When you hit a ball into the ground, you cannot hit the ball out of the park. A novel idea, I know. Last year, despite a groundball flyball rate that was nearly 3.:1, Christian Yelich managed to hit a career high 21 homers. Yelich’s power outburst was largely due to a 23.9% HR/FB%, which is a very high percentage. If you look at qualified hitters, Yelich resided in the top ten in that statistic surrounded by names like Chris Carter, Mark Trumbo and Miguel Cabrera, among other elite power hitters.
So the theory goes, if Yelich could find more loft in his swing, we might really have something special on our hands. A player, who could pop 30 homers, steal approximately 10-15 bases and hit over .300. A player that looks a lot like current version of Ryan Braun. Drafters are expecting somewhere near that upside, given that Ryan Braun is going just ten picks in front of Yelich (ADP: 58.49). Aside from health, Yelich’s value is going to come down to how much power you milk from him… Can we anticipate a power outbreak? Can he find that loft, which will lead to more homers?
Despite his worm-burning tendencies, there are there are some early indications in this extremely small spring sample that Yelich may be on the verge of unlocking that power potential that many have dreamed on. However, before I dive into these early, albeit unreliable indicators, let me first say that spring stats especially this early tell us very little. However, if you are looking for useful spring statistics focus on ones that take a small sample to stabilize. The focus of this article – groundball-flyball rate has an early stabilization point of just 80 balls in play.
Now, we are going to look at a sample that is just a fraction of that stabilization point, but some data is better no data and it is all that we have to examine at this date other than the historical information.
During spring training, Yelich has accrued 17 ABs of which 15 have resulted in a batted ball event along with a sacrifice fly, which does not count as an AB, but is a batted ball event. So we have 16 batted balls with two homers, two doubles, a sacrifice fly and three flyball outs. That is a 1:1 GB/FB ratio. If you took Yelich’s flyball (89) and groundball (251) total from a year ago (340) and halved it to keep in line with his current GB/FB ratio, Yelich would have hit 40 homers at the 23.6% HR/FB% that he posted in 2016. That’s eye-opening.
I want to caution you. That math is dangerous because this is an extremely small sample size, which could fluctuate wildly over the next few weeks. Plus, Yelich’s 2016 HR/FB rate 7% above his career average and his prior career high. However, the utility of this exercise was to show that Yelich has significant power upside well beyond what most would consider within reach if he simply puts the ball in the air more.
With a decrease GB/FB from 4.16 in 2015 down to 2.82 in 2016, it appears that Yelich (or someone coaching Yelich) has noticed this issue and is trying to actively correct it. It is possible that 2017 is simply the next step in Yelich’s evolution. With a push closer to a 2:1 GB/FB, Yelich could turn himself into the present-day Ryan Braun except he would be just 25 years old with plenty of productive years left on his ledger and room for him to improve beyond that.
Many people may contend that, at his current price, there is no profit potential in Yelich. In my opinion, that is wrong. According to Yahoo’s player rater, Ryan Braun was the 36th overall player last year. Ryan Braun only played in 135 games compared to Yelich’s 155. With another 20 games, Braun would have cracked the top 30. If this early spring data is meaningful and the prelude to further progression from Yelich, he could be a top 25 type player. It is something to dream on.