Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AnalysisMLBNational LeagueNL WestSan Francisco Giants

2020 Outlook – Mike Yastrzemski

The journey for any young child entering into the family business is never an easy path. The expectations will always be higher and the criticism, more frequent. The shadows cast by past generations often loom large and are sometimes, insurmountable. Since he was old enough to step into the batter’s box, Mike Yastrzemski has had to live in those family shadows. His grandfather, widely considered to be one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game, has created a situation for his grandson where anything less than a Hall of Fame career will somehow seem disappointing.

The 2019 season for Yastrzemski was truly a tale of two halves. He did not burst onto the scene like Aristides Aquino or set any rookie records like Pete Alonso, Yastrzemski actually spent the first half of the season about as close to average as statistically possible.

Yastrzemski posted a 0.1 fWAR / 88 wRC+ over the first half of the season and through the all-star break was the 122nd ranked outfielder, just ahead of names like Phillip Ervin and Yairo Munoz. His first-half numbers were unspectacular by any metric, even more so when you factor in his last name.

Usually, players use the all-star break as an opportunity to rest their body and mind, correct any weaknesses and start the second half of the season on a tear. Yastrzemski did (not do) exactly that, by going 0 – 10 in his first three games after the break. Then, Yastrzemski found his slump buster, a cloudy afternoon game at Coors Field. In his first at-bat of the game, Yastrzemski took at 2-2 slider from German Marquez 433 feet to the deepest part of the park. He finished the day 4-6, falling just a triple shy of the cycle.

Over his next 15 games, Yastrzemski would raise his OPS from .677 to .817, eventually finishing the season with a .852 OPS. His 2.1 fWAR / 136 wRC+ was good enough to be the 15th ranked outfielder in the second half of the season.

When looking at these splits, two major questions come to mind:

  1. What are the reasons for the drastic improvement?
  2. Which Mike Yastrzemski is going to show up in 2020?

I think if we can find the answer to the first question, we can have some insights into the second.

Identifying the reasons why a player has improved over a period of time is difficult to quantify. Slight mechanical adjustments can yield significant results. That being said, there are some obvious reason for Yastrzemski’s second-half improvement

Arguably, the two most important things when hitting a baseball is bat speed and quality of contact. The logic behind this makes sense, the harder you hit a ball, the further it goes.

However, when looking at Yastrzemski’s Hard Hit % we can see that he hit his first 90 batted balls (130 PA) just as hard as he hit his final 180 (281 PA). Except for a few brief games in April, Yastrzemski has been above average in Hard Hit % since he came into the league.

So if Yastrzemski wasn’t hitting the ball harder, then perhaps he was seeing the ball better? His 6.2% walk rate in the first half of the season improved to 8.6% in the second half. This number rose even higher to 10.9% in September. To further this point, Yastrzemski’s K% went from 28.5% in the first half, to 25.0% in the second half.

The argument can be made that Yastrzemski’s plate discipline matured as the season progressed and it allowed him to capitalize on the fact that he was already hitting the ball hard. That being said, a solid batted ball profile and slightly improved plate discipline does not turn a replacement-level player into an all-star overnight.

One of the better measures of quality of contact is Barrel %. A barrel is any hit that has a launch angle between 26-30 degrees and an exit velocity of 98 mph. A hit that is considered a “barrel” will generally lead to a minimum batting average of .500 and a slugging percentage of 1.500.

With his improved plate discipline and hard-hit profile, Yastrzemski was able to barrel up pitches, which was the catalyst for his second-half turnaround.

What did that mean for his numbers? Yastrzemski saw improvements in almost every major statistical category in the second half of his season. His improved plate discipline, lead to an improved launch angle, an improved launch angle lead to more barrels and lead to vastly improved actual and expected statistics.

Now, what Mike Yastrzemski can we expect to see in 2020?

Well, the oldest adage in baseball is “keep your eye on the ball” and if Mike Yastrzemski can follow that simple rule in 2020, his second year in the league may begin where his second half ended.

Oh, and no article about Mike Yastrzemski would be complete without a comparison to his grandfather….so let’s look at their rookie seasons side-by-side.

Now, I’m not saying that Mike Yastrzemski is destined to be a better baseball player than his Hall of Fame grandfather. What I am saying, is that if history does, in fact, repeat itself, the newest Yastrzemski is only going to get better from here.