Smith: Reigning NL MVP Yelich starts right where he left off
Keegan Smith | Wednesday, April 3, 2019
In January of 2018, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins in exchange for a slew of Brewers prospects. Though Milwaukee knew it was getting a stud outfielder, even it could not have seen how essential Yelich would become to its everyday lineup. The acquisition hoisted the Brewers to the top of the NL Central, resulting in the team’s first division championship since 2011. Their 2018 playoff run ended after a 4-3 series loss in the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but their young outfielder from Thousand Oaks, California, is picking up right where he left off just a season ago.
Last season’s National League MVP is hot out of the gates to start the 2019 season, after blasting four home runs in the Brewers’ opening four-game series against the Cardinals. In fact, Christian Yelich was able to contribute a home run in each of the four games, tying the MLB record for most consecutive games with a home run to start the season.
Perhaps the most fascinating part about the slugger’s success is his swing and its unconventional nature. Last season, Yelich recorded the 16th-lowest launch angle percentage in the MLB at 4.7 percent. Nobody in the top 15 lowest launch angles recorded more than 22 home runs in the 2018 season. What all this means is that Yelich has a very shallow swing. His swing suggests that he keeps the ball on the ground and profiles as more of a contact hitter than anything. However, Yelich finished his 2018 campaign 12th in home runs, hitting 36, earning him the NL MVP award.
To put things into perspective, last season, he ranked 373-of-392 in fly ball percentage for all batters with at least 150 at plate appearances. Conversely, he finished the season 35th in ground ball percentage for all qualified batters. Yelich hardly got the ball in the air when he made contact, but when he did often times the ball traveled over the fence. Outside of Luke Voit who only recorded 161 major league at bats in 2018, Yelich lead the MLB, hitting a home run on 36.4 percent of his fly balls. Yelich is doing things that baseball has never seen before and there is no end in sight.
There is really no explanation for Yelich’s numbers. Many thought that his incredible 2018 numbers were inflated by an insanely high batting average on balls in play and home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB%) but he is quickly proving those people wrong in the early stages of the 2019 season. Surely Christian Yelich is due for some sort of regression at some point this season but his 166 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) last season suggests that he is one of baseball’s most dangerous offensive weapons. At just 27-years-old, the outfielder’s ceiling is as high as anyone in the MLB and he will be a player to watch for years to come.
The Milwaukee Brewers have a long way to go in the 2019 season, but Yelich’s flashes of greatness suggest that they are still the team to beat in the NL Central, despite past success from the Chicago Cubs and successful offseason moves by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.