. That is aesthetically pleasing to me. And in 2018, 33.7% of MLB plate appearances ended with a three true outcome.
In 2018, Astudillo had a “three true outcomes” outcome in 9.7% of his plate appearances. And in 2,462 minor league plate appearances in his career, Astudillo’s TTO number was 7.9%. He is a deeply and uniquely anomalous baseball player. And his numbers are slightly skewed as he has developed some modicum of power–most Three True Outcomes haters will acknowledge that home runs are actually fun, but rather that the non-fun part of them comes from the subsequent spike in strikeouts which, again, aren’t a thing for Astudillo.
I want a world in which every baseball player is Willians Astudillo. To be clear, I don’t want the Cardinals themselves to spearhead this change, as I think attempting it would result in a terrible, terrible baseball team. But if every team could go for it, I’d be on board, as it wouldn’t directly hurt the Cardinals in any specific way. But I don’t think MLB teams would collude in this direction, as they have no financial incentive to do so. I mean, I don’t think teams would ever collude, ever, under any circumstances…that would be…impossible (Dallas Keuchel whistles as tumbleweed passes).
But I want to honor the most Astudillo-like players in Cardinals history, and with the help of Baseball Reference, this is possible. To the surprise of nobody with even basic knowledge of statistical trends in baseball, this list is dominated by Dead Ball Era (and before) players, but since there is incomplete strikeout data for many older seasons, such seasons are excluded for obvious reasons. But in order to better digest how absurd it is for Astudillo to have single-digit TTO numbers in the 21st century, I also included the 2000-or-since player who best embodies Baseball Twitter’s collective Large Adult Son.
King Astudillo: 1943 Walker Cooper, 9.9% TTO (475 PA, 9 HR, 19 BB, 19 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2009 Yadier Molina, 17.5 % TTO (544 PA, 6 HR, 50 BB, 39 K)
King Astudillo: 1889 Charlie Comiskey, 6.7% TTO (609 PA, 3 HR, 19 BB, 19 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2011 Albert Pujols, 24% TTO (651 PA, 37 HR, 61 BB, 58 K)
King Astudillo: 1945 Emil Verban, 5.4% TTO (635 PA, 0 HR, 19 BB, 15 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2001 Fernando Vina, 11% TTO (690 PA, 9 HR, 32 BB, 35 K)
King Astudillo: 1899 Lave Cross, 5.6% TTO (427 PA, 4 HR, 17 BB, 3 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2001 Placido Polanco, 11.6% TTO (610 PA, 3 HR, 25 BB, 43 K)
King Astudillo: 1895 Bones Ely, 7.6% TTO (503 PA, 1 HR, 19 BB, 18 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2006 David Eckstein, 13.4% (552 PA, 2 HR, 31 BB, 41 K)
King Astudillo: 1945 Red Schoendienst, 6.5% TTO (597 PA, 1 HR, 21 BB, 17 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2002 Albert Pujols, 25.9% TTO (675 PA, 34 HR, 72 BB, 69 K)
King Astudillo: 1896 Tom Parrott, 8.4% TTO (499 PA, 7 HR, 11 BB, 24 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2008 Skip Schumaker, 19.4% TTO (594 PA, 8 HR, 47 BB, 60 K)
King Astudillo: 1902 Patsy Donovan, 7.8% TTO (551 PA, 0 HR, 28 BB, 15 K)
Prince Astudillo: 2006 Juan Encarnacion, 22.6% TTO (598 PA, 19 HR, 30 BB, 86 K)