2020 Pod Projections: Jonathan Villar

Finally, it’s Pod Projections time! The 2020 forecasts are now available and include over 500 player lines. As usual, I’ll dive into my projection methodology (detailed in Projecting X 2.0) by sharing my process on several hitters and pitchers.

I’ll begin with a hitter who just switched teams (representing his third team in three season) and figures to also switch positions. Apparently Jonathan Villar is quite the divisive selection, as he sports the widest difference between the earliest and latest pick in NFBC drafts that have taken place this month (137 of ’em) of all players inside the top 50 in ADP. Despite sitting with an ADP of 44, he has been picked as early as 27 and as late as 92. That’s a large range for a top 50 player. Between the team, home park, and position switch, I guess it makes some sense. So let’s follow the Pod Projection process and find out why there is so much disagreement about his value.

Plate Appearances: 653

Villar should remain the everyday leadoff hitter for the Marlins all season long, resulting in somewhere near the 4.35 plate appearances per game I’m projecting that’s driving this plate appearance forecast. I’m projecting 150 games played, which means little time missed to injury is assumed.

BB%: 8.2%

It looks obvious now that his 11% walk rate in 2016 was the outlier, but since his rate collapsed immediately following that season, it has slowly risen back up. He still fails to run enough 3-0 counts to get his walk rate back into double digits, so I’m projecting some slight regression off his three-season high mark.

K%: 25.6%

Villar’s strikeout rate spiked in 2017, as his swinging strike rate (Baseball-Reference.com version) jumped back above 20%, and that S/Str mark has remained there since. However, it has gradually improved, while his called strike rate has now declined each season since 2016. I’m giving him some credit for the better 2019 results, but with a small step backward, since no one improves forever.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 52% / 20% / 28%

Welcome to the Fly Ball Revolution! Villar’s fly ball rate, which had settled into a narrow range between around 22% and 24%, surged to 31% in 2019. That’s a significant change in approach. The question is whether he’s now a 30%+ fly ball guy, he reverts back to his pre-2019 ground ball ways, or he ends up somewhere in between. As usual, I took the latter approach because there’s literally no way to know. So 28% is what I settled in. The answer here is going to make a difference to his home run projection.

BABIP: .325

Amazingly, even though a .325 BABIP is excellent, this would represent the lowest mark of any full season, and only higher than his .271 mark during a half season’s worth of at-bats with the Astros back in 2014. So why the pessimism? Because I have my trusty xBABIP equation to tell me when trouble is ahead. Throughout his career, Villar has been a significant xBABIP outperformer. However, there have been some seasons where he underperformed, so we can’t just automatically assume he’s an xBABIP outperformer always. And over his four full seasons, his 2019 was actually tied for the second highest outperformance.

Furthermore, his xBABIP actually fell to the lowest mark of his career at just .313. There were two reasons for the decline — first was the aforementioned career high fly ball rate, and the second was because he has suddenly been pulling grounders into the shift. He had previously been incredibly adept at avoiding grounders into the shift, but that rate has increased from literally 0% to the low (2018), and then the mid-single digits (2019). It’s still not something to really worry about, but it certainly affects his BABIP. Last, Villar heavily relies on his speed to maintain a high BABIP, but that’s a skill that typically declines with age. And guess what? His home plate to first base (Statcast HP to 1B) time has risen from 4.16 to 4.21 to 4.24 from 2017 to 2019. So it’s clear his speed is gradually waning.

HR/FB Ratio: 15.5%

Villar has now outperformed his xHR/FB rate four seasons running, though the degree of outperformance was lowest in 2019. He’s been fortunate enough to call great power parks home, but a move to Miami is going to change that. While their park is going to be more hitter friendly this year after some changes, it still will pale in comparison to Oriole and Miller Parks. Because of the park switch, I’m knocking him down to his lowest full season HR/FB rate. He also needs to reverse the declining trend in his barrels per true fly ball rate.

Runs and RBI: 81 and 58

Being on a weak offense in the National League, rather than a bottom five offense in the American League is going to cost him a chunk of runs scored and runs batted in. Losing some power in a tougher home park will also help reduce those totals.

SB: 32

As mentioned in the BABIP section, Villar is slowly losing speed, just like the majority of batters do as they age. Mind you, his speed is still well above average, but the gap is narrowing. Villar’s stolen base per time on base (a formula described in Projecting X 2.0) has declined each of his four full seasons, and I’m projecting it to drop again in 2020, but just marginally. This would actually represent the smallest year to year drop so far, but it’s a drop nonetheless. Combined with a decline in success rate, closing to his pre-2018 numbers, results in just 32 steals.

Below is my final projected hitting line, along with the other systems for comparison:

Jonathan Villar 2020 Projections
Pod 593 653 0.256 19 81 58 32 8.2% 25.6% 0.325
THE BAT 577 641 0.249 18 83 61 37 8.5% 26.3% 0.321
ATC 562 623 0.257 16 80 58 34 8.4% 26.2% 0.332
Depth Charts 582 651 0.259 17 81 61 37 8.9% 25.1% 0.329
Steamer 589 662 0.257 17 79 65 33 8.8% 25.5% 0.329
ZiPS 569 634 0.260 17 82 57 41 9.0% 24.8% 0.329

It continues to amaze me how often my projections, which are done completely by hand, are so close to the computer systems in many metrics. Check out the runs scored projections! All six systems sit between 79 and 83. That’s crazy! I will guarantee you that my methodology for projecting runs scored and runs batted in is very different than the rest, so to come to the same conclusion, but using a different path, is mind-blowing.

We’re in general agreement everywhere, but the steals forecasts range from 32 to 41. That’s the difference of many dollars in fantasy value. Not surprisingly, I’m the low man on steals, but Steamer is only one above me and ATC only two, so it doesn’t seem so pessimistic after all. It’s interesting to see that I felt the need to justify a .325 BABIP, well below his career average and anything he has posted in four full seasons, and yet THE BAT is even lower, with just one system over .330.

So does that make him worth close to his early pick of 27, his late pick of 92, or is his 44 ADP juuuuuust right? Sadly, I don’t have the 15-team valuations I created for my LABR Mixed draft a couple of weeks ago with me, so I can’t check. I would guess that 27 is wayyyy too early, 92 is a bargain, and 44 is a bit too rich. Perhaps somewhere in the 50s or early 60s is what he deserves, but I’ll have to see what my values say.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Emcee Peepantsmember
2 years ago

I personally would not touch him this year unless he somehow made it into the 100’s. The combination of a huge positional change and move to a terrible hitter’s park is too much uncertainty to put on such a high pick.

2 years ago
Reply to  Emcee Peepants

I think Miami becomes park neutral this year so I would not rule out any Miami hitter because of the ballpark. I do think that it means I will probably not get Miami pitchers though. Of course do we really want any Miami pitchers?

Jonathan Sher
2 years ago
Reply to  Emcee Peepants

In a deeper league, the positional change is an asset: He will not only qualify at 2B and SS but OF, and depending on rules, 3B. That sort of versatility allows a fantasy owner to compensate for an injury to any positional player but catcher. The switch in parks will hurt some, as will the move the NL and hitting behind pitchers.

Auction projections for a deeper league have him at about $21 to $23; bump that by about 20% for a keeper league. That would make his value rank between the 50s and 70s for most projection models, which seems reasonable. Caveat is that every auction value must be league specific. In my main league, owners tend to overpay for stolen bases, so Villar likely would go for more. Last year, he sold for $31 at auction despite coming off a much less effective season. He actually earned $30.40 – the 15th highest among positional players (using OBP and not BA) – and with our league inflation that was effectively about $37.