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Jonathan Villar to Marlins - Fantasy Impact

The low-budget Marlins made a splash (pun intended) on the free-agent front in their typically cost-prohibitive way by picking up recently waived infield Jonathan Villar in exchange for minor leaguer Easton Lucas. They also claimed first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who is one year removed from a 35-HR, 108-RBI season but struggled mightily last year between Milwaukee and Tampa Bay.

Aguilar isn't a lock to start at first base, as he will have to beat out Garrett Cooper while proving that he wasn't a one-year wonder. Villar, on the other hand, is a fantasy stud who finished third in the majors in stolen bases along with 24 homers and a .273 average. Therefore, we will examine the impact this move might have on his value and consequently his early ADP in fantasy drafts.

Will the warmer weather and slight uptick in surrounding talent be friendly enough to offset new ballpark factors and a potentially more conservative offense?

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Career Trajectory

Villar was a non-descript utility infielder for the Astros his first three seasons in the bigs. Then, he jumped onto the fantasy scene in a big way in 2016 when he became the regular shortstop in Milwaukee, also playing some at second and third base. Villar stole a league-leading 62 bases that year, along with a .285/.369/.457 slash line, 92 runs scored and 19 home runs. All told, his elite speed and multi-position eligibility made him fantasy gold for those who acquired him off waivers. At 25 years old, Villar had arrived as a budding star.

This instant success led to an inflated ADP of 19 overall in 2017, ahead of infielders like Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, and Xander Bogaerts. Naturally, Villar turned out to be a massive disappointment, stealing just 23 bases while hitting .241 with an 11/40/49 line. Hopes for a bounceback were squashed quickly when he got off to a similar start the following year, batting .261 with six HR, 22 RBI, and 14 SB in 87 games with the Brewers. He finished that year with an xwOBA of .291 which was 310th among players with at least 100 plate appearances.


Baltimore Revival

There was a silver lining to that year, however, as Villar was shipped off to Siberia Baltimore in exchange for Jonathan Schoop. Perhaps motivated by the move from a contender to a last-place team, Villar collected three multi-hit games in his first four as an Oriole. More importantly, he started running more, stealing eight bases in his first month with the club. Other than a slight increase in power production, his final numbers in the second half mostly mirrored his first half but at least there was hope that he could revive his fantasy value.

In 2019, the verdict was split on Villar, as some drafters thought his upside was worth reaching for while others were skeptical. He was typically a top-100 selection, going 87th on average, which was 10th among second basemen and 13th among shortstops. He turned out to be far more valuable than that, finishing as the third-most valuable 2B, behind only DJ LeMahieu and Ketel Marte, and fifth-best SS in 5x5 roto leagues. Although he turned in a strong season, scoring 111 runs while driving in 73, it couldn't keep the Orioles out of the basement once again.

So, despite being the most valuable position player in Baltimore last year with a 4.0 WAR and a full 162 games played, Villar became expendable due to financial reasons. He is arbitration-eligible and will be on an expiring contract in 2020. This doesn't fit in with the Orioles' long-term rebuild that could see them somehow finish even worse this year before taking a step forward. For that reason, Villar was unceremoniously put on waivers before a deal was reached with Miami. The concern now becomes whether this could halt the success he had been enjoying ever since his arrival in Baltimore midseason in 2018.


Heading South

Villar is heading down to South Florida with a move back to the National League. The initial reaction to this news is that his value might also head south. The Marlins can't be considered much of an upgrade over the Orioles and their home park is notoriously pitcher-friendly. The outcome might not be as bad as we think, though.

Marlins Park has gotten some renovations recently that may be worth our attention. Aside from the removal of the atrocious, carousel-like home run nightmare machine and the infusion of local cuisine (you've gotta try the Butterfly Tacos), it was just announced that the fences will be moved in a bit. The centerfield fence will now be an even 400 feet instead of 407 and the fence in right-center will be five feet shorter. For Villar in particular, it won't suddenly boost his power stats but it should reduce some anxiety in regard to him at least approaching the 20-homer mark and it could help the offense in general.

That said, Marlins Park was not as unkind to hitters as we may have previously believed. It was sixth in Park Factor for Runs Scored last year at 1.087, barely behind Camden Yards at 1.088. Much of this can be attributed to the horrible pitching that each team rolled out on any given night but that doesn't figure to change much. The HR Factor was significantly different, with Marlins Park coming in at 28th compared to Camden at fourth. This would affect a player like Jesus Aguilar more so than Villar but the aforementioned change in dimensions could make for a slight improvement.

What about the steals, which are Villar's main appeal? In that regard, there could be a slight step down. The Marlins averaged 0.52 SB attempts per game last year, which was tied for 20th in the majors. The Orioles averaged 0.70, good for 11th. The year before, the Marlins were 28th in the league. As manager of the Fish the past four years, Don Mattingly has consistently posted a League-Adjusted Steal Rate below average, coming in at 90, 95, 84, and 93 (100 being average). Not a single Marlin stole as many as 20 bases last season. Ultimately, Villar will be given opportunities to run, but they may not be quite as plentiful as before, so assuming a 40-steal season might be presumptuous.


2020 Outlook

Villar's AL-best 30.0 PwrSpd score would seem out of reach in 2020 now that we've projected him for a few less steals and home runs in Miami. It certainly doesn't mean he can't finish with a 20/30 season but it's best to bet on the lower end of the spectrum rather than overpaying in expectation of ROI similar to last year.

His .274 average should be sustainable, as his xBA and Hard Hit% has steadily climbed the last two seasons. Although he did finish third in the AL with 176 strikeouts, he's cut down his strikeout rate (24.7%). The NL East does possess some fierce arms in Washington, along with aces like Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola among others. Sadly, he can't face off against his own staff which had a 4.74 team ERA. Moving from the AL East to the NL East is generally a downgrade for a hitter due to the nature of the game and the fact that no NL East team staff, other than Miami, finished lower than 17th in team ERA.

Villar is currently going 31st overall in early NFBC drafts, higher than Jose Altuve, Javier Baez, and Adalberto Mondesi. This seems a tad high for a player who is unlikely to repeat last year's numbers and doesn't have the power ceiling of any of those players. He should slot in at the top of Miami's lineup and score 90+ runs with a triple-crown line around .267/19/69 according to my projections. For what it's worth, STEAMER predicts .257/17/64 along with 32 steals. I don't foresee that many steals, which is the tipping point that places him outside the top 50 players in my rankings. If the Marlins can acquire another reliable bat for the middle of the order, that would help slightly but in all, it might be best to leave Villar for the fifth round rather than the third.

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