Since the trade deadline, Jonathan Villar has been a steady force in the Baltimore Orioles lineup.
Many believed the Baltimore Orioles would be active at the 2019 trade deadline as Mike Elias and his team continue to evaluate what they have in the organization and add players who bring value. Instead, the Orioles remained quiet, sending Andrew Cashner to Boston a few days before the deadline and acquiring some cash from Philadelphia for starting pitcher Dan Straily, who was pitching well for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides after a disastrous stint at the major league level (that’s putting it nicely).
Why were the O’s silent at the deadline? According to Elias, none of the deals discussed were going to bring value and make the organization better. Unlike last season, the Orioles didn’t need to make moves just to make moves. While there are still big holes down on the farm, a strong 2019 draft class helped to skyrocket the minor league system up to the 8th-best system in the league, per Baseball America.
The return for smaller trade chips like Hanser Alberto and Renato Nunez likely would have been similar to the return for Cashner, low-level teenage prospects who are a few years away from playing stateside. When it comes to Trey Mancini, I keep going back to a quote from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal who said Mancini provides more value to the Orioles than any other team, at the moment. All of these guys could still be on the move this offseason or at next year’s deadline, if their value rises.
You could argue that the slight head-scratcher was not moving Jonathan Villar. The Chicago Cubs initially expressed interest and the San Francisco Giants made sense as a potential partner for the versatile and speedy infielder, but nothing came to fruition.
Only Adalberto Mondesi, Mallex Smith, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Jarrod Dyson have more stolen bases than Jonathan Villar this season (24), although his aggressive base running has led to a stolen base success rate of just 77%, well below the success rates of everyone else in the league with at least 20 stolen bases. However, if we look at Fangraphs’ BsR numbers (Base Running (BsR) is FanGraphs’ all-encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average), Villar is tied for 3rd in all of baseball with a 5.9 BsR. Only Mallex Smith (6.9) and Niko Goodrum (6.5) rank higher.
Offensively, Villar is having a solid season, one of the better performances of his career. Unfortunately, the metrics say his defense has taken a big hit. His numbers at second base, where he’s seen the majority of his playing time, has dropped significantly. His -8 Defensive Runs Saved and -4.4 Ultimate Zone Rating are both notable hits compared to his 7 Defensive Runs Saved and 1.1 UZR last season at second base. However, it’s been an overall better season for the 28-year-old switch-hitting infielder.
Since the dreadful series in Arizona where Villar went 0-15 with seven strikeouts and failed to reach base even once, he’s been one of the more consistent hitters in the Orioles lineup. He ended the month of July with 13 hits in six games, including five multi-hit games, and six stolen bases.
Now with the trade deadline talk behind him, Villar has continued to settle in and play impressive baseball. Currently riding a seven-game on-base streak, Villar is on pace for his best offensive month of the season through the first third of the month. Currently slashing .290/.389/.677, “Gavi” has six extra-base hits (two 2B, two 3B, two HR), and five walks. His five walks already match his total from the month of July.
Having played in all 115 games for the Orioles, perhaps no game has been more memorable than his August 5th performance against the New York Yankees. Despite a loss, Villar became the fifth Baltimore Orioles player to hit for the cycle, the first since Felix Pie achieved the feat in 2009. Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Aubrey Huff are the other three on this short list. Quite the interesting list of names to lump together.
Villar isn’t someone who is going to be a contributor to this team in three years when the Orioles are (hopefully) a competitive team again, but his recent steady play has been fun to watch during a long, hot month of August as football season begins, school starts up, and interest in a potential 100-loss team continues to wane. The only current Oriole to better Villar’s 171 wRC+ this month has been none other than the legend himself, Hanser Alberto.
Villar and the Orioles will wrap up their three-game set against the Houston Astros this weekend before a seven-game road swing against the Yankees and Red Sox.