Christian Yelich: Bucking the Trend in the Era of the Launch Angle

MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 28: Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers at bat during a game against the Detroit Tigers at Miller Park on September 28, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Brewers defeated the Tigers 6-5. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 28: Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers at bat during a game against the Detroit Tigers at Miller Park on September 28, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Brewers defeated the Tigers 6-5. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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Christian Yelich won the 2018 NL MVP despite going against the grain. While the launch angle revolution has taken MLB by storm, Yelich is bucking the trend.

StatCast was introduced in all 30 stadiums in 2015, the same year Christian Yelich broke into the big leagues. Armed with the comprehensive data StatCast provided, like launch angle, exit velocity, even spin rate among others, players began to transform the way they played the game.

Except, of course, for Christian Yelich.

Since 2015, launch angle (LA) has increased in MLB each year. As a result, the league is moving away from hitting the ball on the ground in an effort to elevate the ball more.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how LA has impacted ground ball (GB) to fly ball (FB) ratio:

  • 2015 –  LA (10.1°) and GB (47%) : FB (19.8%)
  • 2016 –  LA (10.8°) and GB (46.1%) : FB (21.2%)
  • 2017 – LA (11.1°) and GB (45.3%) : FB (22.4%)
  • 2018 – LA (11.7°) and GB (44.5%) : FB (23.1%)

To be fair, Christian Yelich has also increased his LA. In 2015, when he broke in to the league, he had an even swing which was measured at exactly 0°. Since then, he’s elevated his swing by a grand total of 4.7°, still 7° below the league average.

As a result, Christian Yelich ranks in the bottom 10 in all of MLB in GB/FB ratio (2.20) and 12th in GB% (51.8%)

So, how does a guy who literally bucks the trend wind up winning the 2018 NL MVP? Well, there are two things Christian Yelich does that has made him one of the best players in MLB.

First, Yelich is a dead center hitter who evenly distributes the ball to LF and RF. This makes it very difficult for teams to neutralize his hitting by utilizing the shift. Here’s a breakdown of Yelich’s 2018 batted ball profile compared to MLB:

More from Call to the Pen

  • Pull%
    • MLB Average: 36.3%
    • Christian Yelich: 29.6%
  • Straight%
    • MLB Average: 38.2%
    • Christian Yelich: 43.2%
  • Oppo%
    • MLB Average: 25.5%
    • Christian Yelich: 27.3%

On average, MLB players have a tendency to hit the ball to the side of the field from which they bat. So, a lefty tends to hit the ball to left, and a righty tends to hit the ball to right. Being so predictable enables fielders to adjust their positioning, thereby neutralizing a batters ability to hit.

While Christian Yelich also pulls more than he oppo’s, his distribution is much more even when compared to the MLB average. Because of this, fielder’s tend to play him straight up, creating more openings for Yelich to attack.

Another reason why Yelich is such a good hitter is because he packs a lot of power behind his swing. Since entering MLB in 2015, Yelich has been in the top 10% of hitters in exit velocity.

From 2015 – 2018, MLB has averaged 87.3 MPH exit velo on batted balls, while Christian Yelich averages 91.6 MPH.

Combine his ability to spray the ball to all fields with a high exit velo, and you have yourself a recipe for success against defenses. Not only can the opposing team not predict where Yelich has a tendency to hit the ball, he hits the ball so hard that they don’t have the reaction time to make plays.

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In the era of the launch angle, Christian Yelich has been successful by doing the exact opposite. It’ll be interesting to see if the league follows his lead.