Christian Yelich will tell you there haven’t been any swing changes. He’s not trying to make a more uppercut swing. Cubs fans will tell you it’s all the product of strange vents and signals at Miller Park. Brewers fans will tell you they just got the right player at the right time. There’s obviously way more to it and different than that, but whatever the cause, the Brewers have a player who is living in Trout-land this year (you really need to take a minute to consider that as bananas as Yelich’s season is, this is the year Trout puts up every time out. This is just the norm for him. He just shits them out).
While it certainly hurts that the Cubs placed calls to the Marlins about Yelich only to watch him go up the wrong side of I-94, they never could have matched the package the Brewers sent south, nor could anyone have predicted this is what the Brewers would get. While Yelich was certainly entering or had just entered his prime upon moving from Miami to Milwaukee, you don’t expect this kind of spike. “Spike” probably doesn’t even convey it correctly. “Eruption” comes closer.
So what’s fueling the jump from his Marlins days to last year, and last year to this year? Appears to be a couple things, but we’ll see if we can’t find out.
As a Marlin, Yelich used to be your gap-to-gap, line-drive guy. And he still hits a fair amount of line-drives, but over the past two seasons he’s been less and less concerned with going the opposite way. Though when your home stadium rigs your pulled fly balls to ride the jet stream into the bratwurst of Bob and Beverly from Fond du Lac, why wouldn’t you pull the ball as much as you could? Yelich’s opposite field percentage dropped to 27% last year from its usual perch around 30%, and this year it’s a mere 20% as he’s gone whole-hog on the grip-and-rip-it school of hitting philosophy.
He’s taken that last part to a bit of an extreme this year, as he’s swinging at almost 10% more pitches in the zone than he did last year. For the first time in his career he’s above league-average in that department. And much like Anthony Rizzo, there doesn’t seem to be too many places you can go on him now that he can’t get to and do something with. Look at this stupid chart:
So like, low and in is just about the only place. But he can cover all the way past the outside corner while also being able to turn on anything on his hands, keep it fair and send it far. That’s a pretty small target to hit to find salvation on him. Even compared to last year, you really have to go to the extremes to make him miss, and he’s still awfully disciplined so he’s not going to chase the ridiculous:
So yeah, you can’t throw strikes to him because he’ll crush those, and he won’t chase but if he does he’ll probably get to those too and deposit it in a gap somewhere. Great.
Yelich is also hitting the ball harder than just about anyone else, though he always has. His average exit-velocity has always been 92 MPH or above, except for his last year in Miami. So all the Brewers had to do was to encourage him to get it higher, and well here you go. There’s been a ridiculous spike in that this year, with 38.5% of his contact being considered fly balls, compared to just 23% last year. And this is where you might see some swing changes:
So everything in the middle of the zone he’s sending up now, same goes for high in the zone, and even above the zone he’s putting into the air. And in case you think he’s wasting his time going above the zone, he’s slugging over 1.000 in each of the three spots above the strike zone. You can’t beat him high. But go low in the zone and he thwacks those for the line-drives he still puts up and slugs over 1.000 there too. So yeah, you’re fucked.
And the Brewers have needed it to hang on in the Central, thanks to Lorenzo Cain turning into a fine paste at the plate and Jesus Aguilar running dropping and breaking the vial of magic elixir he had leftover from last year. No one has backed up MVP wins in the NL in a decade since Pujols did it. Cody Bellinger will have a say, but the Dodgers are going to be fine if he drops off a bit. The Brewers need every single bit of this from Yelich. Lucky it looks like this is what he is now.