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The arrival of Christian Yelich

Christian Yelich is finally hitting for power.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Marlins outfielder and Pete Davidson lookalike, Christian Yelich, has been a productive player throughout his career, but as our own Randy Holt examined before the season, many have considered him a disappointment. The root of that disappointment was the lagging development of his power. The potential was there, but the results were not. That seems to have changed.

A cool 174 plate appearances into the 2016 season[1], Yelich’s ISO sits at .204, blowing his previous career-high (.119 in 2014) out of the water. He has hit five home runs and 13 doubles in only 41 games, after hitting seven and 30 in 126 games in 2015, respectively.

Yelich is breaking out, and the exciting part is that this leap could very much be for real. It might be easy to dismiss this as BABIP-driven small sample size success, but the data doesn’t support that conclusion. Yes, he has a .368 BABIP to help his .320/.420/.524 start to the season, but in 1,632 career plate appearances Yelich has a .366 BABIP.

Using Alex Chamberlian’s xBABIP formula laid out earlier this month at FanGraphs, we see Yelich’s 2016 xBABIP come in at .355, and at .361 for his career. This is the player who he is.

Not only does Yelich have the profile to sustain high BABIPs, but the data show that he has altered his approach at the plate. Notably, he is swinging at far fewer pitches out of the strike zone, dropping his O-Swing% from 26.1 percent in 2015 to 15 percent in 2016.

This is part of a larger trend among the Miami Marlins, who have dropped from 31.1 percent to 28.9 percent among non-pitchers. That still ranks in the bottom-half of MLB, but it is a marked improvement, perhaps having something to do with new hitting coach Barry Bonds.

Here's Yelich's swing chart in 2015:

And in 2016:

We see that Yelich has been less of a free-swinger on balls low and out of the strike zone and on balls that are high and inside. Unsurprisingly, pitches in those zones have not resulted in extra-base power for Yelich in his career. Now that he is swinging at pitches that are easier to drive, the power has come around.

If you were forced to make a guess as to which Miami Marlins player had a higher average exit velocity on batted balls this season, you would have to be crazy to guess Christian Yelich over Giancarlo Stanton. Yet entering Saturday, MLB Statcast data show Yelich at an average of 95.0 miles per hour, and Stanton a hair behind at 94.9.

Yelich is tied for third in all of baseball with Mark Trumbo of the Baltimore Orioles in average exit velocity. Only Cameron Rupp of Philadelphia (96.0) and Nelson Cruz of Seattle (95.4) have hit the ball harder with as much consistency. Simply the act of hitting the ball hard does not guarantee power or even hits, but it speaks to the process paying dividends for Yelich as part of his breakout campaign.

Even with some regression, Yelich is finally translating his power potential into games through greater discipline. As long as he stays consistent with this new approach, we have little reason to believe that this can’t be for real.

[1] All stats current entering Saturday, May 21.


Joe Vasile is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and the Broadcasting and Media Relations assistant with the Salem Red Sox, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. He enjoys long walks on the beach, cooking, and making subtle, sarcastic comments on the air. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.