It’s easy to forget that Christian Yelich used to be one of the game’s brightest stars.
In 2018, after he was traded from the Marlins to the Brewers, Yelich broke out in a major way. He hit .326 with 36 home runs and collected 110 RBI and 22 stolen bases as well. He not only earned his first All-Star berth that season, but he also won the NL MVP award.
In 2019, he pretty much produced the same kind of season. He actually hit more home runs (44) in fewer games (130 to 147 in 2018). He also led the National League in batting average (.329), OBP (.429), slugging (.671), and OPS (1.100). Yelich finished second in the MVP voting in 2019, just nine first-place votes short of MVP winner Cody Bellinger, who led the NL with an 8.6 bWAR that season. However, he earned a second-straight All-Star nod and collected his third overall Silver Slugger award as well.
Then the pandemic hit. And Yelich’s slide from superstar to just “above-average” player began.
In 2020, Yelich only hit .205 with a .786 OPS in 58 games during the pandemic-shortened season. He still showed off his power that season, as he hit 12 home runs. Unfortunately, things went south in that department the following season.
In 2021, he only hit nine home runs in 475 plate appearances. Last season, he only hit 12 home runs in 671 plate appearances. This is despite producing hard-hit rates of 48.8 percent and 48.6 percent, as well as max exit velocities of 114.9 mph and 117.2 mph, in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
There’s no question that the former Thousand Oaks prep product has continued to hit the ball hard over the past couple of seasons. That said, his inability to launch the ball consistently has been a big reason why his home run and power numbers have been suppressed over the past two years.
Yelich’s average launch angle on batted balls was 2.8 degrees in 2021 and 3.6 degrees in 2022. This correlates with the 55.7 and 59.1 percent groundball rates in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Furthermore, his lack of ability to produce consistent loft under batted balls is a big reason why his barrel rate went from 12.1 percent in 2020 to 7.6 percent in 2021 and 8.2 percent in 2022.
However, there is some hope that Yelich may be starting to see gains in the power department this season.
After a two-homer game against the lowly Kansas City Royals, Yelich has six home runs for the season in 163 plate appearances. His 8.5 percent barrel rate and 5.7-degree average launch angle are his best marks in that category since 2020. And while he is walking less (9.8 percent walk rate) and swinging more (44.1 percent swing rate), his chase rate is 0.6 percent lower than a season ago, showing that his aggressiveness pertains to pitches in the zone rather than outside of it.
One multi-homer game against a team that is last in the AL Central doesn’t necessarily guarantee a turnaround. Then again, for a player like Yelich, who was pretty much a “superstar” in 2018 and 2019, these kinds of performances can be the spark needed to tap into that productive player again.
And that would be a huge boost for not just fantasy managers who roster Yelich, but the Brewers as well as they try to stay atop of the NL Central.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Saturday
Aaron Judge (NYY): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI, BB.
After a solid, though unspectacular start in April, Judge went to the IL on May 1st due to a right hip strain. It wasn’t a long-term deal, as Judge returned to the Yankees lineup on May 9th. However, it looked like he was adjusting at the plate in the wake of his injury, as he had gone 3-for-14 in a four-game span against the Athletics and Rays.
On Saturday though, Judge returned to form as he hit two home runs and collected four RBI in the Yankees’ 9-8 win over Tampa Bay.
Alex Kirilloff (MIN): 3-3, 2B, 2 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI.
The Twins bombarded the Cubs 11-1 on Saturday, and Kirilloff was a big contributor to the Minnesota blowout at Target Field. He not only had three hits but two home runs and three runs scored. Kirilloff has only gotten 22 plate appearances at the big league level this year due to his recovery from right wrist surgery this offseason (which kept him out of Spring Training). However, he could be a big boost for a Twins offense looking for consistency and pop in the lineup.
Dominic Fletcher (ARI): 2-4, 3B, HR, R, 5 RBI.
The “young wave” of Diamondbacks hitters continues this season, and Fletcher may be the latest success story. In 43 plate appearances, he is hitting .462 with a 1.232 OPS. Against the Giants, Fletcher collected five RBI and a home run, the latter being his second of the season. Fletcher provides a high-contact approach at the plate. He walks 4.7 percent of the time, but he only strikes out 14 percent of the time as well. Fletcher is available in 94 percent of Yahoo leagues and 99 percent of ESPN leagues, so he may be worth a flier for fantasy managers looking for outfield depth.
Mickey Moniak (LAA): 3-4, HR, 3 R, RBI, BB, 2 SB.
A former No. 1 overall pick by the Phillies in 2016, Moniak made his season debut for the Angels and made the most of it. He not only hit his first MLB home run of the season and collected three hits, but he also stole two bases as well. Moniak was a key piece in the trade last season that sent Noah Syndergaard to Philadelphia, and the Angels are hoping they can tap into his power and speed combo in Anaheim.
Jake Fraley (CIN): 2-4, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI, SB.
It was a rough season for Fraley last year, as right knee inflammation limited him to only 68 games in his first season in Cincinnati. When Fraley did play, he made the most of it, as he hit 12 home runs and posted an OPS of .812. Now healthy, Fraley has been a huge boost at the top of the lineup, typically hitting behind leadoff hitter Jonathan India. Fraley has five home runs and 28 RBI to go along with a .812 OPS in 121 plate appearances. If Fraley can stay healthy, he could have a season similar to what Brandon Drury had in Cincinnati last season.
Teoscar Hernández (SEA): 3-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.
Hernández was supposed to be a boost to this Mariners lineup from Toronto, but the results have been mixed thus far. He is not just hitting .229 with a .688 OPS, but he also ranks in the bottom of the league in K rate, BB rate, and whiff rate. That’s not good for a Seattle team that traded a young pitching prospect for him this past offseason. Hernández did hit a home run and collect three hits against the Tigers on Saturday, so maybe this series could help him turn things around at the plate.
Luis Robert Jr. (CWS): 2-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Robert can be a polarizing figure among White Sox fans. There’s no question about his talent. However, his penchant for not running out groundballs and dropping easy flyballs are big reasons why some frustrated South Siders were calling for him to be traded at the end of April. Those “trade demands” have seemed to die down from White Sox fans lately, especially with him hitting .268 with a .868 OPS so far this season.
J.D. Martinez (LAD): 1-3, HR, R, 3 RBI, BB.
Martinez was one of the Dodgers’ big (and really only major) free-agent acquisitions this offseason and so far he’s produced when healthy. His OPS is .858 this year, and he has five home runs in only 106 plate appearances. That said, lower back issues put him on the IL starting on April 28th, and Saturday’s contest against the Padres was just his second game back. The Dodgers need Martinez to stay healthy and productive in order to keep pace in the NL West.
Nathaniel Lowe (TEX): 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.
The Rangers are in first place in the AL West, as they are 3.5 games ahead of the second-place Angels as of Sunday. Despite losing Corey Seager to injury back in April, the Rangers haven’t missed a beat, and Lowe is primarily a reason why. The 27-year-old Mississippi State product hit his fifth home run of the year on Saturday, and he is hitting .265 for the year with 26 RBI and 28 runs scored.
While Lowe has seen slight dips in his hard-hit and barrel rates from a season ago, his BB/K ratio has improved from 0.33 in 2022 in 2022 to 0.51 this season. That’s a promising sign that Lowe can get on base in other ways until his batted-ball quality gets up to speed this summer.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)