Luis Arraez: Twins Hero or Flash in the Pan?

Since debuting with the Minnesota Twins last summer, Willians “La Tortuga” Astudillo has played nearly every position on the field and become a fan-favorite cult hero in the process, complete with his own theme night at Target Field earlier this season.

Astudillo is currently on the injured list, which has allowed more playing time for rookie infielder Luis Arraez. Arraez is off to a similar hot start to his big league career, like Astudillo last season, but is Arraez’s production more sustainable? Let’s go on a journey and see why Luis Arraez should be the Twins cult hero this year and beyond.

Every hero has their moment when they arrive. For Willians Astudillo that came last September, or more specifically September 12 when he scored from first base on a double against the New York Yankees; his helmet flying off his head to reveal a bed of luscious curls.

Astudillo, 27, played parts of 10 seasons in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut. Fangraphs rates his hit skill as an 80 on the 20-80 scale. That is the very definition of elite. Astudillo makes contact with just about everything. In a three true outcomes era, Astudillo is the antithesis of that. Through 239 plate appearances in the big leagues, Astudillo’s walk rate is 1.7% and his strike out rate is 3.3%.

Astudillo slashed .355/.371/.516 including a big September for a disappointing 2018 Twins team. He opened 2019 on fire, 7-for-14 with four XBHs and 4 RBI. Since then however, Astudillo is 28-for-119 (.235) with six XBHs. Statcast helps us understand this production. Astudillo’s average exit velocity is 86.3 MPH, just a bit below the MLB average of 87.5 MPH. His hard hit rate, 32.8%, is also just a bit below the MLB mark of 34.4%. These numbers might suggest a league average hitter, but Astudillo’s greatest strength—putting the ball in play—also means he does not walk much. Astudillo’s on-base percentage is a paltry .282 this season.

Arraez has burst onto the scene with little to no expectations coming into the 2019 campaign. Photo Credit to Jim Mone/Associated Press

Luis Arraez, 22, has been an unheralded prospect since he signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2013. That didn’t stop Arraez from accruing an impressive minor league record as a .331/.385/.414 hitter in 367 games. Scouts graded his hitting as a 55, or above average, heading into 2019.

Entering play Wednesday, Arraez has 139 MLB plate appearances, a similarly small sample size as Astudillo in 2018. Is there reason to believe Arraez’s production can be more sustainable than Astudillo’s? In a word, yes, but there is a caveat.

Big Arraez fan as I am, I do not think he will hit .372/.446/.479 forever. Ty Cobb is the career record holder as a .366 hitter. (Batting average by itself isn’t a very important stat but we’ll save that debate for a different day). Arraez’s exit velocity is 86.9 MPH and his hard hit rate is 21.1%. Both of these numbers are below league average and would look to favor Astudillo overall.

Via Baseball Savant, this chart displays Arraez’s ability to square up the ball and drive the ball on nearly any part of the zone.

There’s one key area that favor Arraez in a big way—plate discipline. This is one skill that can be the difference between a flash in the pan and sustainable production. Astudillo’s swing rate is 60.1%, well above the MLB average of 46.5%. Arraez, by contrast, has a 41.2% swing rate which helps explain his 11/16 K/BB ratio. Astudillo’s chase rate, 40.3%, is double that of Arraez, 20.5%. Arraez also has a line drive rate of 36.9% which dwarfs the MLB league average of 25.5%. As you can probably imagine, line drives lead to lots of hits. According to Fangraphs, MLB hitters hit .685 on line drives in 2014.

Along with his ability to square up the ball, the rookie has shown great plate discipline and the ability to generate contact on nearly any pitch.

Luis Arraez should be a fixture in the Twins infield for years to come. On-base skills and defensive versatility are valuable commodities in 2019. Perhaps all Arraez needs to become a Twins cult hero is one of those ‘hero moments.’

And he’s had several of those over the current homestand.

Take your pick. Arraez drew an impressive walk to start a rally in the 9th against Mets closer Edwin Diaz recently, entering the at-bat in an 0-2 hole after Jonathan Schoop left with an injury.

Or last Sundsay Sunday, when Arraez’s base hit in the 9th inning off Oakland closer Liam Hendriks started a dramatic rally capped by Max Kepler’s walk-off single.

One more? Arraez started the first triple play in Target Field history by charging a one-hopper and stepping on third base before firing to second, as the Twins escaped a first inning threat in an eventual 8-6 win over the Yankees.

Luis Arraez has had an impressive start to his career, and it should lead to more and more playing time on a contending Twins team. Give it some time to settle in Twins fans, but Luis Arraez is the hero the Twins need.

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