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.

Will the Yankees Break the Single Season Home Run Record?

The all time record for home runs in a single season is 264 held by the 1997 Seattle Mariners.  Some things that come to mind as I write this:  The team was comprised of peak Ken Griffey Jr., a hulking Jay Buhner who hit 40 bombs that year, a young stud shortstop named Alex Rodriguez, and this was of course during the steroid era. In fact, prior to 2017, eleven of the top fifteen home run hitting teams played during the steroid era.  There is some debate on when the era began and ended, I’m going with 1991 through 2003 for reference.  In 2017 however, The Yankees led the way with 241 home runs good for 9th all time! The Astros and Rangers were not far behind, both jumping into the top 15.  So naturally the team with the most power in 2017 adds even more power with Giancarlo Stanton in 2018.

The knee jerk reaction to the question in the title is yes, the Yankees will demolish this single season home run record. They added the best power hitter by HR/PA in this generation coming off a 59 home run campaign, so why wouldn’t they break the record?  To get to the answer we first have to look at batting order and plate appearances.  Based on the information above it may not surprise you to know that the Yankees led the majors in plate appearances with 6,354. That comes out to over 39 PA per game, 39.22 to be exact. The average for all teams in 2017 was about 38 PA/game, so it’s really only about 200 more PA over the course of the entire season above the league average.  For reference the Cubs led the league in PA in 2016 with 6,335.  So let’s go with a slight regression for the Yankees in 2018 based off this information to 6,340.  Here’s a table showing the  number of PA by spot in the bating order using our estimated 6,340 as a team in 2018.

Order GS PA % of PA PA Using
6,340
Batting 1st 4860 22678 12.24% 776
Batting 2nd 4860 22136 11.95% 757
Batting 3rd 4860 21632 11.67% 740
Batting 4th 4860 21153 11.42% 724
Batting 5th 4860 20621 11.13% 706
Batting 6th 4860 20110 10.85% 688
Batting 7th 4860 19581 10.57% 670
Batting 8th 4860 18978 10.24% 649
Batting 9th 4860 18406 9.93% 630
Total 185295

I rounded them to the nearest PA to make the math easier. Now we have to figure out the batting order and since we know the same 9 players won’t play all 162 games, we have to adjust for that.  Since this is theoretical, let’s assume 145 games played for all starters and 135 for Gary Sanchez at catcher (but can also DH). For second base I’ve combined Torres and Torreyes not only because their last names are so similar but the position is Torreyes’ until Glayber Torres is healthy and ready to be called up.  That could be in the first few weeks, it could be mid season, I don’t know.  I don’t expect Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier to be on the team all season, in fact, I expect one to be traded before the season starts, so those 250 PA are essentially for one player.  After all is said and done the total number of plate appearance has reached 6,340.

Projected Lineup  Position Plate App.
Brett Gardner CF/LF/RF 695
Giancarlo Stanton RF/DH 678
Aaron Judge LF/DH 662
Gary Sanchez C/DH 603
Greg Bird 1B/DH 632
Didi Gregorious SS 616
Aaron Hicks CF 600
Chase Headley 3B 581
Torreyes/Torres 2B 630
Bench
Ellsbury / Frazier OF 225
Romine C 200
Dustin Fowler OF 95
Tyler Wade SS/2B/3B 120
Total 6340

Finally, let’s get to the home run projections. I’ll fly through the “low power” hitters but will go into more depth for the Yankee Bombers: Stanton, Judge, Sanchez, and I’ll throw Bird in there as well.  The Bench:  Tyler Wade and Ellsbury are speed guys with minimal power; Wade hit a career high 7 in 2017 in 450 PA and Ellsbury has settled into a 7-10 home run hitter (outside of the 2011 season).  Fowler has some developing pop but is only above average based on Eric Longenhagen’s 50 raw power grade.  Frazier has a similar 20 home run power upside but neither of them will get much playing time with the already crowded outfield.  Catcher Austin Romine has never hit more than 7 HRs in a single season.  So, without much analysis I’ve projected this bunch of players to get 640 total PA (by this estimation); which is basically a full season for one player; should only get about 15 HRs.  Working our way up Torreyes; he has almost no power to speak of and Torres while having significant power upside, will only be 21 and has a season career high of 11.  I do expect Torres to get more of the PA, so I’ll put the home run total at 14 for the #9 spot in the order.  Headley, ugh. We have a 33, soon to be 34 year old third baseman with below average power.  He’s averaged 13 home runs over the last 5 years.  I’ve got him at 13, simple.  This isn’t looking good right now.  We are at 42, only 223 to go!  Aaron Hicks is a wild card, he’s a very good player but can’t stay healthy.  Luckily for me in this experiment, he does stay healthy!  Over the course of his career, he’s averaged 1 home run for every 38 PA but had 15 HR in only 361 PA in 2017 or 1 HR every 24 PA.  He’s in his prime and playing in a good hitter’s park, I’ll have him somewhere in between and give him 21 HR.  On to Didi Gregorious.  I don’t like his projections, check out my bust post about him.  In there I have him pegged for 15 HRs, so that’s what we’ll go with.  Brett Gardner was a surprising source of power in 2017 hitting over 20 for the first time in his career (21 to be exact). He did it with a career high 13.5% HR/FB which at age 34 seems high even for a lefty playing half his games at Yankee Stadium. I say he drops back down to around 11.0% and hits 17 home runs in 2018.

