What Happened to Jonathan Villar?

Every offseason, we look back at the players who let us down the most the year before. In some cases, taking stock this way leads us to discounted bounce-back players. In others, we might find flaws in our process and have a better chance of avoiding similar mistakes in the future.

There was a slew of disappointing players on my rosters in 2017, which ultimately turned out to be a subpar year for me. I have been frustrated and pissed off about it for the last three months, even though the fate of many of those teams was pretty clear by the All-Star break.

In addition to the players I rostered myself, there were plenty of cases where I did not push back against the market on Top 100 guys who went on to fall well short of expectations. Even though I sidestepped some of them by pure happenstance, I consider it a failure that I did not advice readers and listeners to proceed with caution or avoid them entirely.

Remember when Jonathan Villar had a Top-20 ADP in the NFBC? The Brewers’ aggressiveness on the basepaths, and the late-spring departure of Scooter Gennett to the Reds via waivers made Villar’s 2016 stolen-base contributions look very sustainable to me.

I thought he was Starling Marte with shortstop eligibility.

Something looked off with Villar all season, and you could see it in the barrage of mental mistakes he made with the move to second base, but also in basic baserunning situations as well. At one point, he was yielding regular playing time to Eric Sogard. Everything went the wrong direction — he walked less, struck out more, hit fewer homers, stole fewer bases, scored fewer runs, and drove in fewer runs.

The plate discipline collapse is the most concerning, as I had completely bought into the career-high 11.6% walk rate he offered in 2016, and I thought his strikeout rate would end up closer to 25 percent than above 30. Unfortunately, Villar swung at pitches outside the zone more frequently (29.5% O-Swing%; 24.1% in 2016), and made contact on pitches inside the strike zone at a much lower clip (77.4% Z-Contact%; 83.1% in 2016; career 81.2% at MLB level). He was hitting more pitches outside the zone, and fewer pitches inside the zone, which spiked his soft contact rate to a whopping 27.0% — the highest among all players with 400 or more plate appearances last season.

As far as the pitches he saw, opposing pitchers threw Villar a few more cutters and curveballs at the expense of fastballs, but that shift isn’t enough to explain the decline.

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Changeups (.217 SLG), two-seam fastballs (.391 SLG), and curveballs (.286 SLG) all presented issues for him, even though he slugged .479 or better against each of those three pitches in 2016.

Villar turns 27 in May, and it’s hard to believe the skills he possessed a year ago could erode so quickly without injury or something else of significance (off-field issues, vision problems, sleep trouble?) playing a role. The Brewers have already brought back Sogard, and could seek to re-sign Neil Walker or add another option to help at second base in 2018. The early ADP from the Mason Mocks had already pushed Villar outside the Top 200 overall. If the competition for playing time at second base goes unchanged, or if Villar ends up with a clearer path to 500 plate appearances on another team that gives plenty of green lights, he could be worth the risk at the discounted price.

Maybe the answer is ‘neither’ after careful consideration, but would you rather take Villar in Round 13 or later — or — take Billy Hamilton at the Round 4-5 turn?

Villar’s Steamer projection — .249/.322/.398, 14 HR, 65 R, 51 RBI, 32 SB — seems reasonable, and leaves some room for profit if he gets closer to his 2016 volume of playing time.

Weigh in with your opinion about the early price on Villar in the poll below, or go full blue book on Twitter @DerekVanRiper:

(Author’s Note: This is Part 1 of a series that will run throughout the winter.)