Bounce Back or Bust: Is There Any Hope For A Jonathan Villar Rebound In 2018?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

There were high hopes for Jonathan Villar, coming off what appeared to be a breakout 2016 campaign.  Instead things fell off a cliff significantly, with him ultimately losing his starting job. Now there are two questions facing us:

  1. Were there warning signs that indicated he couldn’t replicate his breakout?
  2. Can we expect a bounce back campaign?

The answer to the first question is yes, but with a bit of a caveat.  The power wasn’t the big question (and he actually posted similar power numbers, with HR/FB of 19.6% and 19.0% the past two seasons), the question was if he was going to get on base enough to maintain his SB pace (62 SB in ’16).  Obviously if we looked at a .373 BABIP and 25.6% strikeout rate we would’ve said there was no chance he replicated his .285 average.

We know he had the speed to carry an elevated BABIP and his 10.6% SwStr% wasn’t a completely unreasonable mark.  Where the warning bells should’ve been ringing is that his SwStr% did regress as the 2016 campaign moved on:

  • First Half – 9.9%
  • Second Half – 11.6%

What happened in 2017 is that opposing pitchers started throwing him fewer fastballs, and that made sense.  He consistently struggled to make contact against breaking balls and offspeed pitches, and that actually got exposed further as he saw them more (Whiff% for 2016 vs. 2017):

  • Breaking Balls – 13.55% to 17.23%
  • Offspeed Pitches – 17.70% to 20.49%

Given those numbers seeing his strikeout rate rise further isn’t a surprise, nor should it have been.  His SwStr% was at 13.7% last season, and that’s going to make it impossible to maintain his average.  Throw in the luck regression, which still sat at .330, and this falloff isn’t a surprise.  Without the batting average there was no chance that he stole as many bases as he did in ’16, and there’s little chance that he gets back there.

Can he bounce back?  It’s not impossible, but he needs to alter his approach and significantly cut down on the strikeouts.  A 15/40 player is there, assuming he can hit .255-.260.  Unfortunately that’s not a given, and it could be that he falls into a utility role with sporadic playing time.  It will be interesting to see where the Brewers peg his role, or if they deal him to another organization that’s willing to give him a chance.  We’ll have to watch it closely throughout the offseason.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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