This is where things get interesting.  Greg Bird is a prototypical power hitting left handed first baseman. He’ll be 25 during the 2018 season so he’s entering his prime.  He’s not Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton in terms of power but who is?  Given his 24 HR in only 348 PA in the majors, you can expect big things from Bird given a full season of at bats. His 50% FB rate combined with hard contact and Yankee Stadium provides some high hopes. Yes, he will strikeout and hit popups limiting his batting average, but all we care about in this article is home runs.  All that being said, I’ll give Bird 32 home runs in 632 PA.
Gay Sanchez has been a monster since entering the majors in August of 2016 hitting 53 home runs in 177 games! His PA/HR almost matches Aaron Judge’s: 13.8 PA/HR to 14.2 PA/HR. In this experiment I’ve projected less PA for Sanchez due to the wear and tear catchers have to deal with day in and day out.  Now Judge does hit more fly balls and hits the ball harder and a result, his HR/FB% is higher as you’d expect (33.3% to 29.3%).  These are both elite. I do expect both to drop in 2018 because it’s difficult to improve on rates that high even for the best power hitters in the game.  I expect Sanchez to be around 25% and Judge to be around 28-29%. That brings us to 35 home runs for Sanchez and 44 home runs for Judge. 

We have 206 projected home runs for the 2018 Yankees with Giancarlo Stanton to go. He needs 59 to get the Yankees to 265 for the season. Isn’t that a coincidence, he he hit 59 in 2017 and will now be playing half his games at Yankee Stadium.  Although I’ve seen articles that overlaid Yankee Stadium over all his home runs from 2017 and it would have added between 1 and 3 home runs for the entire season.  Why?  Well, because a 475 foot fly ball is a home run anywhere. In 2017 Stanton changed his approach, he changed his stance to where his front foot is extremely closed.  It helps him see the ball better and limits his leg kick creating more contact. It helped cut his strikeouts down below 25% for the first time but did lower his hard contact. That’s OK though because Stanton, along with Judge, can hit a ball at 80% and it be a home run.  I have Stanton hitting 2nd giving him 678 PA which is 14 less than he had in 2017. His 34.3% HR/FB was a career high (not a surprise) but he did have a 32.1% HR/FB% in just under half a season in 2015, so it’s not insanely high for him. His FB% was under 40% and his IFFB% was a career high, so those are bad signs but I do believe in the decrease in strikeout rate.  He cut his SwStr% by almost 3% and his O-Swing% was below 28% for the first time in his career.  Ok, enough with analysis, what’s his HR total for 2018?

I’m going with 50 HR for Stanton in 2018. The Yankees fall 9 home runs short of breaking the record and 8 short of tying it with 256 home runs in 2018.  It’s interesting because on the surface it looks like a virtual lock that the Yankees will break this record in 2018.  It’s possible that Stanton, Judge, Sanchez and Bird all stay healthy for a full season giving 150+ games each and break the record but guys like Bird and Hicks haven’t proven to be healthy for a full season and Stanton has certainly missed his share of time. Sure, the 2018 Yankees could demolish the record by hitting 280 or something like that but if I’m putting money down on it, I’d bet against it. There’s too many variables and things that need to go right for the Yankees for this to happen.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be awed by the spectacle of every 500 foot bomb hit by Judge and Stanton and enjoying the chase for 265.