Monthly Archives: May 2016

Two unlikely stars

The title of this post has the word “stars” in it, leading you to think I’m going to be writing about two players on the Brewers whom are performing at All-Star caliber levels. I’m not. However, I will be writing about two players whom were projected to be no more than replacement-level performers, but have so far greatly exceeded expectations.

The aforementioned “stars” are Jonathan Villar and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Let’s first start with the projections. Below are two of the most popular projection systems we have at our disposal, ZiPS and Steamer. FanGraphs features them on its website, and they are both highly regarded. The third projection in the table is The First Out At Third’s.

Jonathan Villar WAR Kirk Nieuwenhuis WAR
ZiPS 0.7 ZiPS 0.5
Steamer 0.2 Steamer 0.4
FOAT 0.5 FOAT 0.3
Actual 0.7 Actual 1.0

The projections were underwhelming, but by all means fair. Villar was never much of a hitter in the minors, and Nieuwenhuis was just a 2.5-win player coming into the season. Nothing was expected from them; yet they’ve been the third- and fourth-most valuable players for Milwaukee.

Villar has not only been an above-average hitter (114 wRC+), he’s also been a savage on the base paths (15 SB) and a surprisingly average defender at shortstop. He’s already surpassed Steamer’s WAR projection and could be playing his way out of Milwaukee. A player the Brewers acquired in exchange for a minor-league pitcher has turned into an interesting trade chip. How about that? The Brewers are most likely motivated to move him, too. With Orlando Arcia patiently waiting for his time down in Triple-A, Villar is no more than a shortstop filler, although having him replace Scooter Gennett at second base in the future should at least be discussed.

Nieuwenhuis was one of the last players to make the Brewers’ roster after being claimed off waivers in December 2015. He now has the third-highest WAR on the team, thanks to league-average hitting (100 wRC+) and good defense (2 DRS in centerfield). Nieuwenhuis will never be a power guy, but his walk rate has skyrocketed this year, and that, along with a high .356 BABIP, has led to a .351 on-base percentage. He’s been the only competent centerfielder for the Brewers, as Keon Broxton (-0.2 WAR) and Ramon Flores (-0.2 WAR) have been abysmal.

ZiPS now projects Villar to finish with 1.6 WAR and Nieuwenhuis to finish with 1.7 WAR. Steamer is a little less bullish on the two, predicting a final WAR of 1.0 and 1.5, respectively, but nonetheless, the Brewers have found two diamonds in the rough, which is something a rebuilding team needs to dig for.