Christian Villanueva made his debut last season and clubbed four home runs in 32 plate appearances. Can I get an amen? They came with a 31.3% strikeout rate and 0.0% walk rate, though. Only God is perfect. So, with that knowledge, many took solace in knowing they had a strong Christian and….Their faith was rewarded, as he smashed three home runs in his second game to start the 2018 campaign. Coincidence that Passover was March 30th to April 7th this season? Fine, don’t answer that, you party pooper. Let me enjoy my Ancient Aliens show in peace. For the non-believers and infidels, the plate discipline numbers and limited track record had them dancing to Milli Vanilli tunes. Sorry, tune. But then, he had an 11-game hitting streak in which he homered in three straight games and amassed a total of five home runs. Now, he’s mired in a 10-game bagel streak, in which he’s walked twice and struck out 13 times. Will this Christian be saved?
Streaks are a part of baseball. Some players are prone to them more than others. Even Barry Bonds was, although his was more about how many strikes he would see in an at-bat. Villanueva is at the bad end of the spectrum when it comes to streaks. For starters, he’s a fly ball hitter (51.9%), so the ball is either in the stands or ends up being caught for an out. Secondly, he’s a pull hitter (55.8%), which makes defensive shifts more effective. Thirdly, his righty/lefty splits are massive. .368 average and .658 ISO against lefties and .156 average and .091 ISO against righties. Finally, the plate discipline numbers would require at least 10 Hail Marys from a priest after confession. 15.8% swinging strike rate, 70.8% overall contact rate, and 37.7% chase rate. That would put him 6th-worst for swinging strike rate, 17th-worst for overall contact rate, and 23rd-worst for chase rate. Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee….
Not all is lost, though. One of my favoritie games growing up was Kung-Fu Master. Essentially, you had to karate chop and kick your way through each floor. One could only climb the stairs to the next level by beating the Boss. Well, in MLB, hitters are first challenged with heat. If they pass that test, then the real business starts: offspeed and breaking pitches. According to Brooks Baseball, pitchers were challenging Villanueva in Spring Training with heat 71.43% of the time. By the time mid-April rolled around, that number dropped down to 60.98%. As of now, he’s seeing 53.27%. Correspondingly, the breaking ball percentage has gone from 14.29 to 29.77 to 36.45. So, why does that instill hope? Well, because Villanueva hasn’t failed at adjusting, at least not yet. Comforting, I know.
Man, I wish Villanueva displayed some of that 32 stolen base speed he showed back in Single-A (2011). I would have some interest then. Unfortunately, even if he does make adjustments to the adjustments, I’m not crazy about the profile. Doesn’t make great contact and chases too many balls out of the zone. Plus, it’s easy to position the defense against him. In many ways, he’s Joey Gallo-lite. Literally. Half a foot shorter and 25 pounds lighter. In addition, he plays in a worse park and division.