Five years ago, Christian Yelich was in the midst of a breakout. In 2018 and 2019, Yelich was pulling the ball and hitting the ball harder than he ever had in his career. I personally thought that the Brewers figured out whatever had caused Yelich to pound the ball into the ground with the Marlins. Now, we stand in 2023 and Yelich has not reached those gaudy power numbers since 2019, though his ability to draw a walk still exists. Through June 18th, there are signs that Yelich may have tapped back into that power, albeit in a different manner.
The quickest and easiest way to tap into power is to pull the ball and get it in the air. Yelich was certainly a beneficiary from that adjustment in 2018 and 2019, but in 2023 he’s doing something different. He’s hitting the ball more to the opposite field, and getting much better results from that approach.
I think the most visible connection is in the last 10 games. As Yelich increased his Oppo%, his Hard Hit% also increased. When the Oppo% dropped, so too does his Hard Hit%. There’s a somewhat similar relationship with his Pull% Soft% and GB%:
From the Pitch Highlighter page on Baseball Savant page, the majority portion of Yelich’s field outs are on the infield dirt to the right side. The coinciding launch angle graphic shows that even though those balls are hit on harder, their launch angle is too low to lead to any damage.
Compared to the balls that fall into the “Barrels” and “Solid Contact,” a much larger share is going towards center and opposite field, with only four extra base hits to his pull side:
His statline tracks with this:
Yelich is seeing major production when he hits the ball to center and left field, on par with his MVP Season in 2018. In June alone, Yelich’s groundball% is his lowest of his career at 48.5% with an Oppo% of 41.5% and a Hard Hit% of 58.5%, leading to a wRC+ of 152 and a wOBA of .399.
It seems like he’s found an approach that works for him, though I can’t find any written pieces pointing to concrete changes at the plate. My best guess is from looking at his wOBACON and xwOBACON, we see the upper left corner of the zone where Yelich is damaging on contact. It’s clear, in general, that Yelich’s hot zones are middle and the upper two thirds of the strike zone.
My immediate instinct says that Yelich is letting those pitches up and away travel deeper and driving them to left field or center field rather than trying to dead pull everything, but I can’t find information on his hit direction related to pitch location. Currently, my goal is to attempt to create some mapping using Statcast data and Python. But for now, I have time so I just went and watched the video of Yelich’s extra base hits and created a reel of 10 of the most recent clips.
I would say about 7 of these hits are on what I’d consider the outer half of the plate. It’s telling to me that these also came against majority righties (132 wRC+ against righties versus 70 wRC+ against southpaws). Yelich may know that they’re going to attack the outer half with offspeed and is waiting for those pitches to counterattack. Yelich may never approach 30 or 40 homeruns again, (and that may have been due to a different ball) but 20+ homeruns and 25+ doubles are well within his reach if he continues this pace.
As the summer continues on, we’ll have to see if this production holds or if pitchers will adjust to Yelich. It seems like softer stuff low in the zone are giving him the most trouble in 2023. Yelich’s production will always be buoyed by his ability to draw a walk but his ceiling for 2023 can be considerably higher if he continues to drive the ball to the opposite field.