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Detroit Tigers Free Agent Review: Infielder Jonathan Villar

Sep 25, 2020; Buffalo, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Jonathan Villar (20) hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Sahlen Field. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2020; Buffalo, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Jonathan Villar (20) hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Sahlen Field. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /
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Let’s continue our free agent review series as we weigh in Jonathan Villar as a multiple positional player for the Detroit Tigers.

The Detroit Tigers still have multiple positions to fill this off-season. While AJ Hinch has slated to have Niko Goodrum start the year as a utility player, Hinch and Al Avila are looking for veteran help in the infield.  

One player that fits that description that is on the free-agent market is Jonathan Villar. In 2020, he played second, shortstop and centerfield. Although for his career he has only 15 games in the outfield between left or center, it is worth noting he played 10 innings in center in 2020 but he is suited better to play second exclusively.

Recently, we discussed bringing in veteran Tommy LaStella because of his ability to play different positions and his walk rate, and a recent power surge. Villar has a different skill set than LaStella as he has flashes of power but he is known for his speed, leading the league in steals in 2016 as a member of the Brewers with 62, and his 162 game average is 42.

Let’s breakdown the positives and negatives on Villar and if he would be a good fit for the Detroit Tigers.

Positives

While he can play multiple spots in the infield, his strength is second base, where he has a career average of 1 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) including a career-best 5 split between Milwaukee and Baltimore in 2018.

His 2019 numbers are why he earned another one year deal with the Marlins in 2020, posting a slash line of .274/.339/.453, hitting 24 home rums and driving in 73, and posting a 4.0 fWAR season. He also walks around an 8.8% clip. Now it may not sound overwhelming but considering the Tigers as a collective in 2020 walked around a 7.1% clip and as Dan Hasty spoke about in his article yesterday, walking should be on the Tigers’ agenda this season.

His ZiPs projection for 2021 has him hitting .263/.331/.418 with 17 home runs and posting an fWAR of 2.4. Not bad, considering the output from the position outside of Jonathan Schoop in recent years.

Negatives

2020 as a collective for most players is a season that most ballplayers want to forget and Villar I would assume, would like to do due to sample size. Between the Marlins and Jays, the switch-hitting infielder put up a slash line of .232/.301/.292 in 52 games. He struggled in September for Toronto, going 13-for-79 (.188) and his career average against righties was well below his career average as it dipped to .228. (Career average .258)

Small sample size aside, he is turning 30 and he may lose a step on the base paths. If Detroit decides to look inward in the infield, Isaac Paredes just won the Mexican Winter League batting title and while granted, the level of pitching is not exactly the major leagues, he is pressing the issue a bit and could force himself in the conservation at second base in spring training. He hasn’t played there since Lakeland and if Goodrum struggles out of the gate, Paredes could find himself there if Detroit decides to place him there.

Conclusion

The reason why signing Villar would make sense for Detroit isn’t completely sold on what they have in the infield. We know the Tigers are still high on Goodrum and his versatility but having a proven bat in the lineup is not a bad idea. Plus, Hinch has hinted the Tigers may add a veteran middle infielder.

Certainly, the best-case scenario here is the Detroit Tigers use all their money on upgrading the pitching staff. If they go with Villar, he would be a good piece to have if he can come back to form from his 2019 season.

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