Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Villar studies Reds Joey Votto

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MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 13: Jonathan Villar
MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 13: Jonathan Villar /
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Jonathan Villar wants to win innings at second base by showing the Milwaukee Brewers he can get on base more often by lowering his strikeout rate. Villar studied Joey Votto recordings during the 2017-2018 off season to accomplish his goal.

The Milwaukee Brewers GM David Stearns looked like a genius after poaching Jonathan Villar from the Houston Astros during the 2015 off season.

In 2016, Villar provided the Brewers with a potent lead off option. He worked his way to a .369 OBP in 2016, which is excellent. He turned that into a league-leading 62 stolen bases.

As the 2016 season developed, manager Craig Counsell penned Villar’s name in the lead off spot with escalating confidence.

However, Villar’s production crashed in 2017. Villar’s statistical tumble forced him out of the Brewers lead off spot and, eventually, the lineup.

What’s changed for 2018?

Counsell believes in Villar.

“It’s a year removed. It’s not four years ago. We’re not at the end of his career. We’re in the best time of his career, age-wise, for something to bounce back,” Counsell said at the beginning of 2018 Spring Training.

Villar studied recordings of Joey Votto‘s 2-strike approach during the 2017-2018 off season. Votto is known for his exceptional walk-rate.

“I took video [of Votto] to my house and I saw the long at-bats he was taking. I saw how short he swung with two strikes, how he grabs high on the bat and gets a little closer to the plate. That guy is unbelievable,” Villar remarked when questioned what he picked up from studying Votto.

Can Villar regain the lead off spot?

If Villar returns to around a .350 OBP in 2018, he will equal the Milwaukee Brewers other options. The team recently acquired Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Both of those players have career OBPs around that level.

Yelich has hit first or third for most of his career. However, his stats show that he bats better in the middle of the lineup. He also has a high ground ball percentage that could lead to double-plays. If a speedster such as Villar gets on-base in front of Yelich, some potential double-plays could get broken up.

Cain hit second, third or fourth during most of his career for the Kansas City Royals. He has weaker career splits batting leadoff. His career OBP drops to .311 when leading off. Comparatively, Cain’s career OBP is .362 when he hits second in the lineup.

What is Milwaukee Brewers 2018 lineup with a recharged Villar?

If Counsell plays Ryan Braun at first base in a few games next season, and Villar proves he can lead off, the top of the lineup might look something like this:

  1. Jonathan Villar
  2. Lorenzo Cain
  3. Ryan Braun
  4. Christian Yelich
  5. Domingo Santana
  6. Travis Shaw

That makes for a deep, dynamic lineup with power, speed and on-base skills for the 2018 Brewers. Counsell would have the option of using OPS monster Eric Thames against tough right-handed pitchers as well.

This projected lineup uses Braun and Domingo Santana to break up all of the Milwaukee Brewers’ talented left-handed bats. However, with Villar leading things off, Counsell can move these hitters around however he wants.

Next: Should the Brewers deal Aguilar, move Braun to first?

Watch for Villar to choke up with two strikes on him during Spring Training. Longer at-bats and lower his strikeout rate are the goals for Villar. If he can make adjustments, he could be one of Major League Baseball’s comeback players of the year. Villar at the top of the lineup means Counsell’s squad is deeper and more dynamic. It could be very fun to watch. However, Villar’s approach and results during Spring Training will show the first signs.

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