Yelich Brings his Talents to…. Bradford Beach?

Full disclosure, I had this article written early in the off season before Christian Yelich was traded and even before Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton were traded. The reason I held off on posting it is because the Marlins began  gutting their entire team and it was looking like Yelich was going to be surrounded by  minor leaguers and league average veterans. Alas, Yelich got himself out of Miami up north to Milwaukee. The same day, the Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain and all of a sudden, the outfield is now crowded. I fully expect the Brewers to trade Domingo Santana for pitching because Ryan Braun has 5/10 rights and likely isn’t going anywhere. So how does the move from Miami to Milwaukee change Yelich’s value? Let’s find out.

Check out his new digs

I’ve always been a fan of Yelich.  He’s an athletic kid that does all things well on the baseball field.  He’s one of those guys who’s not exceptional at anything but good at everything, know what I mean?  Plus he’s entering his age 26 season and could be primed for a breakout. We have to be careful not to over value Yelich because of the trade. Just looking at park factors for home runs, (100 being neutral or average) Miami falls around 85 to 90 depending on the source and Milwaukee is around 105. Miller Park is typically known as a launching pad but in recent years the park factors show that it’s only slightly above average for home runs and Marlins Park hasn’t played as bad for home runs as it has in the past.  So while this should certainly help Yelich, it may not be as big of jump as some may think.

I know I said I didn’t want to over inflate his value due to the move to Milwaukee but I can’t help it! Yelich’s career road wOBA is .363 with a wRC+ of 128! We aren’t talking about good numbers on the road, those are perennial all-star type numbers. He’s even stolen more bases on the road 41 to 31 in his career (for whatever that’s worth), probably nothing. Speaking of stolen bases, Jeff Zimmerman of fangraphs recently wrote an article about how managers influence stolen bases. Would you look at that! Craig Counsell is one of the most aggressive managers in terms of sending runners while Don Mattingly is about 6% to 7% below average. Now, it’s important to note that Milwaukee is going all in this year and being ultra aggressive on the base paths is not a great strategy for winning ball games. So, he may dial back the green lights a bit but should still be more aggressive than the Marlins. Man, this is getting difficult to not get excited.

I mentioned that Yelich is entering his prime, and he already makes hard contact, takes walks, can run a little bit, and should hit somewhere in the top three spots in the batting order. Roster resource has his leading off. I don’t love that for his production but it makes sense.  His ONLY real problem is his GD Ground Control.  The kid beats baseballs into the ground to the tune of 59% for his career! That’s insane, but at least he hits line drives right?  Right guys…. Guys?  You there?  

I may have lost the extreme launch angle guys with that information. Ok, so a lot of people will argue that Yelich is who he is at this point in his career with over 2800 PAs and 4.5 seasons to his name.  I’m taking a leap of faith and saying that Yelich continues to evolve as a hitter and will continue to get better.  Maybe it’s because I’ve just always liked him as a ball player, but take a look at some batted ball info:

Season FB% Hard% Pull% wOBA
2013 13.8% 34.3% 32.0% 0.341
2014 17.8% 34.2% 27.8% 0.341
2015 15.0% 33.1% 31.7% 0.343
2016 20.0% 38.0% 36.0% 0.367
2017 25.2% 35.2% 33.3% 0.348

Now if can combine his increased FB% with a career high Hard% & pull%, we might have something! Nearly every year Yelich has increased his FB% (with the exception for 2014).  This seems like a conscious decision. We all know a pulled flyball has the best chance to get out, and Yelich’s pull percentage isn’t as high as you’d like for hitting home runs; but Yelich is a great hitter to all fields and can hit the ball out the other way better than most. What’s more, in the second half of 2017 Yelich hit 29.3% of his balls in the air.  So, now we are getting somewhere.  You can see that in 2016 Yelich had his best offensive season mostly due to his career high Hard% and HR/FB over 20%, but he also pulled more balls and continued his trend of hitting more fly balls.  If you’re wondering, Yelich almost never hits popups (2.5% for his career), so he can increase hs FB% without giving himself up with popups.

What’s your angle Bro?

For me, I think he can put together the best season of his career in 2018. A stat I Iike a little more than FB% is average launch angle because it’s a little stickier” year to year because it encompasses all batted balls. Here are Yelich’s average LA (in degrees) since 2015: 0.0, 2.5, 4.5. Now those aren’t great for home runs but balls hit from 0-10 degrees are valuable. So this backs up his increased FB trends. And just to check in on his 2nd half increased FB%, I took his last 200 BBE and averaged his LA, which comes out to 6.3 degrees. At 200 batted balls, LA is more accurate, so this justifies his 2nd half FB% increase.  With that information, I believe he continues his FB trend and 28-30% FB is a reasonable expectation, that along with making more hard contact at age 26 is possible. The move to Miller Park is great for Yelich and the surrounding cast is also very solid. To keep expectations in check, we have to remember Yelich hit in the middle of a lineup that was stacked and had career years from both Stanton and Ozuna, so his production in terms of runs and RBI likely won’t improve from 2017.

PROJECTIONS

For 2018, assuming Yelich hits leadoff, I’ll give him: .289/.371 24 HRs, 15 steals, 98 runs, 69 RBI. If he hits 2nd, not much changes, a few less runs and a few more RBI. If he does hit in three hole, expect a couple less steals but close to a 90-90 in the R + RBI department. Basically, that’s Hosmer with speed! Here’s another good one, what’s the difference betweenYelich Andrew teammate Ryan Braun? Not peak Braun, mid-30s Braun. Nothing, except health, I’ll have Yelich ranked over Braun all day. Currently Yelich is going around 70th overall but I expect that to bump up 15 or so spots with this move. It will interesting to monitor as the season approaches. Around 55 overall you’ve got guys like Hoskins, Buxton, Cruz and Hamilton. That sounds about right to me. I’d take him over Buxton and Hamilton but probably not over Cruz or Hoskins.