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On the Astros: Villar's plate discipline a study in contrasts

Why does Jonathan Villar walk so much but also strike out so much? Let's try to find out.

Scott Halleran

Sorry Matty D. I've got a new obsession. It's Jonathan Villar's plate patience.

One of the reasons why people like Tim and the bevy of other Villar nay-sayers (I believe Chris was also counted among their number at the beginning of the season) don't like the young shortstop is his plate discipline. He strikes out too much and doesn't hit for a high average while not walking a ton.

That's a fine narrative, but it misses Villar's surprising progress with his walk rate over the years. When he first came over from the Phillies, Villar had only walked six percent of the time. He did better at Lancaster, but it's Lancaster and it was a small sample size.

Then, he did better in two stops in 2011. He did better in 2012 and has done better in 2013. Put it all together and Villar looks to have the potential to walk 8-10 percent of the time in the future. Obviously, that will play.

But, how do we justify the strikeouts? How often do high strikeout, high walk, no power players succeed?

I'm asking that question now, but it's more for the audience. We've talked about it before, and I seem to remember clack finding a study on the relative success rates of minor leaguers in different categories.

No, what I'm interested here is Villar himself. How does he profile as a guy who walks a ton but also strikes out a ton. Does he know the strike zone, but lack the ability to put bat on ball? How rare is that?

Indeed, that's exactly what Villar's plate discipline numbers tell us.

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2013 Astros 24.1 % 56.2 % 37.6 % 51.4 % 84.8 % 72.3 % 42.0 % 67.7 % 9.9 %

Overall this season in the majors, Villar has only swung at 24 percent of pitches in the strike zone. That's about six percent lower than the league average, putting him in good company. He also swings about 10 percent less on pitches in the zone than on average, meaning he swings at nearly 10 percent less pitches total than league average.

Less swings means less strikes on swing-throughs, which means more walks. Plus, we can see he does have a good handle on the strike zone, because he just doesn't swing on pitches out of the zone.

However, Villar also has a hard time making contact. His outside the zone contact numbers are not great, about 15 percent below the league average. That may explain why he doesn't swing at stuff outside of the zone. He can't hit it.

Pitches in the zone, Villar hits pretty averagely. He's making contact 84 percent of the time in the zone, which is only three percent lower than the league average. That leads to him only being seven percent under the total contact percentage of the league.

What's more, Villar is swinging through about 10 percent of the pitches he sees. That means 10 percent of the time, he's making no contact at all when he swings. The league is doing that same thing about 9.2 percent of the time, meaning Villar is about average at whiffing.

The only real abberation here is that pitchers seem to enjoy feeding him first-pitch strikes. He's seen 66 percent of them so far, while the league average is about six percent lower than that. I'd also wager that that number has dropped quite a bit as he cooled off. My guess is that he saw a ton of first pitch strikes early in his tenure, he destroyed the ball and pitchers adjusted to him.

Indeed, if you look at his game logs for plate discipline, the evidence bears that out. He saw first pitch strikes over 66 percent of the time in seven of his first nine games. Since then, he's only seen them that high in two games out of six.

Pitchers don't want to get too cute with him, as Villar seems to be fine hitting meaty pitches in the zone. It seems like pitchers who nibble on the corners will give him the most problems right now. That's why teams are moving away from those first pitch strikes, but that adjustment will only last so long.

It also explains why Villar walks so much. Pitchers know they can't challenge him and not have bad things happen. So, they try to nibble. Sometimes, he strikes out by swinging at stuff he shouldn't. Sometimes, that nibbling leads to walks.

Which is a great way to explain Villar's weird profile.

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