As impossible as it seems, reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich is continuing the torrid pace that he set during the second half of the 2018 season.
Through April 3, Yelich already had four homers (all of which coming in the first four games of the season, matching an MLB record) and was slugging 1.000 with an OPS of 1.531; despite looking like a regression candidate, Yelich continues to ascend.
How is he doing this, and can he maintain such a high level of production?
Setting the tone
Yelich had shown All-Star potential since his playing days in Miami, but his 2018 season was a real spectacle to witness. He was productive in the first half, hitting .292 with 11 homers and 12 stolen bases.
But after the All-Star break, Yelich exploded. He hit .367 with an absurd .770 slugging percentage, clubbing 25 homers and driving in 67 runs to the tune of a 1.219 OPS. Yelich also posted a ridiculous 220 wRC+ in the second half alone, a number that can only really be compared to Barry Bonds.
And yet certain elements of his incredible season just seemed totally unsustainable. For example, Yelich’s ground ball rate was over 50 percent in 2018, while he hit homers on 35 percent of all fly balls.
In other words, although he only hit the ball in the air around 23 percent of the time, he was basically hitting one home run in every 15 at-bats. For reference, Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez averaged over 15 at-bats for every homer.
Indeed, Yelich struggled in the postseason. Despite having a productive series in an NLDS victory over the Colorado Rockies, he hit just .179 with a .624 OPS in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yelich had a hard time getting on base despite his strikeout percentage remaining on par with his season average, so it seemed to be a sign that perhaps his luck was running its course.
But as we have quickly discovered, that is far from the truth.
Can he really sustain this?
Again, it is important to stress that this is still just the beginning of the season, and the sample size is extremely small. That being said, Yelich might be even more dangerous this season.
Through six games, Yelich’s fly ball percentage had soared above 52 percent, wth 40 percent of those going for homers. His line drive percentage stayed above 21 percent as well. And his isolated power? A staggering .682, far above Cody Bellinger’s (despite Bellinger having an additional homer, similar slugging percentage and higher batting average).
If Yelich is only beginning to discover his power and looking to increase his launch angle (thus far he is averaging a 21.2 degree launch angle), he immediately becomes one of the best hitters in baseball because of the steady line drive percentage as well as his ability to hit to all fields.
What will be interesting to digest is whether or not more pitchers in the National League start to actually treat him in Bondsian fashion. Yelich had six walks through the first six games of the season, but only one of those was of the intentional variety.
Perhaps Christian Yelich is simply an even better hitter in 2019, in which case pitchers in the NL Central should run for the hills.