By The Numbers: Christian Yelich, Adalberto Mondesi, and Cleveland’s Listless Lineup
Last season, Christian Yelich deposited his fourth home run on May 16. He didn’t even wait until April to go deep four times in 2019.
After an offseason of wondering how the reigning NL MVP could possibly sustain a 35.0% HR/FB rate that fueled his late-season power tear, he touched them all in each of the Brewers’ first four games. In his last 72 contests dating back to 2018’s All-Star break, Yelich is batting .364 with 29 home runs.
This early in the season, numbers can deceive more than Lord Petyr Baelish. Some cases, however, offer glimpses of a new norm. It’s far too early to reach any conclusions, but this version of Yelich could cement his status as a top-tier superstar.
Those who don’t care for launch angle immediately turn to Yelich to dispel the metric’s merit. The outfielder hasn’t shied away from the debate either. After slugging Milwaukee into the postseason, Yelich discussed the hot topic with MLB.com’s Joe Trezza in early October.
“There has been no conscious change on my part, no buying into launch angle,” Yelich said. “I stuck with what I’ve been doing my entire career, with a few adjustments — but focusing on launch angle was not one of them. There were some, but that wasn’t one of them.”
Last season, per Baseball Savant, he averaged a 4.7-degree launch angle on his batted balls. Six games into 2019, that rate has elevated — get it? — to 21.2. He found the sweet spot on all four dingers, each of which traveled at an exit velocity above 102 mph with a launch angle in the 22-36-degree range.
No, Yelich is not going to break Prince Fielder’s‘ single-season franchise record of 50 home runs. He still might not match last season’s 36. A steep regression, however, is looking far less likely. A locked-in Yelich could once against bat above .300 with 30 long balls, 15-20 steals, and plenty of run production. If drafting now, it wouldn’t be surprising — or even a drastic overreaction — to see him snagged with the third pick after Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.
Adalberto Mondesi: 7 XBH … and no walks
Mondesi backers must be exhausted from all those victory laps. Five games into the season, the preseason’s greatest source of consternation has slapped two doubles, three triples, and one inside-the-park home run for the Royals. No other player has tallied more than one triple, and nobody else besides Jonathan Villar — often cited as a cheaper draft-day pivot — has offered a hit of every variety.
Because he keeps passing first base, Mondesi has stolen one base in his only attempt. There’s no reason to worry about that; not even his greatest skeptics doubted his speed. It was all a matter of whether he created chances to run, as the infielder attempted 39 steals despite reaching base just 89 times in 2018.
While supporters sip the sweet taste of vindication, critics may still have their druthers. After all, a microscopic 3.8% walk rate stopped cautious drafters from taking a ride on the wild side. He has yet to draw a free pass in 20 plate appearances. He has, however, incurred five strikeouts. That approach is eventually going to catch up to him, right?
Perhaps, but it may not matter if he keeps hitting with authority in the second slot. It’s far to early to reach conclusions. At least the hot start isn’t mere good luck, as he has already plastered six barrels. Besides, examining a sell-high opportunity is probably a waste of time. Given his rapidly ascended draft price, Mondesi is likely already rostered by his biggest fans.
Cleveland Indians are batting .160 with 2 HRs
Yeah, it’s early, but shame on Cleveland. This is a franchise seeking its fourth straight AL Central title and first World Series win since 1948. The club has two superstar cornerstones in the infield (Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor) and an elite five-man rotation that will earn a combined $41.1 million in 2019. All management needed to do was find a few useful position players. They didn’t even have to be Bryce Harper of Manny Machado. Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Moustakas, Andrew McCutchen, and/or Nick Markakis all would have represented sizable upgrades. Heck, even Adam Jones would have helped.
A week into 2019, the Indians’ offense has unsurprisingly cratered without Lindor. Dominated by Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Carlos Rodon, they have scored 13 runs in five games. I had to keep re-checking my math to make sure this was right, but they’re slugging a woeful .231 with baseball’s highest soft-hit rate.
Most notably, Jose Ramirez has again stumbled out of the gate, going 3-for-21 with a double. This alone isn’t cause for panic, as he held a .427 OPS 10 games into 2018 before homering five times in nine contests. When paired with a sour ending to his stellar season and a knee injury suffered at the end of spring training, it’s enough to make managers antsy.
Ramirez investors should not cash out unless presented with a package worthy of a first-round talent. They also, however, must realize that even at his best, he’s not going to register another 110 runs or 105 RBIs in this putrid lineup. And until Cleveland makes some moves or a healthy Lindor saves the day, this is a lineup to target with reckless abandon when streaming or playing DFS.