Monday, August 11, 2008

BA Report on Villalona: Positive But Ignoring Elephant in the Room

Baseball America had a blog post on Angel Villalona today. It gives some new news on Angel, plus, more importantly, shows a relatively sveltve physique in the photo of our wunderkind.

They noted that he started slowly then improved each month, but that's debatable, even doubtful, because his split stats show his OPS dropping from May to June to July, and his homers going down as well, so I'm not sure what they mean by improve each month, his only steady improvement is his BABIP, which could be argued is finding his true level since it's still early in his pro career, but is not normally a stat anyone would hang their hat on in regards to a prospect.

Where he has been hot is he has hits in 11 of his last 12 games. In addition, while his 13 home runs don't seem like much, he leads the team in homers plus they are the most by any 17-year-old in the Sally League (South Atlantic League) since Adrian Beltre hit 16 for Savannah twelve years ago, during the 1996 season. Plus, he kills lefties, hitting .333/.369/.583/.952 with 4 HR in 96 AB (24 AB/HR).

However, his big Achille's Heel this season is hitting againt RHP. He is hitting a Neifi-ish .222/.278/.348/.626 with 9 HR in 293 AB (33 AB/HR) against righties this season, and, of course, unfortunately, there are mostly right-handed pitchers in baseball. This is something he has to solve before we can expect much out of him. Right now, with this type of split, he's more a platoon hitting 1B, maybe sharing time with Bowker or Ishikawa as the right-handed half of a platoon at 1B.

The good news is that last season, he hit RHP much better than LHP and, more importantly, well (OPS .792). However, that is still small samples, despite a good 190-ish plate appearances last season. So that could have been the aberration, not this season's stats.

The best news is that he's only 17 years old in a league of pitchers who are 4-5 years older than him, meaning there's a double whammy he's fighting: they have 4-5 years physical maturity on him plus 4-5 years of college and/or professional baseball experience over him. Plus the years in organized baseball when they were in high school, playing the various circuits where high schooler's show off their prowess and getting experience with and against a higher level of talent than their high school teammates.

All that should give the pitchers a huge advantage over him and yet he's handling them OK. It obviously would have been much better if he was killing all of them, like Bumgarner has been doing against hitters there. But still, he's an above average hitter in the league despite all the advantages the pitchers should have over him (league is pitching oriented) and has hit more homers there since Beltre, which, when I think about it again, isn't that great, he only had that one great season, he has been very Pedro Feliz-like otherwise in his career.

Also good news is that he is aware enough that he could analyze his hitting. He mentioned that he knows how to handle inside pitches (implication, obviously, is that he can't handle outside pitches) so "I keep myself going through the middle and the other way...". It is important that he knows his shortcomings and show that he is working on rectifying them.

He also noted that he is working hard on his defense on 1B. Again, good to know that he is working at it, there are so many prospects before (and yet to come in the future) who thinks he can get by on his god-given ability to hit the baseball and thus he gives little effort to even be decent as a fielder (like EME has shown, both in Florida and here with us)

As I mentioned, his picture looked really good physically, unlike the Baby Huey physique I saw this spring training. They noted that he is also working hard on keeping his weight in check. Hopefully that is true, that wouldn't be good for his career, or his future health, if he was an oversized pear.

Unfortunately, despite all the talk about him still taking balls at 3B, this is the first article that noted that his body "already precipitated a move during spring training across the diamond from third base to first base, where he's currently listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, but he's shown a good aptitude for his new position after workouts with former gold glover J.T. Snow." Fortunately, the article did not say that the Giants organization viewed him as a 1B now, the article implied, to me, that it was the author interpreting the move as being due to his size, rather than the Giants pronouncing that he's has officially moved to 1B now.

They also spoke to him about his trip to Yankee Stadium for the Futures Game, and he was savvy enough to know it was special because Babe Ruth set foot on that field and that they are tearing it down after this season. I think it's good when players acknowledge the rich history of MLB baseball and know the history of things, unlike uncouths like Jeff Kent who couldn't be bothered with the history of our great game.

