Christian Yelich Is Starting to Soar by Jeff Sullivan May 18, 2016 You know who’s figuring it out? Christian Yelich! Not that Yelich ever didn’t have it figured out — his big-league career began with three consecutive 117 wRC+ seasons. He was as steady as anyone you could find, but he kept on occasionally hinting at more, and now he’s showing more more often. He’s 24, and he’s being coached by Barry Bonds. People everywhere kind of saw this coming. Yet it was never going to be automatic. Yelich has put in the work to get to where he is. This is where he is: Your browser does not support iframes. Yelich hasn’t been constantly hitting home runs or anything. You would’ve heard about that. He has five, which isn’t that many, but then his career high is nine. His slugging is way up, and his walks are way up, and his strikeouts are down. Christian Yelich seems to be moving into a higher tier, and he’s among the reasons why the Marlins are hanging around the early playoff race. The improved power is the sexy thing, and we’ll get to that. Improving your power as a hitter isn’t a task. Improved power is the end result of a few other changes, generally. With Yelich, you can see a more restrained approach. He’s been swinging less often, and that means fewer swings at balls, and fewer swings at strikes. I think this is most visible by looking at what Yelich has done against fastballs. On the left, Yelich’s swing rates from a year ago. On the right, this year. Look at where Yelich has been swinging. Look at where Yelich has not been swinging. He’s dramatically reduced his swings down low. He’s also tightened up inside, and he’s focused over the plate. Yelich has shrunk his fastball hitting zone, and that’s allowed him to just hit fastballs better. In the past, when Yelich swung at fastballs, he made contact a little over 80% of the time. This year, he’s made contact 96% of the time. You can’t blow a fastball by Christian Yelich. You can throw a fastball in a place where he might not swing, but Yelich doesn’t mind not swinging. He’s got himself a plan. So, one thing here: Yelich has tightened up. He goes up there knowing what he’s looking for, and he’s reluctant to swing at anything else. That’s one part of being a good hitter, but Yelich is also finding a way to more effectively turn on pitches in. Among lefties, Yelich currently ranks second in slugging percentage against inside pitches. More tellingly, perhaps, examine this table: Christian Yelich Grounder Rates Season GB%, Away GB%, In 2013 63% 66% 2014 66% 58% 2015 66% 61% 2016 69% 44% SOURCE: Baseball Savant Yelich is still, overall, a ground-ball hitter. Against pitches away from the middle of the plate, he doesn’t look different. Against pitches inside from the middle of the plate, though, there’s been something happening. Yelich hasn’t been beating those pitches into the ground. He’s finally — finally — catching some air. Time for Statcast! As always, this information comes courtesy of Baseball Savant. All right, so, Yelich has never been a stranger to hitting the baseball hard somewhere. He’s always made quality contact. One year ago, among left-handed hitters, Yelich ranked in the 97th percentile in average batted-ball speed against inside pitches. The 97th percentile! This year, so far, he ranks in the 96th percentile. The same. No change. Good contact. But last year, Yelich was also dead last in the same group in average launch angle. Against those inside pitches, I mean. This shows the groundball tendency. Yelich this year is still low, but instead of ranking last, he’s in the 21st percentile. His average angle has increased from two degrees to 10 degrees. His median angle has increased from one degree to 16 degrees. I can keep going. I will keep going! Last year, Yelich hit a quarter of these balls in play between 10 and 30 degrees. This year he’s at almost half. Everything just says the same stuff. Whether you use batted-ball buckets or Statcast data, you can see that Yelich is hitting more inside pitches in the air. He’s getting his foot down and he’s getting the barrel out, and he’s driving balls off the ground. Something I’m sure we’ll investigate is whether it’s easy for hitters to change their launch angles without changing their batted-ball speeds. I don’t know how to answer that for the whole baseballing population. I just know what Yelich is pulling off. He’s still successful against pitches away, and he still goes to the opposite field. When the ball comes in, though, Yelich has generated more lift without sacrificing any force. It sounds so simple now. Yelich already hit inside pitches harder than almost anyone. Now he’s just not hitting them into the dirt. Yelich has said he’s not out there looking for homers. In the entire archived history of hitter interviews, I don’t think any hitter has ever said he’s out there looking for homers. Yelich is out there looking to just have better at-bats, with better plans, and with better discipline, and with better swings. Yelich is never going to be a home-run hitter. But home runs are a natural consequence of Yelich getting better in the box, just because of how well he makes contact. We sort of figured this was going to happen eventually. That doesn’t make it something to take for granted.