Fontana, Nolan (2)

Nolan Fontana: The New Greek God of Walks

This article is also featured in The 2014 Prospect Digest Annual, which is now available on Amazon.

Long before he garnered fame as a two-time World Series Champion with Boston, years prior to his three All Star appearances, Gold Glove or back-to-back top six MVP finishes, Kevin Youkilis was talked about in Michael Lewis’ groundbreaking book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

He was simply known as, “Euclis: The Greek god of walks,” phonetically spelling his name to pay homage to his Greek surname.

A virtual unknown outside of the analytical community, Lewis described Youkilis as, “A fat Double-A third baseman who is the Greek god of walks. Who just happened to have walked into some power last year. Yes: the Greek god of walks was now hitting a few more homeruns. Which is, of course, the true destiny of the Greek god of walks.”

Outside of the late blooming power, Youkilis did one thing as well as anyone since his debut in professional baseball – avoid making outs, namely by his willingness to work the count and take more than the occasional free pass.

An eighth-round selection out of the University of Cincinnati in 2001, Youkilis walked 71 times in just 276 plate appearances during his debut, 26.5% of the time. He followed that up by finding first base via the ball-on-balls another 93 times the following year, and would eventually up that number to 104 during his final full season spent in the minors.

270 walks in his first 1428 plate appearances.

That, of course, would just be a harbinger of things to come.

In the six seasons in which he topped 120 games in the big leagues, Youkilis would reach 100 walks every time. Add in his propensity for crowding the plate and the subsequent 104 times he was whacked by an inside pitch, and it’s easy to see how he sported a career OBP of .382.

Kevin Youkilis, in all his sabermetric glory, was the original Greek god of walks. Was, of course, being the proper contextual form, because buried deep in the Houston Astros’ farm system is another grind-‘em-out, work-the-count, OBP-loving sonuvabitch.

Nolan Fontana: The NEW Greek god of walks.

A three-year starter at the University of Florida, Fontana showed an average-ish hit tool, a little bit of speed, and gap power. But the one thing the 5-foot-nothing, 190 pound-nothing-shortstop did better than anyone else is…find first base via the free pass.

During his time with the Gators, Fontana averaged 123 walks and 15 HBPs per 162 games. And, so, he was born.

Fontana would become the third draft pick of the new Jeff Luhnow-era, one that was ushered in with a dramatic shift in front office philosophy, one that, for the first time in franchise history, turned an eye towards analytics.

Though the equivalent of nearly one full season, Fontana’s batting average stands at a rather mundane .250. His slugging percentage barely tops .380. And, yet, his overall offensive production more than 30% better than the league average.

How?

The walks, of course.

Fontana isn’t just sporting one of the minors’ better eyes at the plate. No. He has become the gold standard to which everyone else should be measured.

Through his first 153 games (721 plate appearances), the lefty-swinging middle infielder was walked 167 times. His career walk rates stands at 23.2%.

23.2%!

He’s basically walked one out of every four plate appearances.

And despite playing in just 122 games last year in high Class A, Fontana led the entire minor leagues in walks, besting Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini by four even though the latter appeared in 25 more games.

For comparison’s sake, here’s a snapshot of Youkilis’ and Fontana’s first full seasons in the minors:

Player

Age

Level(s)

BB%

K%

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

2B

3B

HR

SB/CS

Youkilis

23

A/A+/AA

15.40%

10.50%

0.114

0.310

0.436

0.424

31

0

8

5/11

Fontana

22

A+

20.40%

20.00%

0.140

0.259

0.415

0.399

18

6

8

16/21

And, remember, Fontana plays a position that’s far less forgiving of offensive shortcomings.

Now here’s where it gets a wee bit interesting. The Astros, owners of the top farm system in all of baseball, have one of the top shortstop prospects in the game in former #1 overall pick Carlos Correa. And unless the club moves the former Gator across the bag to second base, which is a distinct possibly though he’d still be in a battle with Jose Altuve and Delino DeShields Jr., Fontana should become a rather valuable trade commodity. Perhaps a team like Tampa Bay or the Mets might be able to swoop in for a trade.

Either way, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to be the first to announce Astros shortstop Nolan Fontana as the New Greek god of walks.

 

Photo of Kevin Youkilis Courtesy of Arctic_Whirlwind via Flickr.com.

 



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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