It’s not hard to look at Willians Astudillo and know that he is one-of-a-kind. With a body build unlike anything in Major League Baseball, a skill set that is unmatched by even the most talented hitters, and a personality with such magnetism that even casual fans are taking notice, Astudillo has produced countless highlights in the past 12 months.
The first thing about Willians Astudillo that caught our collective attention was Astudillo’s extraordinary ability to avoid strikeouts. To date, Astudillo has just 5 strikeouts in 174 major league at bats for a K percentage of just 2.8%. While this statistic remains impressive, it is relatively old news. I’m here to tell you that Willians Astudillo is on track to complete a task that has never been done in the history of baseball (as far as we know.)
On Wednesday of this week, I was listening to the Twins game in the background at work as Willians Astudillo as came to the plate in the 5th inning. Eddie Rosario was standing at 3rd base, and there were no outs in the inning. Astudillo swung at the first pitch and fouled it off. On the second pitch, he sent a fairly deep fly ball down the right field line to the right fielder Brian Goodwin. Goodwin caught the routine fly ball, and Rosario was allowed to tag up and score.
This was an ordinary sacrifice fly, Astudillo’s third on the season. Why would anyone care about an ordinary sacrifice fly? I sure didn’t. I barely even noticed it happen until Dick Bremer proceeded to say, “I wonder if a hitter has ever had more sacrifice flies in a season than strikeouts?”
More sacrifice flies than strikeouts?
How would that even be possible?
Hitters rarely get more than a few sacrifice flies over the course of an entire season. The single season record is only 19 set by Gil Hodges in 1954 (Incidentally 1954 was also the first season sacrifice flies were actually scored), and only 13 players have ever recorded a season with 15+ sacrifice flies, and all but 2 of these required 600 plate appearances to rack up that many sacrifice flies.
So, if a player were trying to finish a season with more sacrifice flies than strikeouts, they would need to likely strikeout fewer than 15 times in roughly 500+ plate appearances. During the time since sacrifice flies became a stat in 1954, only 11 players had 1 or more seasons with 500+ plate appearances and fewer than 15 strikeouts. Here is the list:
In total, these players combined for 21 individual seasons that had 15 or fewer strikeouts, and 10 of those seasons were from Nellie Fox, who was notoriously difficult to strikeout. So, putting together a season with very few strikeouts is exceedingly rare, and putting together a season with very few strikeouts AND a lot of sacrifice flies damn near impossible. The closest on this list to our goal is Nellie Fox’s 1961 season in which he had 12 Ks and 7 SFs in 606 ABs. That season is not bad, but not our goal.
Doing a play index search on Baseball Reference, I looked for players that had at least 60 Abs in a season, and had more sacrifice flies than Ks. Here is my result:
ONE player in MLB history has more sacrifice flies than strikeouts over the course of a season, and it’s the 2019 edition of Willians Astudillo. Not only does he have more sacrifice flies, he has 2 TIMES AS MANY sacrifice flies as strikeouts! He has a cushion! At his current pace, Astudillo would finish the season with 77 Games Played (although that may rise since he missed time on the IL this season), 15 Sacrifice Flies, and 7 Strikeouts. This mark would be well over the requirements, and would put him down as the first player to ever complete a season with more sacrifice flies than strikeouts.
Please join me in cheering for this achievement, and send “La Tortuga” some love as he embarks on his quest for glory.