Milwaukee Brewers: Is Jonathan Villar back to his 2016 form?

MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 11: Jonathan Villar #5 of the Milwaukee Brewers is congratulated by teammates following a fifth inning home run against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park on June 11, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 11: Jonathan Villar #5 of the Milwaukee Brewers is congratulated by teammates following a fifth inning home run against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park on June 11, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Jonathan Villar had a tremendous 2016 campaign. His 2017 season was a major disappointment. Has Villar returned to his 2016 form?

This has been the big question for Brewers brass and Brewers fans alike. Can Villar be a consistently productive player in the big leagues? Many were calling for an extension for Villar after 2016 and he was offered one, but didn’t sign. Then, after 2017, many were calling for the Brewers to release Villar and move on from him.

But the Milwaukee Brewers have been patient with Villar and have given him chances to become that everyday guy that he showed he could be in 2016.

In 2016, Villar hit .285/.369/.457 with 19 homers and 62 stolen bases, which led the league. Replicating that kind of production has proven to be difficult for Villar, but he’s getting close to that so far this year.

2018 Jonathan Villar

In 2018, Villar is doing much better than he was last year. He’s hitting .277/.325/.410 with six homers and nine stolen bases. His defense, for the most part, has been better than it’s been before, and he seems to be a different player at the plate than he was a year ago.

Related Story: Jonathan Villar studying Joey Votto

His walk rate is down, and his OPS+ of .735 is almost 100 points lower than his prime year of 2016. Villar also isn’t stealing nearly as many bases, but he’s also not getting caught as often, meaning he’s being more careful on the basepaths, thankfully for Craig Counsell‘s blood pressure.

Part of those differences between 2016 and 2018 could be explained by where he hits in the lineup. In 2016, Villar was the leadoff hitter at the top of the order, meaning pitchers had to throw strikes to him and treat him differently. He could steal more bases because he had good hitters behind him to bring him home.

Now, Villar hits near the bottom of the order. With Orlando Arcia and Manny Pina behind him in the order, there’s less opportunities for him to steal bases.

Is Villar back to form?

Not completely. Villar has a high ceiling, but his OPS+ of 98 is still slightly below league average. Villar was at 117 in his 2016 season. He’s still striking out a lot and not drawing a ton of walks, but it’s better than last year.

If 2016 was the ceiling for Villar and 2017 was the floor, Villar is somewhere in the middle, but trending upward. There’s still a lot of season left, and Villar has a grip on that starting second base job. Counsell has voiced his support for Villar and he’ll continue to get chances to prove himself.

If we get towards the end of the season and Villar for some reason has regressed back to his numbers in 2017, we might see top prospect Keston Hiura in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform sooner rather than later.

Next: Will Keston Hiura debut in 2018?

There’s still plenty of optimism surrounding Villar and his potential. His right handed power has returned and that’s key for his success as a switch hitter.

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