Jonathan Villar: A Tale of Two Seasons

Jonathan Villar burst onto the scene in 2016 with 19 HR and 62 steals. He was going 19th overall in 2017 NFBC drafts and was a huge disappointment when he hit posted a .293 OBP, 11 HR, and 23 SB. With 2018 drafts starting, I’ve seen his ADP (200) way below where he should go using his Steamer projection (~118). The disconnect is understandable but not to the current level. Opportunity exists for huge upside.

Just for reference, here are Villar’s basic stats from the past four seasons and his 2018 Steamer projection.

Villar Recent Stats
2013 Astros 22 58 241 1 18 .243 .321 .319 .076
2014 Astros 23 87 289 7 17 .209 .267 .354 .144
2015 Astros 24 53 128 2 7 .284 .339 .414 .129
2016 Brewers 25 156 679 19 62 .285 .369 .457 .171
2017 Brewers 26 122 436 11 23 .241 .293 .372 .132
2018 Steamer 27 130 563 15 34 .250 .324 .399 .149

Of all the values which changed his value from 2016 to 2017 was the 76-percentage point drop in OBP. Less times on base meant fewer steals and runs scored. An OBP under .300 is kill for any hitter.

Besides the scoreboard stats, here are his 2nd order stats over the same time frame.

More Villar Stats
Season GB% HR/FB Pull% BB% K% Swg% Contact% AVG EV Sprint Speed
2014 51.0% 13.5% 34.0% 6.6% 27.7% 46.0% 70.1%
2015 58.0% 10.0% 44.9% 7.8% 22.7% 46.2% 77.0% 89.5 27.3
2016 56.0% 19.6% 32.3% 11.6% 25.6% 42.8% 75.0% 87.7 27.7
2017 57.0% 19.0% 39.1% 6.9% 30.3% 47.5% 71.3% 86.7 27.6

His plate discipline is the biggest discrepancy over the past two season seasons with his K%-BB% jumping from 14% to 23%. Even though he maintained similar power and groundball rates, the overall decline in contact rate while swinging more did him in.

He did have a major back injury in 2017 which cost him 18 days on the DL during June. To see if the injury affected him, here are some of the core stats before and after the injury.

Pre & Post-Injury Stats
GB% HR/FB Pull% BB% K% Swg% Contact%
Before Injury 62.3% 19.4% 43.3% 8.9% 30.6% 46.6% 72.3%
After Injury 51.3% 18.5% 33.9% 4.3% 29.8% 48.5% 69.4%

While the plate discipline stats which caused his 2017 demise weren’t great before the injury, they tanked after it, especially his walk rate.

While he performed worse post-injury, there is no way to know how he’ll perform this season with such a checkered past. He’s riding at such a fine line but needs his K% near 25% and BB% around 10% to be a top-30 player again.

The final question comes down to Villar’s playing time. Right now, he’s the Brewers best options at second base with Eric Sogard at the backup and Mauricio Dubon ready in the high minors. Last year, Villar’s struggles were so prevalent, the Brewers acquired Neil Walker near the season’s end to fill in. For some clarification, here’s Brewers manager Craig Counsell’s take on the situation.

Q. What are your thoughts right now at second base? I know you have internal options with [Jonathan] Villar and [Eric] Sogard and maybe Hernan [Perez], but are you guys looking around too to see if that can be strengthened and just what’s your thoughts on Villar after one good season?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I think we’re in a really good place at second base. Because I think we have very good options and I think there’s also a lot of — but at the same time there’s obviously players available at second base. So I thought Neil [Walker], how Neil played last year for us was pretty significant. He played very well for us the last month of the season. He made a big impact on us. I think he was a, really, balance to our lineup. The little bit of versatility helped as well in some spots.

Jonathan, he had a tough year. Guys have tough years. He has a really big year under his belt, too. So that leaves us at “we’ll see.” I think he’s got something to prove certainly, you can’t say you know exactly what to expect, but I know that that season that he had in 2016 was a season that certainly earned him the second-base job.

Reading between the lines, it seems like the Brewers are going to give Villar the opportunity to keep the job but if he struggles again, they’ll move on. I understand their thought process. They could really use the 3 WAR he generated in 2016 to make the playoffs. I think he has around two months and then the team will look for other options if he is hitting like 2017.

Villar’s a gamble but with his ADP near 200, the downside is just dropping him for another middle infielder. For now, I will look to have second and short filled first and then add him as my middle infielder with top-30 potential. He’s a “gamble but don’t rely on” talent.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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The Real McNulty
6 years ago

Has there ever been such a disconnect between a player’s fantasy value and their WAR. Villar ended with ~only~ 3.1 WAR in 2016 but was a top fantasy player. Juan Pierre maybe?

Ryan Brockmember
6 years ago

Basically any SB-heavy guy… Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon come to mind.