Christian Yelich signed a seven-year, $49.57 million contract this offseason with the Marlins after an impressive 2014 campaign. Yelich made his big league premiere in 2013 and put together a very respectable season in 62 games that resulted in an impressive on-base percentage of .370 and an overall fWAR of 1.2. He played extremely well and improved as expected in 2014 producing an overall fWAR of 4.3. Let's not forget he did all of this in his age 21 and 22 seasons.
Most would look at Yelich and assume he's an Ichiro-style slap hitting lefty with speed, and for the most part they would be right as he hit ground balls 61 percent of the time. However, Yelich flashed signs of power with a very impressive HR/FB rate of 11.5 percent which was above league average. With flashes of power at such a young age and frame, it is reasonable to assume Yelich could flash even more power as his body matures.
In 2014, he brought down his strikeout rate quite a bit from his debut season in 2013 while managing to maintain an above-average walk rate that led to a .362 on-base percentage. What was very impressive was his approach at such a young age.
Yelich showed an advanced ability to zone in and limit the number of times he extended his zone to swing at pitches. His percentage of swings on pitches outside of the zone shows his plate discipline, but his overall swing percentage shows just how selective of a hitter he was who also made contact at an above-average rate. So, he showed flashes of power, which will likely increase as he ages, and excellent plate discipline at a young age, so it was reasonable to assume that 2015 would be an absolute breakout year for him.
Well, his start to the season has been rather disappointing. Let's start with the numbers.
His walk rate has dropped quite a bit which has paired with a huge spike in his strikeout rate. So what's up with the decline? A couple of things.
He's been more aggressive thus far as his swing percentage on pitches in the zone, overall swing percentage, and swing percentage on pitches outside of the zone have all seen an increase. He's been more aggressive at the plate but making contact at an alarmingly lower rate.
What's stood out is how pitchers have approached Yelich so far this season. Pitchers have been attacking Yelich outside much more this season, especially with the hard stuff. In 2014, Yelich saw about 54 percent of his pitches on the outer portion or off the plate. Of the 2,811 pitches he saw in 2014, about 32.5 percent were hard pitches on the outer portion or off the plate.
Pitchers have attacked him away substantially more this season. In fact, of all lefties in baseball who have seen 100 pitches, Yelich has seen the fourth highest percentage of pitches on the outer portion or off the plate. He also ranks fifth among lefties in the percentage of hard pitches he's seen on the outer portion or off the plate. He's seen 236 pitches in 2015, and 159 of those have been away. Of those 159, 110 have been hard away. Doing the math for you, roughly 46 percent of the pitches he's seen have been hard away, while roughly 67 percent of the total pitches have been away. That's an increase of about 13% for both from 2014 to 2015. This difference has tremendously affected Yelich's numbers, particularly against hard pitches. Here's the difference so far.
It would be nice to see what big league teams have as a scouting report on Yelich, but from what we've seen so far in 2015, it has to mention throwing him hard and away. Yelich has seemed uncomfortable at the plate this season, but the season is still young, as well is Yelich, so this is a trend that you should keep your eye on.
All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball.
Brandon Decker is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score as well as BP Wrigleyville. You can find him on Twitter @bdeck02.