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Miami Marlins' hardest hitter so far is Christian Yelich

No batter on the Marlins has more hard-hit balls on average than...Christian Yelich?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins finished up the month of April over .500 for the first time in over a year, the last time having been in August of 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, part of the reason for the Marlins' success has been their hitting at the plate, as the Fish own the 11th-best wRC+ among non-pitchers in all of baseball. The team's combined batting line among non-pitchers is at .280/.345/.432 (.338 wOBA) is about five percent better than the league average. This is impressive given that Miami essentially did not change their personnel from last season. At least in the first month, certain players are stepping up their offensive game.

Hitting the ball hard is a big part of earning strong offensive numbers; of the top 10 exit velocities among hitters with at least 100 batted balls in 2015, the worst hitter had a 108 wRC+. Hitting the ball hard at least guarantees more hits and more power numbers, and it should generally help keep your batting line afloat. That is why it should not surprise anyone that the Marlins' king of hitting the ball hard...Christian Yelich?

Yelich is eighth on the list of hardest-hit balls on average this 2016 season. Some of those names are also surprises who may fall by the wayside by the time the season finishes up. I don't know that anyone is expecting Cameron Rupp, Avisail Garcia, or even Ryan Howard to stay in the top 10 forever over names like Giancarlo Stanton (16th), Yoenis Cespedes (11th), and David Ortiz (18th) among others. Still, the fact that in the early going, Yelich has been among the ten hardest-hitting baseball players in the game is astonishing given what we know about him.

Yelich has been known for his patience for a long time, and he has certainly stepped that up as well. But Yelich is also well-known as a ground ball hitter, as he owns a career grounder rate of almost 62 percent. He basically has matched his career rates this season as well, as he has a 60 percent grounder rate this year and a 15 percent fly ball rate, both very similar to his career numbers. Very rarely do you see a guy who not only hits primarily grounders but hits them at an extreme rate also happen to hit the ball very hard. Of the 10 listed names in that initial top ten, only two other players other than Yelich owned a career grounder rate over 50 percent (Domingo Santana and Avisail Garcia) from 2013 to 2016.

However, hitting grounders does not mean you cannot hit them hard! Yelich is hitting the average grounder a 92 mph, which actually ranks 36th among hitters this season. He actually ranks better in fly ball / line drive exit velocity, where his average 98 mph fly/liner ranks 17th. But if he ranks 17th in one department and 36th in his more numerous department, how did he end up eighth on the overall list? Part of it is that he has done this by putting up 90-plus mph batted balls on average in both departments, something few hitters can pull off. To date, 46 batters in the big leagues have both an average fly ball/liner and ground ball velocity greater than 90 mph.

However, if 46 hitters have this going for them, how come Yelich is ranked eighth instead of, well, 46th? The key is probably in the same thing he has done all career: avoiding popups. These two categories still do not include popups, which are probably lighter-hit balls at extremely high angles. Yelich has historically avoided such batted balls over his career. MLB Gameday data has Yelich recorded for 22 batted balls classified as popups in 1560 career plate appearances since 2013, a rate of 1.4 percent of all plate appearances overall. He has not recorded a single popup in this past month according to GameDay data, which must play a role in the reason why his velocities are higher than a lot of other players with similar profiles on grounders and fly balls.

Ultimately, Yelich appears to be hitting the ball harder, but a large part of his success is once again owed to his seeming inability to hit popups. The former is a good sign for a player who should be developing power and working on improving the angle of his batted balls to take advantage of strength already present. The latter is one of Yelich's seminal skills and should be present throughout his career provided his approach does not wither. Both are great parts of the next evolution of Christian Yelich, and I cannot wait to see it.