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Christian Yelich: A Marlins Optimistic View

The 2014 season would be a smashing hit for the Miami Marlins if Christian Yelich develops into a second-year star by improving small amounts on each aspect of his varied skill set.

Mike Ehrmann

The Miami Marlins are banking on Christian Yelich putting up a successful second season for the Fish. That successful second year will have nothing to do with how it translates for the 2014 year; the Marlins are obviously punting the 2014 campaign with no regrets, despite their signings to provide immediate improvement. But any immediate success Yelich finds this year would translate nicely to future seasons, and the Marlins might be on their way to a new star talent.

But how can the Marlins be confident that Yelich will provide that kind of value? His prospect pedigree of course helps. But the fact that he performed so well to start his career should also factor in.

The Optimist's Take

It only takes the review of Yelich's 2013 season to see the positives that were present all around his game.

Yelich swing rates were impressive and indicative of a selective player. He swung at about an average number of pitches in the strike zone in 2013 (63.1 percent versus an average of 62.7). But on pitches out of the zone, Yelich showed great patience and selectivity. He swung at just 22.4 percent of pitches out of the strike zone this year versus a league average of 29.7 percent. Marlins fans knew that Yelich had an advanced approach, and his early start only confirms that. The selectivity led directly to his 11.4 percent walk rate this year; indeed, Yelich's patience excelled to the point that he was fourth on the team in walks with six players behind him who had more plate appearances than him.

His advanced approach in 2013 bought him a pretty 11.4 percent walk rate, and that sort of rate is exactly what you would expect from a leadoff-type player. That is what Miami envisions from him early in his career, as that line drive contact starts to develop into home run swings as he ages. But for now, the Fish would be happy if he made solid contact and continued his run of excellent discipline at the plate. That addition in OBP by drawing walks should help mitigate some of his OBP concerns with batting average.

But where Yelich brings promise is not just at the plate, where he has a refined approach but could use more assistance. Last year, he stole 10 bases in 10 attempts in a short time in the bigs, and most systems expect him to decently in that area as well. In addition, it was easy to see Yelich be aggressive on the bases outside of steals, having watched him take extra bags on singles and help an anemic, power-depleted roster move baserunners. In addition, he will likely show off better defensive abilities this season and become a positive in that regard.

A Marlins Historical Comparison

The type of player Yelich profiles as is one who derives his value from both offense and defense, and his offense from work at the plate and on the bases. When I think of the Marlins and balance, the first thing my mind jumps to is the 2003 World Series team, which was filled with a balanced group of talented four-win players at the top. But two players in particular displayed spectacular balance that season and in seasons going forward: catalysts Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo.

Consider their contributions from 2003 to 2005 for the Fish.

Player, 2003-2005 Batting Baserunning Defense+Pos Avg WAR/year
Juan Pierre -6 +21 +11 3.3
Luis Castillo +17 +10 +35 4.0

Pierre averaged about five runs above average a year on offense overall, while Castillo averaged nine runs better than average. Castillo's edge was on defense, where he was a Gold Glove player who averaged almost 12 runs above average a season, but even Pierre picked up almost four runs a season on defense and was a valuable player overall for three years.

That is what the promise of incremental improvements on Yelich's game can provide. If he is decent player at multiple aspects of the game, he never truly has to excel at the plate to be an above-average or even close to All-Star level performer. If his plate work and power finally show up, he could shoot through the moon with serious advantages in all areas of the game.

The Optimist's Projection

Assuming that a good deal of Yelich's BABIP fortune from last year was a part of the skill he displayed in the minors as well as in 2013 with Miami, I would say Marlins fans could be optimistic for an above-average offensive season at the plate and improved defensive work. The Fans over at FanGraphs are projecting a .280/.361/.425 (.347 wOBA) that would be a more balanced line compared to last year but still a believable one. Combine that with reasonably above-average play on the bases and in left field and the Fans think a 3.3-win season is in line for Yelich next year.

I think that is a good optimistic view of what he could do in 2014. My concern for Miami is that the 2014 year could see him also stagnate under the weight of his current problems at the plate, even despite the great prospect pedigree. More on that later today.