Every Team Should Be Interested in Christian Yelich
The Miami Marlins went into the 2017 season featuring one of the best outfields in all of baseball. They boasted the imposing Giancarlo Stanton, the exciting Marcell Ozuna, and the consistent and sleek Christian Yelich -- three players all well under 30 and under team control for a number of years.
You could make an argument -- maybe a pretty easy one -- that Miami had baseball's best outfield trio.
Then, Derek Jeter's ownership group purchased the team this off-season and engaged in their much-publicized teardown. Stanton was traded to the New York Yankees, Dee Gordon was shipped off to the Seattle Mariners, and Ozuna was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals. That leaves Yelich all alone in an outfield that was once one of the most envied in all of baseball.
And now, he wants out, too. The Marlins have said they want to build around Yelich, but they are also reportedly listening to trade offers for their star center fielder. Yelich doesn't get the press that Stanton and Ozuna get, but just how good is he?
In each of his first four MLB seasons, Yelich has topped 30 doubles and has never posted an on-base percentage (OBP) lower than .362.
He has been worth 3.7, 3.5, 5.3 and 3.9 bWAR over the last four years, and his fWAR totals are even higher -- 4.5, 2.4, 4.5 and 4.5. That's also awesome. In fact, out of 289 qualified players since 2014, only 26 have a higher combined fWAR over that stretch (15.9). He's also never had a batting average below .282 in any of those seasons.
He's missed a few games here and there for a variety of injuries over his first four full seasons, but Yelich has played 155 and 156 games in the last two seasons, so he's durable. Among qualified MLB center fielders last season, his 4.5 fWAR was tied with George Springer for fourth-highest, his .369 OBP ranked fourth, and his weighted runs created (wRC+) of 115 was tied with Lorenzo Cain for seventh.
The defensive metrics liked him, too, last season, giving him a Fangraphs Def score of 2.4, one of 12 center fielders in positive territory.
Not Much Power
The reason Yelich doesn't get the attention that his former outfield-mates get is that he doesn't provide the power output those guys do. Stanton, after all, was MLB's home run king last season, blasting 59 homers, and Ozuna added 37. Yelich, meanwhile, had just 18 bombs in a season that saw homers hit at a record level across baseball. Even among center fielders, a position that has traditionally not required much power from its inhabitants, Yelich's 18 dingers ranked ninth out of 18 qualified players.
Yelich's .156 isolated power (ISO) was 12th-highest among center fielders, and his .439 slugging percentage was 11th. He set a career high in dingers in 2016 with 21, but he was in the single digits in both 2014 and 2015. Barring a power surge -- not impossible since he's just 26, but also not likely -- he's not going to be a gigantic run producer.
Get It In The Air
Yelich is already a very good baseball player, as evidenced by his WAR totals and on-base skills. The fact his on-base percentage and batting average have remained so consistently high over the last four seasons shows he's a guy who's going to avoid making outs, the most important thing a hitter can do.
But can he be even better?
Yelich routinely hit the ball hard last season, with an average exit velocity off the bat of 90.4 miles per hour, according to StatCast, tied for 29th in baseball among the 540 hitters and pitchers who came to the plate in 2017. However, he "barreled" up a baseball in just 4.7% of his plate appearances last year, tied for 181st (according to StatCast, a "barrel" is anytime a player hits the ball in such a way that the exit velocity and the launch angle makes it most likely a ball will leave the yard).
Last season, Yelich hit a ground ball 55.4% of the time, slightly less than his career mark of 59.1%, but that was still the sixth-highest rate among qualified hitters. Because of his speed and contact rate, he's always posted a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP), with last year's .336 BABIP the lowest of his career but still much higher than the league average of .298.
But if Yelich increases his launch angle and hits more fly balls, those power numbers should spike, although his batting average could also take a hit as fewer fly balls traditionally wind up as base hits as opposed to grounders.
The bottom line is that Yelich is a really good baseball player. While he may be more ideally suited to man a corner outfield spot, his ability to get on base at the top of a lineup is a valuable commodity. He also has a ridiculously good contract that runs through 2022 that teams are salivating over, and he enters the 2018 season at just 26 years old.
There is a reason that so many teams have already called Miami about the possibility of trading for the young center fielder, and Miami would likely net an impressive haul if they sent Yelich packing.