Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Viva La Villalona!

Angel Villalona is a controversial prospect in many circles because of his sordid past, but at some point you have to accept that the wheels of justice have turned and he was only convicted by public opinion. 

More importantly for Giants fans today, he once was a top prospect in all of baseball, #33 pre-2008 and #44 pre-2009 per Baseball America ( which is rarified heights for any prospect, and especially so for a prospect who was only 17-18 YO at that time.  But his time away from the game has to have made him very very rusty, or so the theory goes, so I thought it would be interesting to see how he did in April.  For if he can return to his prior expected goodness, that is a huge boost to the Giants overall farm system, as it is rated by most prospect experts.  And his development will have implications for what the Giants might do at 1B (Angel's current position) and 3B (the position Angel wants to return to, but hasn't played full time since his first pro season, but supposedly has been practicing there regularly; however, he didn't really lose any weight during his time off and his size, at the moment, probably means he's a 1B long-term).
ogc thoughts

It was the worse of times, then it was the best of times. 

I won't go through all the details but in his first ten games, he was pretty bad.  .049/.133/.049/.182 with no homers (or extra-base hits) in 41 AB, plus 16 strikeouts says it all, really.

But then it clicked in with his 11th game.  In the 14 games since, covering slightly over 2 weeks, he has hit .327/.367/.673/1.039, with 5 homers in 55 ABs (4 doubles too), driving in 16 runs and scoring 13.  He had 12 K's, which is not great zone discipline generally (78% contact rate), but is a huge improvement for him compared to his first 10 games and roughly (especially given the low ABs) the same as the 75% contact rate he had in his prior two full-season leagues (2008-2009).  And his BABIP of .333 in those 14 games is in line with his 2009 season (.327 BABIP) and 2008 season (.317 BABIP).  I would also add that his 2009 batting line was masked by his on-going leg injury that was hampering him that season. 

All decidedly small samples, yes, but that is all we have to play with right now.  But any statistician can tell you also that severe swings like that is not probable given a base underlying talent level.  Plus generally, a lousy hitter don't suddenly hit like one of the top prospects for two weeks, though that is possible.  And with prospects, you have to realize that once they learn something (or re-learn something in Angel's case), they are now at a different plateau, and that is going to happen to prospects mid-season at one point, many points, or no point during a season, making prospects very hard to analyze.

That is one reason why I've been high on Nick Noonan the past few years despite his middling results until AAA.   He was striking out a lot, as well as not walking much the first half of his first SJ season, but then he suddenly went to striking out at a very good contact rate and, just as importantly, was walking a lot more, basically at the 1:1 ratio that you want to see, as only the best hitters can do that.  And he was only 20 YO at that time, in a league where the average age was 23, 3 years of experience over him.  It has just been a matter of time with him catching up with the leagues in terms of experience and development.

One of the great advice, among the many I've gotten from his books, from Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster is that prospects, once they have shown the skill, owns the skill, then it becomes a matter of the player repeating that skill consistently.  People got down on Noonan, but to me, that was really a matter of identifying him as a plus prospect, and yeah, he didn't look good for that type of prospectdom.  But to me, the more important thing was whether he could at least be a productive MLB player and I think he showed enough to warrant that type of designation.  And I still think that he can become better than average, that was some good hitting he did in the second half of 2009.

Villalona has a long climb to return to his prior heights, but his last two weeks is a good sign that the talent that all of baseball saw in him before is still there, waiting to be tapped.  He's basically hitting what Gyorko and Altuve was hitting in 2011 in the same league, and basically the same age (he's 22, Gyorko was 22 and Altuve 21), which he would need to keep up for the rest of the season to confirm that he's on their level in terms of talent. 

The Giants probably will keep him in San Jose all season, both because he's been gone so long, but also because Oropesa is ahead of him at 1B right now in AA.  However, if Oropesa continues to struggle as badly as he has (.200/.260/.244/.504 with little power) and Villalona is able to keep up this good hitting, the Giants could decide to promote Villalona in the June-July period and send down Oropesa, swapping out 1B.  I've seen them do that before, though given Villalona being out so long, I would think that the Giants would rather he stay in San Jose all season to get back into being a pro and the U.S. and everything, and let him get settled down first, before sending him to new and different places.


  1. Nice post. I really view your blog as the voice of reason. One thing you've emphasized that just does not get picked up is that you don't have to have top prospects or top players at every position. There is room for useful players in the crowd. Everybody gets hopped up about the top lists, but as the Giants have demonstrated in the past few years, there is another way to do things. I really like the patience they demonstrate.

    A productive major league player is a perfectly good objective. Sometimes moving the runners is preferable to swinging for the fences, to rock some b-ball metaphors.

    1. Well, I do try for that! :^)

      Yeah, the major complaint I've seen over the years is that so and so is not all that good, we need to improve that spot (whether Giants or other fans) and if you look into the lineup stats for any average or slightly above average offensive team, you'll find that they have a few good hitters surrounded by a few OK/average hitters, and completed by a couple of lousy hitters at the bottom of the order. So as long as we have a triad of good hitters supplemented by average and below average hitters, our offense should be more than good enough to win with our pitching and fielding.

      And with Belt and Pagan around, that makes our offense pretty good, I think, and hence all the thrilling finishes we have had in the Pence era.

      I really do hope that Pence re-signs with us, but I expect another team to throw insane money at him and we'll lose him. I think $15M per is reasonable, but at the $17M market rate his arbitration signings have been going at, I would rather the Giants not overpay him like that, even though I also fear that we'll lose Pablo once his contract ends too, so maybe that extra money for Pence is good insurance should Sandoval leave us (either for money or because he's physically unable to be Panda for us anymore).

      Swinging for the fences is fine for your top guys, but no team is ever going to have HR guys up and down the lineup.

      Plus, as BP study showed, how many HRs a team hits in the regular season did not have a statistically significant effect on their success in going deep into the playoffs during the Divisional era. Hitting HRs, in other words, is nice to have, but not essential for winning it all. That Earl Weaver, he of the pitching and 3-run homers, only won it all once, might be a good example of that analysis factoid. (Wow, never realized that his Orioles were roughly the AL version of the Giants, 10 years after, as they won a lot of games but not a lot of pennants or championships, and, of course, the two teams share the same team colors, orange and black.)

  2. Nice. I've been curious about how he was doing. A bit surprising that he's only 22, I guess the drama surrounding him does that to perception.

    Totally agreed about the "position prospect" question. It's the same as the saw about not drafting for position - it only becomes an issue when the organization has a need or when a prospect is close to the bigs. Before that, you absolutely have to see what develops.

    The Pence Era. Good one! I have a feeling you're right, someone will overpay, which is too bad. Who knows, he fits, and maybe he knows that too - money isn't everything.... is it?

    One quick comment on Weaver - one forgets that there's three events that lead to a three-run homer. The Orioles got guys on base.


    1. Hopefully Pence does give some sort of home discount and enable the Giants to sign him. But until I see that, I assume most players do not give much of any of a discount. I was betrayed before on that - when Bell took off - though despite all the plays that Cain's side did, like selling his house in SF, he ultimately signed a deal that I thought was at least fair, if not slightly discounted.

      Yes, Weaver was also fond of the walk too, he was an OBP Moneyballer long before Beane was GM, long before the A's had their bible created by Eric Walker, thanks for reminding me of that.

      Yeah, it is hard to remember a prospect is still young when he comes into your organization as a teenager, I think lots of fans thought Noonan was nearer to 30 than 20 when he made the team, of the fans who were aware of him. Angel is still young enough to regain his top MLB prospect status that he had previously (barring bias because of his sordid past).



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