Brewers shortstop Jonathan Villar has always been the backup plan. In Houston, he couldn’t escape the foreshadowed megastar Carlos Correa, and when he was shipped to Milwaukee for lanky right hander Cy Sneed prior to 2016, he was viewed as the bridge for top prospect Orlando Arcia. That reality inspired a certain fire inside Villar, an aggressive, who cares if I make mistakes style, that forced him into Milwaukee’s future plans and turned him into a fantasy baseball darling. Even though it was easy to love Villar’s MLB leading 62 stolen bases and typical terrorizing of starting pitchers—especially paired with the inadequacies of Jon Lester—even a casual Brewer appreciator would’ve noticed Villar’s more than occasional baserunning gaffs and poor decision making.
Villar’s Baserunning and History
Villar’s Baserunning as a Model for Fringe Players
On June 1st, Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal observed, “Villar knows only one speed, and has made some baserunning blunders to go along with his 19 steals. But he unnerves pitchers with his aggressiveness and gives players hitting behind him a chance to see more fastballs.”
When manger Craig Counsell was asked about Villar’s approach, he answered with what became the theme of the season. “There are base runners who just stand there and go station to station and we don’t talk about them ever,” he said. “But you’ve got to remember they’re not adding anything, either, right?” An MLB leading 181 team stolen bases later, and even though the Brewers finished 73-89, at least they were fun to watch.
Well, it turns out that aggressiveness allowed Villar to enter the record books in 2016, but much like the rest of 2016, it wasn’t quite the record he wanted. Using the Baseball Prospectus baserunning statistics, I noticed Villar mainly suffered in the area of Ground Advancement, GAR. Basically, his ability to read and react to situations involving an in-play ground ball is similar to that of a tee-baller that longs for his post game juice box while daydreaming about the fishing trip him and his Dad are planning next weekend.
Here were the bottom five in GAR in 2016
A few things that stand out with that bunch. It’s amazing that Navarro managed to be that bad in only 24 opportunities, it’s clear that Dustin Pedroia has embraced being on the wrong side of 30, and only one of them, Villar, is currently coveted for his baserunning ability.
In fact, Villar’s 1.53 SBR, which is the statistic that measures the theoretical value a baserunner brings by his base stealing ability, is incredibly high for the crowd that he’s in.
Of the 59 total players that posted positive 0.50 SBR or higher, 18 posted a negative GAR. Further, 3 had a GAR between -1.0 and -1.99, and 4 posted a GAR between -2.0 and -2.99, Brian Dozier, Joc Pederson, Ichiro, and Elvis Andrus. Villar was the only one that surpassed -3.0, and his was a horrifically low -3.57.
It seemed like I’d found a statistically historical outlier. How many players in baseball history could have possibly had a GAR of -3.50 or worse and a SBR of 1.50 or better? It turns out, 12. Gotta love baseball’s super large sample size.
Considering the positions of the players on this list, most being corner infielders and outfielders with some youth in their legs, or past their prime former base stealers still trying to push the envelope,Villar remains a statistical outlier. It almost seems implausible that a 25 year old, base stealing shortstop could produce such a horrific GAR season. The only thing left for him to accomplish is to repeat on list like Mr. October, or come for Pete Roses’ top spot.
“Craig Counsell come to me and say, ‘If you play like that every day, you play [in the lead-off spot] for a lot of years,’” said Villar later in the aforementioned Journal-Sentinel article.
Pair that with Counsell’s previous comment, and it’s clear that he is fully on board with the baserunning season that Villar produced in 2016. Based on the stats above, and plenty more, reigning in Villar’s aggressiveness might be the better move.
Using Baseball Reference’s play index, I sorted the top 20 in stolen base attempts. Of those, Villar was one of three to score in the negative of baseball reference’s baserunning runs added stat, which is more or less baserunning runs.
|Name||Times Reached||Outson Base||PickedOff||Out on base %||SB opp||SB att.||CS||SB%||BaserunningRuns added||Brr|
To understand this better, I created my own semi-statistic called Out on Base percentage, OOB% in the table above. Baseball Reference has a stat called Outs on Base which measures how many times a player records an out making a baserunning gaff, such as, being thrown out advancing on a fly ball, trying to reach an extra base on a hit, or being doubled off on a line drive. However, it doesn’t include pickoffs, so I added those to outs on base and divided it by the total amount of times reached base. The other two, Harper and Hernandez, were horrifically ineffective base stealers. What that really tells me is Villar is so poor in non-stealing situations that even his ability to steal 62 bases can’t make up for it.
In total, that gives me the percentage of how often a player makes a bad baserunning decision, which Villar made almost 1 of out every 10 times he reached base. Aggressiveness is one thing, but when it starts to be a direct detriment to the ball club, then it needs to be reigned in.
“That’s my game,” Villar went on to say in the Journal-Sentinel piece. “I play like that in the minor leagues. We come here and it’s the same game.”
It sounds like Villar isn’t going to change, and as long as he can hit .285/.369/.457 with a positive FRAA, then his poor baserunning can be tossed by the wayside and labeled as aggressive havoc that troubles the more easily frazzled hurlers.
6 comments on “Villar and Baserunning Havoc”
Thanks. It seemed in the 2nd half Villar at least stopped trying to get to 3B with 0 or 2 outs. On the other end of the spectrum is the efficiency of H Perez. If you double his opportunities to 272 to match Betts, his Baserunning runs added doubles to 12, he leads this list [except for the incomparable B Hamilton]. Didn’t realize Goldschmidt was such a good baserunner. E Nunez attempting 50 steals in 51 attempts, then being caught only 4 times for a success rate of 76% is curious.
So Travis Jankowski has a higher outs on base percentage and a lower stolen base percentage yet he scores positive baserunning runs, better than Villar. Thats a really weird outlier, I wonder why.
The pickoffs and getting doubled up on line drives need to quit. The Brewers were horrible last year in those two areas.
I like the aggressiveness of Perez, Broxton and Villar but Villar needs to learn a bit more from Perez and then we will have something.
i don’t think that because CC is being supportive of his player that he wholly endorses him making mistakes. CC plenty of times mentioned that he’s willing to let Villar make mistakes and hopefully learn so he makes less future mistakes.
it seems that times reached isn’t an entirely accurate way to create a denominator for this. someone who’s reaches base may be on base for multiple hitters and have more than 1 attempt to make a baserunning error. it doesn’t skew against Villar only, but just makes that number hard to trust for anyone on the list.
You’re right about that. Sometimes guys get more than one chance, and a large amount of the time they get none at all. Instead, I switched it to total OPPS, the summation of GAR, SBR, HAR, AAR, OAR opps. Here’s what I got.
Player OOB/OPPS OOB%
Villar 22/252 8.7%
Hamilton 7/180 3.8%
Marte 8/188 4.2%
Nunez 5/118 4.2%
Davis 5/168 2.9%
Segura 16/274 5.8%
Jankowski 12/159 7.5%
Perez 2/144 1.3%
Altuve 14/223 6.2%
Turner 4/131 3.0%
Trout 5/239 2.0%
Goldie 5/188 2.6%
Dyson 7/128 5.4%
Gordon 3/138 2.1%
Myers 13/174 7.4%
Herrera 15/223 6.7%
Andrus 12/183 6.5%
Harper 16/150 10.6%
Betts 4/227 1.7%
Hernandez 8/190 4.2%