Christian Yelich's Power Surge Is Putting Him in Elite Company
During the 2009 MLB season, there were 42 hitters to post a .300 batting average or better. Those days are long gone, as last season, just 20 hitters reached the .300 mark, one of whom was Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich.
However, even rarer are the hitters who can hit for a high average, maintain a high on-base percentage (OBP), and post a high slugging percentage.
Yelich has always been able to hit for average, as he posted a .290 career average in 1,458 plate appearances entering this season. He's improved on that total in 2016, posting a .310 average in 547 plate appearances. The same can be said for his OBP. Yelich owned a career OBP of .365 prior to this season, which for reference, was a total just 24 hitters reached or bettered during the 2015 season, and he has increased it to .386 in 2016.
While Yelich proved to be well above-average in these two categories, he struggled to keep pace when it came to his power. He owned a career .406 slugging percentage and a .116 Isolated Power (ISO) entering this season. The league average for these stats in 2015 were .405 and .150, respectively, suggesting that Yelich offered below-average pop.
His home run total would suggest the same, as he hit just 20 taters for his career before this year, and 16 over the past two seasons combined. However, this low total has seen a massive jump because of Yelich's increased power this season.
Christian Yelich just slugged his 16th homer of the season. He had 16 homers combined in 1,185 plate appearances from 2014-2015.
— D.J. Short (@djshort) August 30, 2016
Yelich hit his 16th home run of the season on August 30, and since then has hit two more taters, giving him 18 on the year. He's just two longballs shy of doubling his career total in one season and he's having a monster year because of it. This total is boosted by a current three-game home run streak, all against the New York Mets, and his latest bomb -- a three-run shot -- proved to be the difference in a 6-4 win on Thursday night.
Y luego, @ChristianYelich, aportó nuevamente a la causa de #LosMarlins con este JR. https://t.co/T4yIDusfcO pic.twitter.com/TUyVkOIMwI
— Los Marlins de Miami (@LosMarlins) September 2, 2016
Yelich owns a .499 slugging percentage and a .189 ISO this season, both career-best marks and both above the current league average (.419 and .163 respectively). The huge increase in his slugging percentage has him on the edge of joining an elite group of hitters.
So far this season, only eight qualified hitters own a slash of at least .300/.380/.500, and Yelich is just outside of joining because of his .499 slugging. The Marlins still have 28 games left this season, meaning there's plenty of time for Yelich to reach the .500 mark, something that was even more elusive last season.
Check out the four hitters who were able to accomplish this feat in 2015.
Talk about elite of elite.
This is an impressive group of hitters and their wins above replacement (fWAR), according to FanGraphs, shows that they were also among the league's most valuable players. While Yelich doesn't quite have the power numbers yet to become part of this group, his fWAR suggests he deserves to be part of the gang anyway.
Yelich currently owns a 4.4 fWAR, which is 20th-best among hitters this season. His his wRC+ (138) and wOBA (.379) agree with this ranking, as they are tied for 18th and 22nd, respectively, and are both easily career highs. Yelich was a 4.5-win player in 2014, so he's shown his impressive value in the past, but how has he virtually matched that this season in 113 fewer plate appearances?
Simply put, Yelich is crushing the ball when he makes contact. His 38.3% hard-hit rate is not only four points higher than his previous best mark, but it also ranks 24th this season. When coupling this with career-highs in line drive percentage (24.8%) and fly ball percentage (18.1%), we see clear indicators of why Yelich's power has increased.
Ground balls tend to go for extra-base hits less often than line drives and fly balls, and Yelich has lowered his ground ball percentage to 57.1% this season, his first year with a total below 61.0%.
Rest of Season Outlook
In early May, I wrote how the new dimensions of Marlins Park would perhaps benefit Yelich the most of any Marlins hitter. While he hasn't been helped this season by the fences being moved in, Yelich's power surge has occurred nonetheless.
We currently project him to hit 3 more home runs, bat .300, and post an .858 OPS over the rest of the year. Yelich should be able to stay above a .300 batting average and a .380 OBP, but reaching the .500 slugging mark will be close.
Regardless of whether he makes it or not, he's already shown to be one of baseball's most valuable players this season.