Everyone’s aware of how the Brewers are in the midst of a rebuilding process. David Stearns immediately began wheeling and dealing for young players with new names and faces that quickly permeated the roster. It’s definitely a unique time for both Brewers fans and management, as its been a number of years since both sides have experienced this deep of a rebuild. However, just because the team finds itself in its current state doesn’t mean all veterans have to be flushed out come season’s end. There are a few players who’ve already proven their case as to why they should be included on the 2017 Opening Day roster, and one that has made his skills quite evident stands out from the rest. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the case of Jonathan Villar.
Acquired for minor league right-hander Cy Sneed back in November, Villar immediately signaled depth in the Milwaukee infield. It paved the way for Jean Segura to finally be traded, which occurred a few months later when he was shipped to Arizona. Right out of the gates, Villar demonstrated his worthiness. How has he done that? Plain and simple, his on-base percentage is the leading edge in his game. Villar has reached base safely in his last 20 of 22 games. In those 22 games, he failed to get a hit only three times, making sure he utilizes his speed by obtaining a free pass via base on balls.
That’s another major component of what Villar brings to the table: his speed. Players with ties to Houston are head-to-head for the Major League lead in stolen bases, as Villar is knotted up with Jose Altuve at 15 apiece. Whenever Villar gets on base, it can always be anticipated that he’ll try to get into scoring position. With the offensive slumps the Brewers have had at times this season, advancing to scoring position is incredibly valuable.
In regards to his time at the plate, Villar has taken the approach of hitting to the opposite field to a whole new level. Take a look at this spray chart of his stats against right-handed pitching this season. Remember, Villar is a switch hitter, so this is from the left side of the dish:
I’ll count them up for you. That’s 21 hits to the left of second base. In today’s day and age where teams play the shift on nearly every left-handed batter thanks to stats from the analytics department, the talent of driving the ball to the opposite field serves more importance than ever.
Though it’s not as much success as he’s had against right-handed pitching, Villar has exhibited satisfactory numbers driving the ball to the opposite field against lefties as well. Of his 16 hits from the right side of the dish, five of them have been to the right side of the infield. Here’s his spray chart against left-handed pitching:
As one can imagine, Villar’s .385 on-base percentage signals large spots of red in the heat maps. We’ll start with his approach against southpaws. Unlike many hitters, Villar finds success in both the inside and outside parts of the plate, as both areas are splattered with red:
Though it’s not to the same magnitude, the heat spots are spread out in a similar manner against righties:
This is where Villar’s opposite field habits really shine. That burst of red in the lower right of the strike zone symbolizes the area in which he feasts on hits to the left side of the infield. It would be too difficult to share in this piece, but 14 of Villar’s opposite field hits derive from that slice of the strike zone.
Heat maps and scatter plots aren’t the only statistics that stress Villar’s accomplishments so far this season. He has climbed to new heights in terms of one of baseball’s greatest stats, wRC+. He currently boasts a career high in that category at 112, adding on to the 107 he had last year with the Astros. His BB% has also risen 5.2 percent, leaping from 7.8 percent last season to his current percentage at 13 percent. Here’s a table that dives deeper into his improvement’s from last year. Notice the tremendous change in his OBP:
So, where would Villar fit into the Brewers’ future plans? Right now, he’s under team control through 2017 and hits his first year of arbitration in 2018. If he keeps producing at this level, don’t be surprised if Milwaukee offers a contract.
Villar has been in tough situations position wise in both Houston and Milwaukee. He’s been the predecessor to two franchise shortstops (Carlos Correa and Orlando Arcia). Despite the tremendous amount of pressure that derives from that scenario, he has risen to the circumstances and has proven his worth. Perhaps once Arcia comes up, Villar can shift over to second base. With an on-base percentage like the one he has, he simply cannot be taken out of the lineup. Maybe he holds that position until the middle infielders currently embedded down on the farm make their way to the up to The Show (Isan Diaz, Gilbert Lara, etc.).
Though this has been tagged a year of rebuilding, the Brewers seemed to have found something special and worth keeping in Jonathan Villar. His strong year should not go unnoticed. Who knows, maybe he keeps going strong and earns an All-Star reserve roster spot in San Diego. One thing is certain with the Brewers’ shortstop: This year does not have the characteristics of being a fluke, and Villar should be rewarded for it.