Brewer Spotlight

Holy Yel*ch! Reviewing the MVP’s Unbelievable 2018

In 2018 Christian Yelich tore the cover off the ball. He pummeled opposing pitchers on his way to The NL MVP and almost led The Brewers to The World Series. BREW MATHs charts, graphs and maps his epic season in a highly visual, straight-forward analysis.


“Maybe I should be talking about myself here, but I don’t know … that’s just not me. The real story of this season, if you ask me, is what we’ve done together, as a unit. Without my teammates, I’d be nothing.”

In his letter to Milwaukee last September 26th, Christian Yelich started off by reminding us what makes him so great. The City has quickly become enamoured with their superstar after signing him just over a year ago. When you combine his humanity with his ability at the plate, it is easy to see why…

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  • 2018 General  Stats
    • .326 AVG / .402 OBP / .598 SLG
      • Won the Batting Title by 16 points over Scooter Gennett
    • 118 Runs (one behind Charlie Blackmon for NL lead)
    • 36 Home Runs (two behind Nolan Arenado)
    • 110 RBI (one behind Javier Baez)
  • 2018 Statcast Ranks (RIGHT)
    • Top 5% in exit velocity, hard hit percentage, expected batting AVG, expected wOBA, expected slugging percentage
      • Christian Yelich hit the ball often
      • Christian Yelich hits the ball really hard
    • Top 10% in sprint speed: check!
    • Top 25% in ‘outs above average’: As a fielder, he displays very good range and often makes plays the ‘average MLB defender’ could not.

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  • Out of the 30 MVP ballots cast, 29 of them listed Christian Yelich as #1 for NL MVP
    • Jacob DeGrom received the only other vote for first place
  • Hank Aaron Award – Top hitter in each league
    • 70% determined by broadcasters / analysts
    • 30% determined by fans on MLB.com
  • Silver Slugger – Best offensive player in each league
    • Coaches / managers vote for this
    • Yeli also won this in 2016
  • Christian Yelich’s September: 0.352 AVG / 0.500 OBP / .807 SLG
    • Perspective: Yeli got on base HALF THE TIME in the ninth month of 2018!
  • Oh… and he hit for the cycle twice – the fifth player in MLB history to have two in the same season; they were just 19 days apart and both against the same team… a first!
    • Cincinnati Reds on 08/29 & 9/13

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Yelich is top three in almost every offensive statistical category. It would have been easier to list the categories that he was not. In the overwhelming list above, note how all the ‘#1s’ are highlighted yellow.

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These MLB Statcast Ranks remind us that Yeli hit the ball hard…

  • A barreled ball is one that is hit squarely with the meat of the bat. We see how that leads to scorching exit velocities.
  • Yeli spent a lot of time trotting

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Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is likely the best single stat to gauge a player’s overall value. Yeli’s results speak for themselves.

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SO, HOW DID HE DO IT?!?

2018 TRENDS

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This chart provides us with some context. When we realize that the dotted lines ended up being league leading numbers, any deviation above them is impressive. Yelich almost breaks the damn graph at the end of the year! Over September and October the man hit 0.370 in the midst of a heated pennant race.

RATE STATS

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His rate stats suggest that the statistical rise at the end of the year was a byproduct of learning to optimize the things he can control… Specifically, he is striking out less and walking more (impressively so after game 140).

PLATE DISCIPLINE

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  • This almost seems paradoxical:
    • He is swinging less YET Making more contact
  • Both of these metrics imply he was seeing the ball better as the season went on.
    • He is becoming more disciplined at the plate AND getting more out of his effort.
  • Zone discipline: As the year progresses he actually swings at a lower percentage of balls in the strike zone BUT he hits them more when he does
  • Outside the zone: He is swinging less at pitches outside of the zone AND hitting them more when he does (a machine from the future sent to destroy baseball)

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BATTED BALL

 

  • Over the course of the year Yelich optimized his batted ball stats:
    • LEFT: While there is not an ideal distribution with these stats, one can plainly see how the variability narrows as 2018 progresses.
      • By the end of the season, he is consistently using every bit of the field.
    • RIGHT: He also was able to put more balls in the air as the year went on (especially in the last 30-40 games of the season)
      • It is not coincidence that Yeli’s home runs spiked at the same time he started hitting more fly balls

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  • The two field charts (above) drive home how balanced Yelich is at the plate.
    • He hits everything everywhere:
      • Without a defensive shift: 0.389 AVG
      • With a shift: 0.333 AVG
    • Batting Average By Hit Location:
      • PULL: 0.392 AVG / 9 HR / 34 RBI
      • CENTER: 0.458 AVG / 21 HR / 48 RBI
      • OPP: 0.424 AVG / 6 HR / 26 RBI

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This heat map represents Christian Yelich’s batting average per pitch (in each respective zone). While the numbers might not be all that relevant, focus on the coloring. The only places you can get a pitch by Yeli is high+away and low+inside. You better not miss… even pitches outside the zone are not safe (especially when low). The message to opposing pitchers: tread lightly.

