We’ve finally made it to the infield edition of Nine Positions in Nine Days! Today, we’ll be dissecting the things we learned from the hot corner this season. Lots of action happened over there this year, so there’s more than enough to talk about it. Let’s dive in.
Multiple players received action at third. Here’s a rundown of everyone’s game totals:
Hernan Perez (60)
Aaron Hill (59)
Jonathan Villar (42)
Yadiel Rivera (15)
Colin Walsh (11)
Will Middlebrooks (8)
Jake Elmore (4)
Taking a look at the top three names on that list, it’s safe to say that each one of these players surprised fans with their contributions this season, even Aaron Hill. Yes, it’s absurd to me as well that he nearly led the team in starts at third base even though it feels as if he was dealt to Boston 30 days into the year. However, along with Perez and Villar, Hill gave the Brewers more than they could’ve asked for. Originally included in the Jean Segura trade as a way for the Diamondbacks to dump some money, Hill began the year in a fashion that attracted the Red Sox enough to send two prospects (Aaron Wilkerson and Wendell Rijo) over to Milwaukee for the veteran infielder.
Since they’re both on the team, we’ll focus the remainder of this piece on Perez and Villar. Talk about exceeding expectations for these two. Let’s start with Perez since he started more games at the position.
From signing off the waiver wire to blossoming into a mega-utility man this past season for the Crew, Perez was one of the best surprises of the 2016 campaign. He built off a year prior that saw him bat at .270 right on the nose, packaged together with an OBP of .281 and a SLG of .365. Though he only would increase two points to a .272 average, Perez catapulted himself in the other two categories, boosting his OBP to .302 and his SLG, the defining stat of his year, to a whopping .428.
The massive increase in the SLG column is due in large part to his 13 home runs (the first time he’s ever hit double-digits in a year) and his 56 RBI. However, if we want to explore his heat maps, we’ll find this:
His improved slugging percentage is also captured in Fangraphs’ heat maps as well. Below is from 2015:
And here’s from this past season:
It was obviously a breakout year on the offensive side for Perez. The question moving forward will be if he can maintain that same power and keep improving on it, or if it was a fluke.
One thing about Perez’s game (along with Villar’s in a way) is the versatility he brings to the table. Wherever it may be, Perez could play there. Well, besides pitcher and catcher, but you get the point. There’s still plenty of room for development in the outfield, but I’m sure he’s aware of it and will make improvements in the offseason. Craig Counsell has made it clear that he appreciates players that can bring the ability to play more than one position to the ballpark everyday. That also mirrors David Stearns’ philosophy, especially with middle infielders. Come the time when the Brewers are contending in the playoffs, utility men such as Perez are going to be extremely vital to their chances of winning. It allows the lineup to be shaken up when things aren’t going as planned and provides Counsell with multiple options when making up the scorecard. I mean, just look at the path the Cubs took.
Now, onto Jonathan Villar. I’m still upset over the fact that he didn’t play in San Diego this summer for the All-Star Game. That’s how highly I thought of Villar’s year. I’m not the only one either. Now, he failed to become the first player since Rickey Henderson to hit 20+ HR and steal 60+ bases, but I still love the guy. The energy he provided this team with was unreal.
Just the consistency that Villar provided was amazing. Prior to this year, he had never played more than 87 games in a season. This year, he played 156 games. It got to the point where I expected Villar to be in the lineup every night and would have to reset Twitter and the At-Bat app because I thought something was wrong.
Obviously, the defining part of Villar’s campaign was his team-leading .369 OBP. Boy, did that serve the Brewers mightily this season. The argument could be made that without him, the team would’ve lost 5-7 more games (yes, I know his WAR was only 3.9, but still his ability to steal bases was unmatched). The fact that he had never had a season of 20+ steals and then exploded with 62 is arguably one of the most underrated stats in the league this year.
Looking ahead to next season, it seems as if the most likely scenario position wise will be Orlando Arcia at shortstop and Villar at third base. Granted, Perez started more games at the hot corner than Villar, but that was prior to the call-up of Arcia. Who knows, if Perez’s bat continues to grow, maybe he or Villar will replace Scooter Gennett at second base if he’s traded at some point in the future (until Isan Diaz makes his MLB debut).
Regarding Perez and Villar, their expectations for next season is the last thing I want to talk about in this article. As Wisconsin sports fans, it can be extremely easy for some to set lofty goals for players. Many times those said goals are unfair and out of reach (that’s what I call the Back-to-Back HOF Packer QB Syndrome). I urge you: do not let that happen with Perez and Villar. Is there a chance that both of them maintain the success gained this year and build upon it come the beginning of April? Absolutely. However, there’s also a chance that they don’t, and that will probably be what ends up happening. I’m not trying to be pessimistic either. Perez and Villar are my favorite Brewers on the team. However, it’d be crazy for one to think about Hernan Perez as a 20+ home run caliber player. That’s just not realistic. He saw the ball exceptionally well this year and to hold him to that standard and calling him a failure if he fails to hit double-digit home runs would be unwarranted. The same goes for Villar. Don’t expect him to break Rickey Henderson’s stolen base record. Don’t anticipate him to blow past the +.400 on the OPS scale. If you want a realistic stat to cheer for out of the two, take Hernan Perez’s walk percentage. It fluctuated around only four percent this year, so there’s plenty of room for advancement in that category.
In the end, the main point I’m trying to get at is that you can be excited for these two players, but don’t hold them to the same standards you would a franchise player. Those guys are still in the farm system developing themselves. And who knows — maybe I’ll be way off the mark with these expectations.
However, I definitely wouldn’t mind being wrong.