It's the fantasy baseball draft season. To us baseball nerds, few things are more exciting than arguing about player rankings. Today, we'll discuss and compare Jonathan Villar's RotoBaller staff rankings. He was ranked No. 17 overall by Brad Johnson, and No. 45 by Bill Dubiel.
Throughout this series, we'll be using our February Staff Rankings to debate where to draft certain players. In cases where our writers had discrepancies, we've asked them to explain their rankings. These debates will provide us with some well-rounded analysis, and help identify undervalued/overvalued draft picks.
2017 Draft Rankings Debate: Jonathan Villar
Brad Johnson's Rankings Analysis
His Overall Ranking: 17
I think we can safely agree that we expect less from Villar in 2017. If either of us thought there was a chance Villar could replicate his 19 home run, 62 steal campaign, we'd be ranking him as an easy first rounder - somewhere around Jose Altuve. Where Bill and I probably differ is in degree of expected regression.
It's easy to pooh-pooh the power production because he looks like an archetypical burner. We expect these guys to pop a few accidental home runs while flying around the bases. Pause to look beyond the body type and the stolen base totals. Villar is a switch-hitter. As a righty, he bats with a strong foundation, generating plenty of pulled, fly ball power accompanied by high hard contact rates. As a lefty swinger, he has an all-fields approach with an emphasis on ground balls and up-the-middle contact. He can still put a charge in the ball, but he spends too much time bowling it on the ground. On the one hand, that helps him to produce his high BABIP and batting average. On the other hand, I think we'd all prefer a 40/40 threat with a .240 average.
If Villar only faced left-handed pitching, he'd hit 30 home runs. Easy. Especially at Miller Park. Repeat after me - Jonathan Villar is a power hitter against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately, all those plate appearances against right-handed pitchers drag down the upside potential. Still, we're looking at about 200 plate appearances versus southpaws. That's eight home runs right there. Conservatively, let's say he only hits seven against righties. That's 15 home runs. And there's still a small chance Villar also learns to produce more lift.
His weirdly successful platoon splits generate value in other ways. Most runners only steal second base. As a righty, 45 percent of his hits went for extra bases. From the left side, less than 32 percent of his hits were of the extra base variety. All those singles are stolen base opportunities. While I suspect he'll attempt fewer steals now that he's established himself as a star, another 40 swipes should be bankable.
His run production lacked shine. The top of the Brewers lineup could be scary this year, but there's a lot of risk in play. Ryan Braun has to stay healthy. Eric Thames has to convert cleanly from the KBO. Keon Broxton's wrist is still healing. If it all comes together, there's upside for either over 100 runs or 100 RBI - depending on his role. The downside is a few tics less than what he produced last year.
Last but not least, I love the opportunity to pick a 2B/SS/3B early in the draft. That confers so much flexibility in the mid- and late-rounds. While it's dangerous to overpay for utility, in this case, there isn't a steep opportunity cost.
Brad's Note: As the editor of this article, I cheated and read Bill's analysis. Curiously, he projects nearly the same production as me. He just doesn't believe it's worth as much as I do. Per a calculator I use, a 95/15/65/40/.270 season would be worth about $25 - easily in the top 15 of hitter projections and top 20 overall. The steals alone are worth $14.
Bill Dubiel's Rankings Analysis
His Overall Ranking: 45
Villar broke out in a very legitimate way in 2016, setting career highs in just about every offensive category. It's clear he has evolved into a much more complete hitter than what we saw for most of his Astros career, particularly when it comes to patience. He blew away his previous career high in walk-rate (11.6% in 2016), and I think that's something that he can sustain.
However, his dramatic increases in ISO and BABIP indicate that he's due for some regression in the counting stats. Villar popped 19 homers and 38 doubles in 2016, and while those new career highs are largely a result of him actually playing a full season for the first time, his .171 ISO is well above anything he’s ever posted at any point of his professional career. His .373 BABIP also indicates that his .285 batting average was probably a bit higher than what we can expect going forward, as that number is also higher than anything he’s ever posted in the pros. While he will likely improve upon his career averages, I don't see his significant strides forward in contact and power as the new standard.
Ultimately Villar made some very legitimate developments as a hitter in 2016, but to expect him to replicate all of the numbers or even improve on them seems overly optimistic. If we factor in some of the regression that he’s due for, I have Villar as a .270 hitter with maybe 85 runs scored, 60 RBI, 12-15 homers, and 55 stolen bases. He should definitely be considered a top-50 or top-60 fantasy asset, but to think he can produce a top-20 season seems unrealistic.