In an offseason that seemed like it was slower than molasses most of the time, the Milwaukee Brewers made one of the winter’s biggest splashes with a couple well-timed win-now moves.
They revamped their outfield in the span of a couple hours by acquiring Christian Yelich via a trade with the Miami Marlins before announcing they also reached a deal with free agent Lorenzo Cain to the tune of five years and $80 million. Milwaukee has found itself hanging on for dear life in the playoff picture after a fast start to the season, but these two major acquisitions have been doing just about everything possible to make October baseball a reality for the franchise.
Both outfielders have taken their respective games up a notch since the All-Star break, but Yelich has been so incredibly hot that he’s actually elbowing his way into the National League MVP conversation. Prior to Monday’s Labor Day action, here’s where his second-half performance has ranked in the Senior Circuit:
And for good measure, Yelich’s 204 wRC+ through 187 plate appearances since the midsummer classic leads all qualified hitters.
When we look at how his batted-ball profile from this season compares to the rest of his career, there are some subtle differences, but it’s not exactly something that should bring such a substantial shift. The below table shows what his line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), and fly-ball rate (FB%) looked like entering 2018, and then how it’s changed from the first half to the second half.
Yelich has remained a ground-ball-heavy hitter, but that ratio is starting to move in the other direction. An increase in line drives could certainly make a difference, but this is all made possible due to a huge spike in hard contact.
Prior to getting this season started, the young outfielder owned a career hard-hit rate of 35.1%. Entering the All-Star break, that number was up to 45.2%, and it has risen even higher to 51.5% in the second half.
This has been spearheaded by a shift in plate approach, as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs points out. The 26-year-old has historically been a patient hitter, but he’s progressively gotten more aggressive throughout this year, which has helped lead to more success when looking at launch angle.
He’s also crushed changeups and curveballs in 2018, two pitches that gave him a hard time last year. During his final season with the Marlins, he posted a 48 wRC+ and .081 ISO against changeups, along with a 44 wRC+ and .037 ISO against curveballs. So far this year, he’s improved those numbers to 116 and .185 against changeups and 163 and .277 against curveballs, respectively.
The Brewers already had a solid player on their hands, but it looks like Yelich is reaching that next level as he approaches the prime of his career.
About Matt Musico
Matt currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.