Christian Yelich: Miami's Other Star Outfielder
Ladies and gents, it's time for everyone's favorite game: name that Marlin!
On today's edition, I'll present you a stat line. You'll guess which player from Miami's professional baseball team the stat line comes. Then I'll tell you that you are wrong. Ready? Here we go.
Since August 9th, this Marlin is batting .400/.468/.495 with a .421 weighted on-base average (wOBA). This outfielder has a 10.1 walk percentage. He is young, and oh, baby, is he talented.
Now, that last phrase doesn't help us at all. The top three Miami outfielders are all under the age of 25, which is kind of awesome. The mind-boggling .468 on-base percentage would make you think that it's that Giancarlo Stanton guy. Nope. More on him later.
So, if it's not Giancarlo, the .495 slugging percentage may make you think of the young bopper, Marcell Ozuna. Good try, but no, although he is also pretty good at this baseball thing.
The answer is (drumroll, because I'm sure you'll be shocked since his picture definitely isn't at the top of the page) Christian Yelich.
Let me make one thing blatantly clear: I'm not in any way saying that Yelich is better than Giancarlo. Nuh uh. It's just that a) Grantland's Jonah Keri is 15 bajillion times the writer I will ever be, and he already did a dope historical profile of Stanton just a few days ago that you need to read, and b) Stanton's talent and youth are overshadowing just how good Yelich has been. Why does his season warrant discussion, you ask? Let me edify your conveniently inquisitive cranium.
Yelich's Recent Streak
I mentioned above Yelich's stat-line since August 9th: .400/.468/.495 with a .421 wOBA. When your leadoff guy is getting on-base at a .468 clip? That's a good thing. But what has made Yelich doubly dandy is his consistent production over that span.
Over the last 23 games, Yelich has failed to reach base at least once in just one game. That was back on August 10th, meaning he is currently riding a 21-game on-base streak. Mama likey.
In addition to reaching base in 21 straight games, Yelich has only been held hitless three times in these 23 games. That's opposed to 11 multi-hit games and six three-hit games. Mama likey even more. This guy has become the prototype-lead-off hitter, and he is only 22 years old. Yet he can't get any lip-service because his own outfield-mate just happens to be baseball's next power-hitting superstar.
Why This Shouldn't be a Shock
If I were Christian Yelich (if only!), I would actually take mild offense to the above section. While highlighting Yelich's recent heroics is completely accurate, it also downplays how good he has been over the entire course of the season. Yelich ain't no small sample size saint. He has shown flashes of stardom throughout his major league career.
As a rookie, Yelich played like anything but. In his 273 plate appearances, Yelich hit .288/.370/.396 with a .341 wOBA. Although his defensive metrics were below average (-2.5 ultimate zone rating or UZR), he managed to post a 1.4 fWAR. His Oliver projections had him at a .333 wOBA and a 2.3 fWAR for 2014. That would have worked for a 22-year-old. But Yelich is not your average 22-year-old.
Overall this season, Yelich has improved in each of his triple slash categories to post a .293/.373/.426 slash while recording a .354 wOBA. He also took his defense to another level and now ranks third in the league in UZR among left fielders at 11.4. This has helped give him the 4th highest fWAR among left fielders, 14th highest among all outfielders and 28th highest among all batters in Major League Baseball.
In addition to all of this, Yelich is still getting better. Below is a chart of his offensive rate stats throughout the season by month.
I should also note that he's hitting .462/.500/.538 in September with a .441 wOBA. Sure, that's over 14 plate appearances, but I fully expect him to sustain that, or I will lose all hope in his future.
Why the Progression Isn't Done Yet
Yelich is already an incredibly talented outfielder. On almost every team, he'd be the talk of the town. Although Stanton may quash any chances of that while he's in town, the odds that Yelich continues to improve are still incredibly high.
What's the one potential knock on Yelich right now? You could say his power. He only has nine home runs this year to go with 25 doubles and six triples. I say, "you could say" because I wouldn't say that as his .354 wOBA is beyond adequate. But, I'll humor such criticisms just for funsies.
In 2011, Yelich spent the entire season in A-ball for the Marlins. In that season, he had 521 plate appearances, and he went deep 15 times and posted a .484 slugging percentage. He was 19.
The next season, Yelich spent 447 of his 546 plate appearances with the Marlins' high-A affiliate. In those 447 trips to the dish, Yelich blasted 12 home runs to compliment his .519 slugging percentage. Again, this was at the age of 20.
Next year, Yelich will be entering his age-23 season. He is listed as being 6'3", 200 pounds. If he were to fill out that frame more, do you think he'd add a bit of power? Uh, yeah. You can count on it. When he does, watch out because Miami's offense is going to explode.
The Marlins should do whatever they can to keep the Stanton-Yelich combo in tact. Having a high on-base guy like Yelich batting in front of a man with the lumberjacking abilities of Giancarlo is the recipe for a great offense. Add in an improving Ozuna? That's borderline unstoppable.
The only downside of all of this is that Yelich gets overlooked because of his superstar teammate. That won't stop him from becoming one of the league's best lead-off men and a star himself in the not-so-distant future.