Christian Yelich is coming off an incredible first full year in the Majors last year, where he slashed .284/.362/.402, netting him a 4 win season, a gold glove and a very nice long-term contract extension.
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Everyone expected Yelich to take the next step and at least replicate his impressive 2014, if not add something to what was already a certainly impressive arsenal of tools. But through this point in 2015 Yelich has regressed in two senses, both in his luck stats as well as in his process at the plate.
Yelich had a .356 BABIP in 2014 which is high even for a player like him. Yelich in 2014 made a lot of contact and was very selective swinging only at 39% percent of pitches while making contact on nearly 90% of pitches in the zone. This selectiveness was bolstered even further by a well below league average chase rate.
I read an article on Beyond the Boxscore, which calculated hitter passiveness as (1 – Z-Swing%) * Zone%, that put Yelich’s passiveness score in 2014 at .211, with 0 being even and any negative number being aggressive.
In 2015 it has fallen to .189 which shows that he has chased a lot more pitches this year. Yelich depends very heavily on his plate approach and strike zone discrimination as a primary determinant of his performance.
The chart below shows Yelich’s plate approach throughout his Major League career.
He has always been very patient, but if you look at 2015 he has been much more aggressive. That same BtB article calculates aggressiveness as O-Swing% * (1 – Zone%). In 2014 that mark was .124, while in 2015 it has climbed to .136.
Another very impressive fact about that chart above is that it shows how aggressive Yelich has been especially against breaking pitches this season. But he hasn’t been very successful against them
Yelich in 2015 has been swinging and missing more often against all pitch types, as the chart below suggests, and particularly against both “hard” pitches as well as “offspeed” ones. In 2014 Yelich was whiffing at around 5% against “hard” pitches and so far this year he has whiffed closer to 10% although it has improved as the season has gone on.
Much more stark was the rate at which Yelich was whiffing against “offspeed” pitches, which started at near 35% and has improved to about 16%. No one can succeed if they are whiffing at near one-third of the pitches offspeed or otherwise that they see.
Altogether this adds up to 10.8% swinging strike rate which is 4% higher (6.8) than it was in 2014.
To put all of this in this context, the chart below shows that Yelich so far in 2014 has struggled against all pitches, but especially against breaking pitches, on which he has a .091 average on a .143 BABIP.
Results and Averages – from 04/01/2015 to 06/12/2015
This ultimately means that no matter what there was little that could be done to believe that Yelich was going to get even worse against everything except hard pitches. Offspeed and breaking are always harder to hit against, but especially for a young hitter, even one was disciplined as Yelich is.
Yelich undoubtedly had a breakout year in 2014 but his result against non-fastballs was still not nearly as good as the ones against fastballs.
Results and Averages – from 03/27/2014 to 10/01/2014
There is nothing wrong with a guy being a fastball hitter, but if Yelich is to take the next step and become a truly elite hitter he needs to learn how to handle both breaking and offspeed pitches.
Ultimately the value of studies like this is to think through why hitter X is struggling it can be an issue of timing or whatever else. But ultimately a player will be who he is.
Yelich isn’t a pull happy hitter or at least he isn’t a pull hitter in the air. If he can learn how to pull the fastball he will start hitting for power and he will finally be the complete hitter we all know he can be.
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