Christian Villanueva has been one of the stories of the season at the major league level for the Padres. He announced his presence with authority on April 3rd when he launched three home runs against the Rockies. It frustrated the Rockies so much, they decided to plunk him and many others, leading to the brawl at Coors Field last week.
Since that night, he has continued to be an offensive presence in the Padres’ lineup, sometimes the offensive presence, essentially forcing Chase Headley to take a seat and become a bat off the bench. Heading into Friday, Villanueva is batting .340 with six home runs and an astronomical OPS+ of 244, which is the highest in the entire league, even higher than Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper. His adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+) is 237, the highest on the team by over 100.
Among batters with at least 50 plate appearances, his 1.2 WAR is tied with Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge for fifth-best in all of baseball. Needless to say, Villanueva has been impressive at the plate.
That being said, his defense at third base has been another story. He is tied for the most errors in baseball with four, most of his company being fellow third basemen. Besides the errors, his defensive metrics have not been terrible, with an even 0 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and -0.6 UZR. You would think those numbers would be worse with four errors. Nevertheless, his four errors cost the Padres seven unearned runs, some of which put games out of reach late. When you gift the good teams the Padres have played so far seven runs, it becomes very tough to win.
Essentially, Villaneuva’s defensive has directly affected seven runs, but that could change if you really break down each pitch and play after those errors. Errors frustrate the pitcher and cause him to overextend and pitch to strikeouts instead of trusting his defense.
Is it worth benching Villanueva for his defensive mistakes? With a bat like he’s toting around, absolutely not. I don’t think the Twins are losing any sleep over Miguel Sano’s defense when he has 30-homer power. Villanueva, so far, has hit himself into the same conversation, at least strictly looking at early on in 2018. The fact that he has one of the highest WAR in the entire league despite his defensive struggles testifies to his hot start at the plate.
He leads all rookies in home runs, RBI, batting average, OPS, WAR, and wRC+. If Major League Baseball decided to end the season tomorrow, he would be in serious contention for National League Rookie of the Year, which a Padres player has not won since 1987. Now, the season won’t end tomorrow, and he will have to sustain this, but clearly his offense is making waves.
For now, we can forgive Villanueva for his shortcomings at third as long as he hits like the wild man he has been lately. No one is perfect in this world. The Padres need Villanueva. They have not had a power-hitting third baseman like this since Headley’s otherworldly 2012 season. Now Villanueva has ripped the position away from that very man, and he does not look like he has any intention of giving it up.