Miami Marlins Season Review: Christian Yelich is Consistent

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Christian Yelich, by all accounts, had an amazing 2014, his first full year in the Majors.  He slashed .284/.362/.402 with a 117 wRC+. A 117 wRC+ was the twenty-fourth best among all outfielders in baseball.  The twenty-fourth was right behind two very good hitters like Ben Zobrist and Adam Eaton.  He also had the ninth best UZR among all outfielders with a 9.9. This put him in the same company as Yoenis Cespedes and Leonys Martin.  Altogether this added to a WAR of 4.4 which was the fifteenth best among all outfielders and thirty-third among all position players.

So to say that he had a good rookie year was understatement.

Coming into 2015 the Marlins supposedly had one of the best outfields in baseball and Yelich was the key to it after his 2014. The Marlins confirmed their faith in Yelich last winter by signing him to a big 7 year – $49 million extension that at time, along with the Giancarlo Stanton‘s extension, and the series of “win now” moves management made last off-season, would put the Marlins on the right track for a run at October, sooner rather than later.

We all know how that turned out.

Christian Yelich 2015 was to put in a single word: weird.

He finished with a .300/.366/.416 slash line and a wRC+ of 117. The same as last year.  A 117 wRC+ ranked Yelich as the twenty-third best hitting outfielder in the game around players like Starling Marte, Joc Pederson, and Adam Eaton. 

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What was so weird about Yelich in 2015 was the path that he had to take to get to that point.

As I wrote earlier in the year, Yelich struggled mightily at the plate in the first two months of the season.

On June 1st Yelich was slashing .222/.290/.294 with a 63 wRC+ and an astronomical for him 27.5% strike out rate in 138 plate appearances.

This was largely in part to the back injury that landed him on the DL.  In that time he also had a well below average for his professional career walk rate at only 8%. Yelich is highly dependent on his plate discipline. In his time with the Marlins since being called up in 2013, Yelich only has 24.0% chase rate; the twentieth best among all qualified players in that span. To go along with a 8.1% swing and miss rate (ninety first best) and a 88.4% zone contact rate, which was the 118th best in baseball.

On June 1st Yelich was chasing more than ever at 25.5%, whiffing more than ever at 10.5% and making less contact than ever at 82.6%.

This regression was injury fueled, but it was still concerning. A player who a year earlier looked like a one of the best players in baseball had only 5 extra base hits in two months and was striking out more than ever before.

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Like they say, small samples make fools of us all. Yelich in the next four months of the season outperformed and regressed away from the mean in the other direction. Between June 2nd and the end of the season Yelich slashed .329/.393/.460 with a 136 wRC+ This while hitting third more often than for the Marlins in that stretch.  Yelich since June 2nd in 387 plate appearances Yelich hit 5 home runs and collected 34 extra base hits.

Yelich also regressed the other way in terms of his BABIP, with it coming at .390 in this sample size. Yelich hit 5 HR in 387 PA starting on June 2nd, while hitting 15 in his first 1071 plate appearances.

This largely accounts for the spike in his slugging percentage to well above the levels throughout his professional career.

This can largely be attributed to a very weird fact. Yelich in his career has only hit 51 balls in the air to right field and 18 of them came in the last four months of 2015.  Of those 18 ball hit in the air, he got 3 home runs and 4 doubles from them. He also collected 5 singles, which adds up to 25 total bases in 18 plate appearances, which adds up to a slugging percentage of 1.388.

It is very hard for a player to hit for power while working to center and the opposite field.  Players usually generate most of their power to the pull side of the field.

Yelich’s swing is almost perfectly suited to hit the ball to the opposite field and he could be a very good player doing that for a long time, but he won’t become a truly elite player until he develops some power and starts hitting balls to the pull side on the air. Of his 20 career home runs only 7 have been hit to right field, with the rest being hit to from right center field gap all the way to oppo-taco territory.

Yelich won a gold glove in 2014 and he seems to be a very good defensive outfielder. However, he has much better value as a left fielder rather patrolling centerfield.  As kind as the defensive metrics are to him in left, they are unkind in right and this might a feature of small sample size fluctuation. Or something more there is no way to know.

Christian Yelich looks like he is going to have a very good career and the first part of it will be spent with the Miami Marlins.

Entering his age-24 season in 2016 he already has the reputation for being one of the most discerning, if not disciplined hitters in all of baseball. He has a perfectly built flat swing and although this is a cliché the power will come with age. Yelich could become one of the best players in the game for a long time to come.

Next: Season Review: Center Field

Next: Season Review: Right Field

Next: Season Review: Third Base

Next: Season Review: Short Stop

Next: Season Review: Second Base

Next: Season Review: First Base

Next: Season Review: Catcher

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