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Christian Yelich's surprisingly decent campaign

When you start as slow as Christian Yelich did, it is easy to let it slip past that he is actually having a decent 2015 season.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

By the end of April 2015, Christian Yelich had suffered a back injury that eventually landed him on the disabled list and had battled through an ugly .200/.265/.222 (.225 wOBA) batting line. Things could not look worse for the guy who just signed a smart seven-year extension with the Marlins, and there were folks around who were ready to claim that he was awful.

Well, to no surprise to those who backed Yelich from the start, he has rebounded nicely.

Yelich, 2015 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA fWAR
April 49 .200 .265 .222 .225 -0.2
Rest of Season 380 .298 .368 .415 .343 2.0

If we take that rate from his last 376 plate appearances and extend it into a 660 plate appearance sample like that of last year, you get a 3.3-win rate for a full year. That is not all that far off from what he did last year, when he put up a 4.3-win season according to FanGraphs.

And these numbers are based on UZR, which is estimating that Yelich has been good, but not amazing with the glove in left like he was last year. DRS differs, having Yelich at a +11-run season in left field. Even if you do not buy into that, however, you can still see that, in 429 plate appearances, Yelich has put up around a two-win season. Prorate that to a full campaign and you get an expected three-win year had he avoided his two disabled list stints.

What does this all mean? It means that, despite the ugly start, Yelich has recovered well enough to be an above-average player in 2015. This is a huge surprise for fans who saw the first few months of the season and quit on Yelich being a contributor this year.

Here is a surprising comparison point for the 2015 campaign: Christian Yelich is hitting as well as Dee Gordon.

2015 Season PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA fWAR
Christian Yelich 429 .287 .357 .393 .331 1.8
Dee Gordon 554 .328 .355 .408 .332 3.5

Gordon is way ahead on playing time and has been a better defensive contributor this year than Yelich, but it is jarring to see two guys who could not have started any differently this season approach the end of the 2015 campaign tied in terms of their batting line. Gordon's flashy batting average is impressive, but his on-base percentage is equivalent to that of Yelich's and his slugging percentage edge is only due to the extra singles he has hit. Yelich is right next to him in terms of hitting value, which is a far cry from where they were by the end of May.

April-May 2015 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA fWAR
Christian Yelich 134 .220 .284 .293 .260 -0.2
Dee Gordon 221 .377 .405 .444 .367 2.1

Gordon has regressed a good deal since then, but Yelich has climbed significantly higher since that end of May. Part of the reason for the resurgence is a decrease in strikeouts, as he whiffed in just 16.6 percent of plate appearances versus walking in 10.1 percent of chances. Obviously he has struck the ball better as well, as his soft-hit ball rate has decreased to 17.0 percent in the second half from 20.6 percent in the first half. We detailed part of the reasoning for the resurgence regarding shedding his older approach and being more aggressive on pitches low and out in the strike zone, and that makes some sense given his ability to go the opposite field. Like he did last season, Yelich is hitting extremely well to the opposite field, batting .434 with a .627 slugging percentage and 13 of his 21 doubles.

Yelich is closing in on basically matching his numbers from last year.

Yelich, Season PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2015 429 .287 .357 .393 .331 108
2014 660 .285 .362 .402 .341 117

The long climb back to respectability has been achieved, and had Yelich stayed healthy for much of the campaign, you can bet that his numbers would have looked even better over a full year. The early hand-wringing about his seemingly lost strike zone was more likely to be associated with the on-and-on adjustments of the game of baseball. Pitchers realized Yelich was too patient, so they inched closer to the zone and stayed low and away in order to get him to see more strikes. Yelich has great plate recognition, so he began adjusting after his back injury and swung more often. More importantly, those swings are making contact like they did last season. And once he is making contact, while he is still hitting the ball into the dirt all too often (66 percent ground ball rate this year), he has not popped up at all again this year. That makes his .356 BABIP, which is identical to last year's mark, more believable.

Yelich is a well-oiled hitting machine once again. The kinks from the early part of the year are completely gone, and now he is once again at the top of his game. If he begins to up his line drive power into homer power as he ages, the Marlins should still have an exciting young player on their hands for the next six years.