I was actually going to write about Marcell Ozuna, in fact. Ozuna, also acquired out of the now-infamous Marlins tear-down, was considered to be the third-biggest prize (maybe second depending on your opinion on the others at the time) of the Marlins’ core, and it was thought at the start of this season that he had fallen off. Now, times have changed, as Ozuna’s 164 wRC+ has shown that he might still be worth his acquisition price.
That was going to be the story, until a little someone named Christian Yelich hit a 421-foot home run at a whopping 109.3 mph yesterday:
13 homers on the season? That's a Brewer's Dozen. pic.twitter.com/YhCM3qgmQz— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 21, 2019
It’s kind of impossible to talk and talk about Ozuna, who I will eventually get to in his own right, when Yelich is hitting home runs on a 95-home run pace. Other than the home runs, there are just a few other numbers that pop out to an extent that can’t even be believed:
- 14 walks and 15 strikeouts
- .518 ISO
- .880 SLG
- 229 wRC+
- 2.0 fWAR
It’s utterly remarkable that only 13 of his 30 hits are singles, and that Yelich shifted into some other gear last summer that we wouldn’t have expected, say, last spring. It gets even more unbelievable when you consider that stretch starting after last year’s All Star Break: .366/.450/.796 with 38 home runs and a 222 wRC+ over the last 393 plate appearances. For reference, Babe Ruth hit .376/.533/.849 in his Yankees breakout season in 1920, and that was when basically everyone threw 85 mph and no one hit home runs.
Yelich may be helped by the juiced ball, but it’s also during a league where every pitcher throws 100 mph and contact as at an all-time low, it’s something that can’t be believed that a hitter is hitting the home runs, yes, but he is also hitting well above .350 over the last half-season, so basically if Jose Altuve combined with Joey Gallo.
We’ve hit a new gear this year in particular, though. While there was a change for more power (he’s always been hitting for contact), he has now ramped that up in 2019 beyond even his MVP campaign. For one, his launch angle has turned upward significantly...
...which has shown up in xwOBA and average exit velocity:
His only issue last year, in fact, was when he hit a significant number of balls on the ground. Now, that has morphed into a 37.7% groundball rate, which could probably evidence why more fly balls, hit harder, have converted into doubles and home runs.
There is one player projected to have more fWAR when this season is all said and done: Mike Trout. Despite the fact that Cody Bellinger has been on fire, the sample is smaller in terms of hotness than what we can say for Yelich.
While he is likely to regress significantly—even if his BABIP is still a paltry .300—a 150 wRC+ is nothing to sneeze at with a 229 wRC+ to start the first one-eighth of the season. Will it remain Ruthian? Likely not. But with all of the ingredients together—a sky-high exit velocity with a launch angle to now finally support it—we may finally see Christian Yelich’s new form being activated.