Tag Archives: Jonathan Villar

Regression candidates for the Milwaukee Brewers

“Regression” is a commonly used phrase in the baseball community, particularly among those who consider themselves statheads or sabermetric-minded. It’s even popular among fantasy baseballers. Listen to a fantasy baseball podcast and I guarantee you’ll hear the word “regression” at least 49 times. It might become redundant, but it’s important to understand and expect regression, especially if a player has a stat that looks like an outlier and/or is getting up there in age.

Take Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees, for example. Forty percent of his fly balls flew out of the park in 2016. There’s absolutely no chance he repeats that. If he does (he won’t), his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio would be the highest of any qualified hitter in Major League Baseball history. Sanchez has terrific power for a catcher, but even Barry Bonds’ fly balls didn’t carry that much. Sanchez will regress, that much is certain.

Like the Yankees’ backstop, there were a few players on the Milwaukee Brewers last season that produced numbers that are more than likely unsustainable.

Jonathan Villar

Villar is coming off a .373 BABIP, meaning 37 percent of his batted balls went for hits. To put that in perspective, he ranked fourth in MLB in that category, and he was better than Mike freakin’ Trout. Right away, the odds of him sustaining that high of a BABIP are extremely low, just because that’s insane. But there are other warning signs, as well.

Villar hit the ball on the ground 55.6 percent of the time in 2016, which doesn’t leave much room for other types of batted balls, including line drives. In order to try and predict his regression, I looked at every player who was within about three percentage points of Villar’s GB%, so I could see how their BABIP compared to the Brewers’ infielder.

Player GB% BABIP
Eric Hosmer 58.9% .301
Yunel Escobar 58.1% .339
Christian Yelich 56.6% .356
Ryan Braun 55.7% .326
Jonathan Villar 55.6% .373
Cesar Hernandez 54.9% .363
Wilson Ramos 54.3% .327
Adam Eaton 53.7% .329
Ian Desmond 53.4% .350
Jean Segura 53.1% .353
Denard Span 52.7% .291
Adonis Garcia 52.4% .308
Brett Gardner 52.3% .310
Average .333

This list actually shows the 14 players with the highest GB% last season — which illustrates just how frequently Villar put the ball on the ground — and out of all these guys, Villar’s BABIP was far and away the highest, which essentially points to automatic regression. Now, keep in mind that league average batting average on balls in play is usually around .300, and aside from Span, every player above exceeded that, so Villar is still likely to as well. He has the speed which allows him to use ground balls to his advantage — which is why most of these players have admirable marks — but while Villar’s BABIP probably won’t crater down to earth like President Donald Trump’s approval rating, it’s definitely going to drop closer toward the mean (.333) in 2017, and as a result, his overall offensive production will falter a bit.

Ryan Braun

During the last two seasons, Braun has looked like the same fearsome hitter that he was when he produced MVP-caliber campaigns back in 2011 and 2012. He has 55 home runs during that span, 30 of which came last year, and while that has been an impressive run, it’s likely going to come to an end, as Braun is about to experience some serious home run regression.

braun

Above is a chart of Braun’s HR/FB ratio over the course of his career. His fly balls have always carried over the wall at a higher rate than most other players, but 2017 was an entirely different story. Braun not only posted a career high with a 28 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, but he actually led all of baseball in this statistic, and it wasn’t all that close, either. Before last year, Braun never even came close to hitting 25 percent, much less flirting with 30, so predicting a home run regression isn’t exactly a shot in the dark. Not to mention the fact that he recently turned 33, and power usually evaporates with age.

Braun turned in one his best seasons in recent memory, but if his fly balls stop carrying out of the ball park, can we really expect him to put up similar numbers?

Junior Guerra

Guerra came out of nowhere and provided 2.5 WAR in 20 starts for the Brewers last year, second only to Zach Davies. He’ll battle Davies for the right to start on Opening Day, but it’s unwise to believe he can repeat a 2.81 ERA. Just look at his peripherals. His 3.71 FIP and 4.29 xFIP are huge warning signs going into 2018. Those two marks were considerably higher than his ERA because he wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, had some issues with walks and kept the ball in the park at an alarming rate — all of which suggest that regression is about to hit him hard.

The then 31-year-old rookie was also quite lucky last season. His .250 BABIP was the fifth-lowest mark among starting pitchers (min. 120 IP), just ahead of Clayton Kershaw and a fraction behind Kyle Hendricks. And even when he did allow hits, he did an unusually terrific job at stranding them, as is evident by his 79.4 percent strand rate.

