Christian Yelich is putting up MVP numbers, but where did they come from?
This past offseason, the Miami Marlins were sold and subsequently gutted. Hard decisions were made and their most notable trade sent 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees. Stanton was part of what was one of the best outfields in baseball with Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. The other two were also traded to teams in the NL Central. At the time, the Stanton trade made the most noise. However, almost a year later it’s a different Marlins trade that has made the biggest difference and may contain another NL MVP
Christian Yelich is good, he’s always been good. Since being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers he’s become amazing. He’s hit for two cycles this season but it’s much more than that. He’s legitimately in the MVP conversation.
.@ChristianYelich becomes first player in MLB history to hit for two cycles against the same team in one season
At the time of this writing (Friday afternoon) Yelich is hitting .319/.385/.569 with a 154 wRC+. He leads the NL in wRC+ (fifth in the MLB), average, SLG, and is seventh in OBP. He is the key cog in the Milwaukee Brewers offense and if they make the postseason he would get my vote for MVP. Here’s the thing though, Yelich really hasn’t changed that much as a hitter. He still hits the ball really hard and his ground ball tendency hasn’t changed much. He hasn’t joined the flyball revolution, so what’s changed between his move from south Florida to south Wisconsin?
The easiest theory is that Yelich is simply taking advantage of the smaller dimensions of Miller Park. It makes sense, after all, Marlins Park is huge and any home run must be crushed in order to make it out. The home run numbers back it up as 2017 Yelich had 18 homers. The 2018 version has nearly doubled that total at 31. However, when overlaying Yelich’s home runs in 2018 over Marlins Park, he would only lose one dinger to park dimensions.
Okay, so Yelich didn’t gain any power benefit from leaving Marlins Park. It could be argued that Yelich is playing in a park that gives up more home runs in favor of stealing hits. The outfield in Marlins is very big and harder to defend line drives than in Milwaukee. Yet here we are with Yelich getting more hits and slugging better than he has in his career.
Before Yelich’s second cycle, Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs.com wrote an article about Christian Yelich and his changes. Jeff pointed out that Yelich had become more aggressive than ever before and was jumping on pitches early in the count. The numbers back that all up and I’m not one to argue with a Fangraphs writer. The aggressiveness is obviously paying off as he’s experiencing a career high in every single Statcast stat (xBA, xwOBA, etc) However, there may be a deeper reason for his improvement.
Throughout Yelich’s career, breaking pitches have been his kryptonite. He does the least amount of damage, swings and misses more often, and strikes out more against breaking pitches. At least that was the case.
|Pitches||Change in Flyball% (2017-18)||Change in Groundball% (2017-18)||Change in wRC+ (2017-18)|
Those aren’t typos, he really has been hitting breaking balls that much better. Yelich is almost punishing breaking pitches as well as he hits fastballs.
Here’s a slash line comparison (AVG/SLG/wOBA):
- 2017 .190/.259/.249 (AVG/SLG/wOBA)
- 2018 .277/.536/.364
While Yelich has not joined the flyball revolution his getting more lift on when it comes to breaking balls.
The biggest difference comes from the curveball. In 2017, his average launch angle on the curveball was -1 degree. Yes, negative. This season it’s seven degrees. That may not seem like a big difference. In 2017, if Yelich hit the curveball it was definitely making a hole in the ground. This year, that ball has a chance to make the outfield on the fly. Do that consistently enough and that’ll create a lot of production.
If what I’ve written down hasn’t convinced you yet, take a look at this gif.
Yelich is clearly lifting the breaking pitch more often and it is leading to success. Remember offensive success is produced through the air, not the ground.
Takeaways from Christian Yelich
If you’re a Milwaukee Brewer fan, go out and hug a Marlins fan because you have been given a gift. Yelich is only 26 years old and under a team friendly contract through 2022! For now, opposing teams in the NL Central feel like Christian Yelich is a nice, little feel-good story. It’s not going to be so feel good when he’s put up three seasons of six plus WAR and constantly hitting cycles. The only good news for the NL Central is at least Giancarlo Stanton didn’t end up with the Cincinnati Reds.
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