Here are some by-the-book (seemingly prepared to my eye due to its generic rah-rah quality) quotes from his hitting coach at Augusta, Lipso Nava:
  • "The organization is really high on him. ["Noooo! Do tell!" Tell me something we don't know...] They know he's really young. He has to mature as a player. This is their baby - he's only 17 years old. He's a legit hitter. He's a big league hitter, and he will be there. He needs to get more at-bats, more experience and I think he'll be there sooner rather than later."
Other than that last statement about when he will be in the majors, I could have basically said the same thing, so there's nothing really new here. Glad to know the organization thinks that he'll be there sooner rather than later. I'm OK with no timetable, no use putting any additional pressure on him, he's already tackling a whole plateful of pressure, living away from home and family, learning a new language, trying to get by in a new place with no practical English language skills, other than maybe saying "cheeseburger cheeseburger Coke Coke" at local fast food chains, knowing he got a huge signing bonus and trying to live up to that.

Overall, I'm very encouraged by Villalona's season. Again, I would have loved to see DOMINATION, but he's holding his own with men who are much older (he's still a boy, though he'll be turning 18 in a couple of days) and experienced than he is, so check off A-ball as well done and let's see how he does in San Jose next season. I'm still excited that he's in our farm system and I still think he can be a huge factor starting at one of the corner infield positions for years to come.


  1. Split PA wOBA
    April 90 .245
    May 107 .326
    June 84 .328
    July 108 .307
    August 39 .331

    So, you're right, there's no steady improvement -- just a poor April. But for a 17-year-old in A ball, a .330ish wOBA -- with power -- is pretty darned good.

  2. Thank you for the additional information, wcw.

    What is wOBA? I don't recall what it means. What wOBA does the average player get? At what point is it good?

    Also, as I noted, his split against LHP/RHP is very much LHP, and in MLB about 65-75% of the PA is RHP. Don't really matter how good his wOBA, OPS, OBP*SLG, WS, what have you, is, if he sucks worse than Neifi in a large portion of his at bats.

  3. wOBA

  4. Thanks for the link, wcw!

    Unfortunately, that proves my point. According to that link, a wOBA of .330 is below average, and he's at a premium offensive position, which makes it even worse. And he was .330-ish, not .330, which makes it worser (than my grammar :^).

    I agree, though, that a 17 year old doing so well in the league is a good thing, but I just wanted to point out that his platoon split is horrible and thus a concern to watch out for going forward.

    And I don't think it is a small thing, that's why I said Elephant, because a lot of prospects never figure out how to hit against pitchers with the same hand. I hope he figures it out, and given all the scouting comments, it could just be a combination of lack of experience, youthfulness, and he should be fine as he gets older and more experienced. But, right now, he's not getting such an important thing done.

  5. It wasn't I who posted the link, so thanks to our anonymous helper.

    Context really matters. .330 is a below-average wOBA, true. However, Villalona's putting up those .330s months against much older competition, in the SAL and not the PCL or Cal League, and with raw power that you don't see normally at his age. This is exceptional performance. Not zomg-the-next-ARod, true, but still exceptional.

    The platoon split worries me a lot less than do the Ks overall. I'd like to see better contact skills. Even if the platoon numbers aren't just a small-sample-size mirage, it strikes me as unlikely to continue unless there is another flaw in Villalona's approach. As a result, I look for other flaws, and right now, it's the Ks across the board.

  6. Ooops, sorry, thanks Anon and thanks again to wcw!

    Yes, context matters, my point is that he's not hitting that well against, yes, older competition, which has been my point all along for saying that Villalona IS doing well enough in Augusta. Well enough to be considered doing enough to keep his prospect status, but not that well still overall and thus something we need to watch out for, there are some huge negatives/hurdles is my basic point.

    And I did point out he is closing in on Beltre's long ago HR record as a 17 year old, so I agree exceptional power, but I agree with your point, I should have pointed that out more that it truly is exceptional.

    Platoon splits is important because the poor part is happening on the side where he is getting most of his AB's, his samplings.

    But I agree with you that I should have pointed out his K's more, it is very high.

    Also, his BB's are very low, and that is worrisome too, both in general and relative to his K's. All three are negatives that he still needs to work on a lot.

    Still, overall, I think he has done more than enough to deserve a promotion to San Jose next season, and I'll have to make a point of attending a game or three just to see him.



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