‘BY PITCH’ (Pitch Value)

Pitch Value is based on the ‘game state’… for every pitch there is a situation (runners, count, outs) that leads to an ‘average run expectancy.’ Each pitch thrown then leads to a different state… the difference between the two is how you derive ‘pitch value.’ The same method is applied to hitters with each swing. Outperforming league average leads to a positive score, while doing worse than it leads to a negative score.

Fastballs (0.352 AVG / 0.606 SLG):

  • 21st in the league with the fastball (wFB = 21.8)

Breaking (0.297 AVG / 0.599 SLG):

  • Christian Yelich’s ‘pitch value’ (i.e. wSL) when facing sliders is 9.4. Only five players hit the slider better in 2018:
    • Aaron Judge (12.1), Freddie Freeman (11.5), Mookie Betts (11.2), Paul Goldschmidt (10.0) and Xander Bogaerts (9.6) were higher
  • Yeli was also second best at hitting the curveball (only Javier Baez ranked higher… that hurt to type)
    • wCB: J. Baez – 11.9 / C. Yelich – 10.4

Offspeed (0.291 AVG / 0.570 SLG):

  • With change-ups, Yeli was seventh best in the league (9.4)
    • The Brewer next best with the change…? Hernan Perez (4.0)
  • The only pitch that Yeli did not excel with was the Split Finger (0.9). However, the positive score tells us he was still better than league average.

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MOST VALUABLE SPLITS

  • Pitcher Handedness (AVG)
    • vs L: 0.337
    • vs R: 0.321
  • Location (AVG)
    • Home: 0.324
    • Away: 0.328
  • Temporal
    • 1st Half: 0.292 AVG / 11 HR / 43 RBI
    • 2nd Half: 0.367 AVG / 25 HR / 67 RBI
  • Batted Balls (AVG)
    • Grounders: 0.273
    • Flies: 0.422
    • Liners: 0.757 (!)
    • Bunts: 0.333 (1-3)
  • Situational (AVG)
    • Bases Empty: 0.336
    • Men On Base: 0.312
    • Men In Scoring: 0.325

STATISTICAL COMPs

BY AGE

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BY TEAM (vs BREWERS LEGENDS):

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  • When you compare these Brewers Legends with Yelich’s career this far, we see he is right there with them!
    • While Yount got started a little earlier, their performance at the plate is very similar up to 25 years old.
    • 25-year-old Christian Yelich outperformed the 25-year-old versions of Hank Aaron and Robin Yount… not too shabby!

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WHAT MIGHT 2019 HOLD?

 

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At the conclusion of 2018, Yelich was learning to barrel every type of pitch better… much better! The universal increase in quality of contact is undeniable. He truly seems to be figuring out breaking pitches!

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Not only is he hitting the ball harder but it is translating to more production. The crazy part is he looks to be getting better!

 

  • He is hitting 11.1% fewer grounders than four years ago
  • He is putting 8.3% more fly balls over that same time frame (this starts to explain how his HR total jumped up last year)
  • In a MVP year, he swung at significantly more first pitches
    • This suggests that Yelich is seeing the ball better and as a result, being more aggressive (validated by the fact that the rest of his contact stats improved)

While no one can predict the future, Yelich and Milwaukee seem to be a match made in heaven. His humble approach and giving nature plays well in The Great Lakes Region. The stats suggest that Yelich is poised to play at a “MVP Level” for years to come (and he is still getting better)! While Brewers Fans look ahead, Christian Yelich will be focused on doing the impossible… improving upon one of the best seasons a player has ever had. Regardless of what the future holds… Milwaukee and their MVP are invested in the present:

“We may not be a team overflowing with superstars, and we may not be on national TV all the time or get all the headlines or whatever, but I know we have something special here. And it’s largely because none of that stuff matters to us. All we do is go out, grind and hustle, and compete like there’s no tomorrow.”

 

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