Steamer projections are predicting him to fall off a cliff with a 4.32 ERA, and while I could definitely see that happening, that may be a bit too much projected regression.

Poll: What to do with Jonathan Villar?

Jonathan Villar is playing like a star. I don’t necessarily know if he is a star, but he’s definitely playing like one. A few weeks ago I wrote about how his stardom came from essentially nowhere, and frankly I’m surprised his performance hasn’t tailed off yet.

We’re less than a month away from the All-Star break, and Villar is still riding a .390 on-base percentage thanks in large part to an insane .401 BABIP. He’s MLB’s seventh-best shortstop according to WAR, has created 23% more runs than league average and has stolen more bases than anyone. Being one of the best players on a rebuilding Brewers team, which Villar is, isn’t of much significance, but he’s been more than that. He’s transformed into one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, even with Orlando Arcia‘s shadow cast over him since he arrived in Milwaukee.

Because he’s been so valuable to the Brewers, his future is even more questionable than it once was. It’s obvious that teams will be interested in him as the trade deadline approaches. Yet general manager David Stearns has said that there’s little motivation to trade him, and that makes sense. Villar is a young, controllable talent, and as Stearns stated, that’s the exact type of player the Brewers want right now. Still, trading him could net a sizable return for the same reasons.

If the Brewers decide to hold on to their diamond in the rough, moving him to second base seems likely. Villar’s days at shortstop are numbered and that’s not just because Arcia is almost ready to make his major-league debut. He’s a good defender, yes. That’s evident by his 3 Defensive Runs Saved this season (even though UZR has a drastically different opinion of his fielding abilities), but he’d probably provide more value at second. It’s a much easier position to field and doesn’t require many long throws, something Villar has had a problem with at times this year.

That, though, leaves Scooter Gennett on the outside looking in, and that, honestly, is the way it should be. To be frank, he’s just not a good player, especially in relation to Villar. He lacks OBP skills and his wRC+ has fallen in every season of his career. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gennett traded if the Brewers decide to retain Villar. It would make sense.

Another option for Villar is to take over third base duties when Aaron Hill inevitably leaves, whether that be in free agency this winter or in a trade this season. There’s a low likelihood to that though, in my opinion. He’s shown some surprising power so far, but teams usually want their hot corner guys to be big boppers, and Villar definitely doesn’t fit that label. Stearns may have his own ideas for the position, though.

This dilemma is a good one to have if you’re Milwaukee, and it shows why teams take fliers on players like Villar. You never know what you have until you give them a shot.

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.

Who are the Brewers getting in Jonathan Villar?

For the second time in two days, the Milwaukee Brewers have traded for middle infield depth. Yesterday, the team shipped off Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit in exchange for 2B Javier Betancourt, and today, they landed SS Jonathan Villar from the Astros for RHP Cy Sneed.

General manager David Stearns has repeatedly stated the organization’s goal is to get younger, and it has wasted no time in doing so. Betancourt is 20 while Villar will turn 25 in May.

Because he is out of options, all signs point to Villar being on the major-league roster in 2016. But who exactly is Jonathan Villar?

Villar is a switch-hitting infielder whose versatility makes him a very intriguing acquisition for the Brewers. He’s capable of manning every infield position other than first base, and that includes the hot corner, a position Milwaukee desperately needs to fill.

It wouldn’t shock me to see Villar’s name in the opening day lineup as the team’s third baseman. To me, he’s an upgrade over Elian Herrera and Hernan Perez.

In 658 career plate appearances, Villar has a .291 wOBA and 82 wRC+. He was, however, much better than that in limited action last season, as his 107 wRC+ made him an above-average hitter. He was aided by a tremendously high BABIP of .360, though, a mark Villar surely won’t be able to replicate.

Villar does have some pop in his bat, posting an isolated slugging of .144 and .129 in the last two seasons, respectively. Like most young players, strikeouts are an issue. In 2015, he struck out 22.7% of the time, and the holes in his bat were obvious. He swung and missed at 10 percent of the pitches he saw, and his contact percentage was below league average. Still, he managed a .339 on-base percentage. That’s something to be encouraged about.

He’s a similar player to Jean Segura — especially in terms of his ground ball rate — and that makes Segura even more expendable than he was. Brewers beat writers Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt believe Milwaukee is interested in trading Segura to open the door for Orlando Arcia. Villar could be a placeholder while that transition takes place.

According to Stearns, trading for Villar “opens up possibilities in a number of different areas for what we can do the remainder of the offseason.” Like I said earlier, his versatility is what makes him so appealing.