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Mike Yastrzemski looks like a star

Yaz was good last year, and now he may be turning his weaknesses into strengths.

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Yastrzemski spent six seasons in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league system, including 269 games at the Triple-A level, and not once did he get a shot in the majors.

The 2018 Orioles lost 115 games, ranked dead last in position player fWAR, and seven of the 11 players they tried in the outfield were below replacement level. And yet, Yastrzemski never got the call.

Mike Elias took over as the Orioles’ general manager following the 2018 season, but evidently he wasn’t high on Yastrzemski either. The San Francisco Giants, under new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, traded for Yastrzemski on March 22, giving up minor league pitcher Tyler Herb in the exchange.

The Giants called Yastrzemski up to the majors on May 25th of last year, he had his moments, but slashed just .227/.279/.398 through his first 39 games. The Giants informed him on July 14th that he would be sent down, but outfielder Alex Dickerson experienced back tightness and Yastrzemski stayed with the team.

He went 4-for-6 with a double and a home run in his next game on July 15, and went on to hit .296/.363/.580 with a 144 wRC+ for the rest of the season. You can see below how he bottomed out after 39 games then took off after that:

Courtesy: FanGraphs

Yastrzemski ended up with a 121 wRC+ on the season, meaning he was about 21 percent above league average offensively when adjusted for park effects. He was an asset on the bases (1.6 BsR), played solid outfield defense (+3 Outs Above Average) and he was an above-average runner (27.5 ft/sec sprint speed). Also, as David Adler pointed out in February, Yastrzemski’s knack for hitting the ball hard at an ideal launch angle put him in elite company:

Highest % of hard-hit + sweet-spot contact in 2019

Player Rate
Player Rate
Nelson Cruz 26.1%
J.D. Martinez 25.6%
Juan Soto 25.5%
Mike Yastrzemski 25.4%
Cody Bellinger 24.6%
Matt Olson 24.6%
Ronald Acuña Jr. 24.6%
Hard-hit: 95+ mph. Sweet spot: 8-32 degrees. David Adler: Yaz is the legacy you should be watching (MLB.com)

If there were flaws in Yastrzemski’s game, they were related to plate discipline. Despite being well above average overall, Yasztrzemski’s on-base-percentage, walk rate, and chase rate were mediocre.

But what if he was able to turn those parts of his game into strengths? What if he combined his obvious power with better discipline? That might make him a star. And that’s exactly what he’s done so far in 2020:

Mike Yastrzemski plate discipline

Season Zone % Zone Swing % Chase % BB%
Season Zone % Zone Swing % Chase % BB%
2019 49.6% 67.6% 27.0% 7.8%
2020 43.8% 52.7% 17.1% 23.9%
Courtesy: Baseball Savant

Pitchers are throwing Yastrzemski fewer strikes, and he’s not chasing as much (he leads all of baseball with 11 walks). He’s being more selective within the zone. While some of these changes are surely attributable to small sample size, these are encouraging developments, and we know that walk rate, for example, is among the fastest offensive metrics to stabilize (around 120 plate appearances). Yastrzemski won’t keep walking 24% of the time, but it’s clear by now that he should improve upon his 7.8% walk rate from 2019.

Yastrzemski now owns a 130 wRC+ in his major league career. He’s hit both righties (122 wRC+) lefties (159 wRC+). He currently leads MLB in fWAR with 1.0. He recently hit a walk-off splash hit.

Dating back to July 15, the day after he was supposed to be sent down, Yastrzemski has hit .302/.383/.590, with a 154 wRC+ in 317 plate appearances. Here are the majors’ fWAR leaders among position players since then:

Position player fWAR leaders since July 15, 2019

Player fWAR
Player fWAR
Alex Bregman 4.6
Marcus Semien 4.3
Anthony Rendon 3.8
Ketel Marte 3.7
Trevor Story 3.5
George Springer 3.4
Mookie Betts 3.4
Nelson Cruz 3.4
Mike Yastrzemski 3.2
Aaron Judge 3.2

Once again, Yastrzemski’s name appears on a list of stars. Perhaps it’s because he is one.


In addition to his contributions for Beyond the Box Score, Ben Kaspick has contributed fantasy articles for FanGraphs and currently hosts the daily Locked On Giants Podcast. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenKaspick.