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The struggles of Yelich and Hiura - Let the numbers talk!


jonescm128
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We all know most of the success of this team lays on Yelich and Hiura being as productive as they have been in the past. 2020 and 2021 have not been kind to them and there have been theories on injury, sign stealing, mechanical changes, coaching, etc, but I think its pretty easy to see what is so different by taking a look at the numbers provided by Baseball Savant. Let's start with Yelich...

 

The first thing that pops out is his walk rate:

 

2018 - 10.4%

2019 - 13.8%

2020 - 18.6%

2021 - 17.1%

 

In a vacuum, this is a good thing. He is getting on base. But digging a bit deeper its because he is taking more pitches and being less aggressive and letting the pitcher dictate the at bat...

 

Swing%

2018 - 44.3%

2019 - 45.2%

2020 - 34.6%

2021 - 40.5%

 

First pitch swing %

2018 - 28.9%

2019 - 29.7%

2020 - 13.4%

2021 - 17.1%

 

Important to note here is he is getting less first pitch strikes the last two years compared to his 2019 season (2019 - 54.8%, 2020 - 50.6%, 2021 - 50.0%)

 

Meatball swing %

2018 - 81.3%

2019 - 81.3%

2020 - 66.1%

2021 - 77.8%

 

Whiff %

2018 - 22.8%

2019 - 28.2%

2020 - 33.6%

2021 - 30.6%

 

Zone contact %

2018 - 85.4%

2019 - 83.8%

2020 - 78.1%

2021 - 78.1%

 

Chase %

2018 - 25.1%

2019 - 27.9%

2020 - 17.7%

2021 - 17.1%

 

Some of these numbers are very interesting but in summary - He is swinging less in total - particularly at the first pitch - missing more, - especially in the zone - but is also chasing less. It seems to me he is letting the pitcher dictate the at bat instead of ambushing the pitcher early. These are just a few metrics that jumped out to me but there is so much more they capture. I encourage you to take a look! https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/christian-yelich-592885?stats=statcast-r-hitting-mlb

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Keston is a bit easier to identify since anyone who has watched the games can see he is struggling to make contact with pitches in the zone but here are the numbers behind it…

 

Zone swing %

2019 – 72.9%

2020 – 71.4%

2021 – 71.5%

 

No real change here. He is swinging at the same amount of balls in the zone.

 

Chase %

2019 – 31.8%

2020 – 30.4%

2021 – 32.5%

 

Again, not too much of a difference here. A bit higher but nothing too material.

 

Here is where it really starts to get noticeable…

 

Zone contact %

2019 – 74.6%

2020 – 64.4%

2021 – 55.1%

 

Meatball %

2019 – 6.2%

2020 – 7.2%

2021 – 9.8%

 

Meatball swing %

2019 – 78.0%

2020 – 80.3%

2021 – 74.4%

 

He is getting more meatballs but swinging at them less. This caused me to look at the type of pitch he was seeing…

 

2019

Pitch % seen % whiff

Fastball 65.7 30.9

Breaking 26.9 46.4

Offspeed 7.4 46.3

 

2020

Pitch % seen % whiff

Fastball 60.6 41.0

Breaking 28.9 43.0

Offspeed 10.5 50.0

 

2021

Pitch % seen % whiff

Fastball 53.6 47.6

Breaking 35.3 54.7

Offspeed 11.0 24.0

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So Huira was sitting fastball in his rookie year and pounding them. Pitchers realized this, started throwing more breaking and offspeed pitches, and Huira has been completely confused and guessing wrong far too often??

"The most successful (people) know that performance over the long haul is what counts. If you can seize the day, great. But never forget that there are days yet to come."

 

~Bill Walsh

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So Huira was sitting fastball in his rookie year and pounding them. Pitchers realized this, started throwing more breaking and offspeed pitches, and Huira has been completely confused and guessing wrong far too often??

 

His K% on fastballs is pretty telling too...

 

2019 - 28.1%

2020 - 40.3%

2021 - 52.9%

 

His K% on breaking and offspeed has remained relatively unchanged over the years but its the fastball K-rate that is really killing him.

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Plate discipline numbers stabilize relatively quickly, but it's also important to note that 2020/21 Yelich is only 317 PAs so far compared to 1231 PAs for 2018/19, so we are still talking about samples that are magnitudes apart in size.

 

Now, there is no doubt that Yelich has been more passive since he busted his knee cap fouling a pitch off of it, but you can already see that he is getting more aggressive this year than he was last year & as he gets more comfortable in the box & with his spine I'd imagine his approach will continue to likewise evolve.

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I miss Braun. At least when he struggled he wasn't garbage.
"This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while.
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Plate discipline numbers stabilize relatively quickly, but it's also important to note that 2020/21 Yelich is only 317 PAs so far compared to 1231 PAs for 2018/19, so we are still talking about samples that are magnitudes apart in size.

 

Now, there is no doubt that Yelich has been more passive since he busted his knee cap fouling a pitch off of it, but you can already see that he is getting more aggressive this year than he was last year & as he gets more comfortable in the box & with his spine I'd imagine his approach will continue to likewise evolve.

 

Yep that is obviously the caveat here. You kind of have to put an asterisk on the whole 2020 season and Yelich and Hiura definitely haven't had the ABs this season to justify a trend but it is still interesting to see the numbers. Really enjoy digging into the stuff Baseball Savant has.

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Plate discipline numbers stabilize relatively quickly, but it's also important to note that 2020/21 Yelich is only 317 PAs so far compared to 1231 PAs for 2018/19, so we are still talking about samples that are magnitudes apart in size.

 

Now, there is no doubt that Yelich has been more passive since he busted his knee cap fouling a pitch off of it, but you can already see that he is getting more aggressive this year than he was last year & as he gets more comfortable in the box & with his spine I'd imagine his approach will continue to likewise evolve.

 

Yep that is obviously the caveat here. You kind of have to put an asterisk on the whole 2020 season and Yelich and Hiura definitely haven't had the ABs this season to justify a trend but it is still interesting to see the numbers. Really enjoy digging into the stuff Baseball Savant has.

 

Does Savant have heat maps for swing frequency/wOBA within different sections of the strike zone?

 

My personal, totally unsubstantiated theory is that during his breakout Yelich was doing a lot of damage jumping on pitches inside/down, but post-injury he has been laying off those pitches for fear of drilling another one off of his knee.

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Plate discipline numbers stabilize relatively quickly, but it's also important to note that 2020/21 Yelich is only 317 PAs so far compared to 1231 PAs for 2018/19, so we are still talking about samples that are magnitudes apart in size.

 

Now, there is no doubt that Yelich has been more passive since he busted his knee cap fouling a pitch off of it, but you can already see that he is getting more aggressive this year than he was last year & as he gets more comfortable in the box & with his spine I'd imagine his approach will continue to likewise evolve.

 

Yep that is obviously the caveat here. You kind of have to put an asterisk on the whole 2020 season and Yelich and Hiura definitely haven't had the ABs this season to justify a trend but it is still interesting to see the numbers. Really enjoy digging into the stuff Baseball Savant has.

 

Does Savant have heat maps for swing frequency/wOBA within different sections of the strike zone?

 

My personal, totally unsubstantiated theory is that during his breakout Yelich was doing a lot of damage jumping on pitches inside/down, but post-injury he has been laying off those pitches for fear of drilling another one off of his knee.

 

Yes they do. I dont know how to paste pictures but here is the link of all the zone charts. You can filter by year.

 

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/christian-yelich-592885?stats=statcast-r-zones-mlb

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Does Savant have heat maps for swing frequency/wOBA within different sections of the strike zone?

 

My personal, totally unsubstantiated theory is that during his breakout Yelich was doing a lot of damage jumping on pitches inside/down, but post-injury he has been laying off those pitches for fear of drilling another one off of his knee.

 

Yes they do. I dont know how to paste pictures but here is the link of all the zone charts. You can filter by year.

 

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/christian-yelich-592885?stats=statcast-r-zones-mlb

 

Thanks for the link, looks like my theory has some degree of teeth...

 

Middle/Middle: Swing % / wOBA

 

2018: 81 / 649

2019: 81 / 625

2020: 66 / 416

2021: 75 / 524

 

Middle/In: Swing % / wOBA

 

2018: 75 / 393

2019: 76 / 439

2020: 66 / 427

2021: 69 / 221

 

Middle/Down: Swing % / wOBA

 

2018: 60 / 467

2019: 63 / 532

2020: 57 / 260

2021: 63 / 098

 

Down/In: Swing % / wOBA

 

2018: 67 / 500

2019: 64 / 323

2020: 59 / 264

2021: 61 / 000

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I am guessing Hiura's struggles between 2019 and 2020/2021 can be better explained by where he is getting pitched, not necessarily just what is being pitched to him. Even 2019 Hiura swung a bat with a hole in it. That really isn't a new thing.
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Guessing when Hiura goes down we quite likely won't see him again until September. Maybe he would get one more shot in early/mid July to convince them not to trade for a 1B, but he has been so pathetic that may not be worth the false hope it may give. The only reason Hiura is even on this team right now is because Vogelbach and Shaw are so dang putrid.

 

Yelich...that guy is just depressing to watch. Like Hiura, you are wondering how he will let you down over and over and over.

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Hiura’s slump has been one of the saddest displays I can recall. He’s a mess at the plate. Nothing good is happening. He misses strikes, seems to have no pitch recognition, chases bad balls, etc. The hitting coach seems to have zero plan for him because you see nothing in his approach improving. The K numbers are astronomical. Mentally, he’s confused.

 

He needs something positive to cling to so he can relax and get his confidence back. If his approach can improve, there’s a lot of talent in his bat. He just looks like he has no plan and no idea what to expect up there.

 

If he can just string together some hits, it might do wonders. I’d take a bloop, a swinging bunt that dribbles to the right spot, a check swing down the line, anything. Like a shooter in basketball, get him a couple of layups and he can build back up from here.

 

Obviously his strikeouts are a problem and nothing is getting better. Maybe get his double A and triple a coaches involved to develop a plan. If he could get his strikeout ratio down, it would do wonders. Honestly if he could get his rate to just bad instead of insane, that would help, poor guy.

 

Does anyone know, is he missing strikes because the pitcher is changing speeds on him and he’s early or late with the swing?

 

No way would I give up on him, though, this entire year.

Edited by Austin Tatious
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Sounds like patience is running thin with Hiura based on CCs comments last night. Not sure how much longer you can keep rolling him out there.

 

Doesn't help his case when Taylor returns from a handful of days raking at AAA and immediately breaks out of his pre-demotion funk with two bombs off pitchers that baffled Hiura.

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Sounds like patience is running thin with Hiura based on CCs comments last night. Not sure how much longer you can keep rolling him out there.

 

Doesn't help his case when Taylor returns from a handful of days raking at AAA and immediately breaks out of his pre-demotion funk with two bombs off pitchers that baffled Hiura.

 

 

Good point and I think it underscores the approach/mental side of Hiura having fallen off a cliff.

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Here is a big difference. This is Hiura's heat map against fastball offerings when he is behind in the count. 2019 is the first link, 2021 is the second link. When ahead in the count pitchers like to throw fastballs down and away at an incredibly high percentage.

 

2019

https://www.fangraphs.com/players/keston-hiura/20003/heat-maps?position=2B&ss=&se=&type=0&hand=all&count=behind&blur=1&grid=10&view=bat&pitch=CU,FA,FC,FS&season=2019&data=pi

 

2021

https://www.fangraphs.com/players/keston-hiura/20003/heat-maps?position=2B&ss=&se=&type=0&hand=all&count=behind&blur=1&grid=10&view=bat&pitch=CU,FA,FC,FS&season=2021&data=pi

 

You could play around with these heat maps endlessly and in my opinion this is really describes why he is struggling. He can't hit fastballs high and he can't hit them low and away. This goes for off speed stuff too. His average and ability to make contact in these areas is pretty bad. Ironically these two areas are also where most of his power output comes from, that is probably why he still showed power in 2020 even though he sucked quite a bit. Great success when he puts high and low away fastballs in play...but also the biggest areas he can't make contact. Not a good combination to have if you want success.

 

Career Contact %

https://www.fangraphs.com/players/keston-hiura/20003/heat-maps?position=2B&ss=&se=&hand=all&count=all&pitch=&season=all&view=bat&data=&grid=10&blur=1&type=3

 

Career ISO on Balls in Play

https://www.fangraphs.com/players/keston-hiura/20003/heat-maps?position=2B&ss=&se=&hand=all&count=all&pitch=&season=all&view=bat&data=&grid=10&blur=1&type=11

 

The high fastball is just crippling for the guy though. 55% contact rate at the top of the strike zone and about 35% just above the strike zone for 2019. In 2021 he has a contact rate between 5%-25% just inside the top of the strike zone and 0% just above the strike zone. 2020 was somewhat in between the two...so this has declined every year of his career. They have to find a way for him to hit high fastballs. Until then, nothing will matter. When scrub pitchers are making you whiff on high fastballs like it is coming in at 110mph you will not find success. Pitchers have learned him and are pitching him differently. He needs to adjust or he will never improve.

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Hiura’s slump has been one of the saddest displays I can recall. He’s a mess at the plate. Nothing good is happening. He misses strikes, seems to have no pitch recognition, chases bad balls, etc. The hitting coach seems to have zero plan for him because you see nothing in his approach improving. The K numbers are astronomical. Mentally, he’s confused.

 

He needs something positive to cling to so he can relax and get his confidence back. If his approach can improve, there’s a lot of talent in his bat. He just looks like he has no plan and no idea what to expect up there.

 

If he can just string together some hits, it might do wonders. I’d take a bloop, a swinging bunt that dribbles to the right spot, a check swing down the line, anything. Like a shooter in basketball, get him a couple of layups and he can build back up from here.

 

Obviously his strikeouts are a problem and nothing is getting better. Maybe get his double A and triple a coaches involved to develop a plan. If he could get his strikeout ratio down, it would do wonders. Honestly if he could get his rate to just bad instead of insane, that would help, poor guy.

 

Does anyone know, is he missing strikes because the pitcher is changing speeds on him and he’s early or late with the swing?

 

No way would I give up on him, though, this entire year.

 

Hell of a bunter though

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Yelich is by far the bigger concern that I have.

 

A 9 year $214 million contract for a guy who appears to be a singles hitter at best is pretty darn scary for a small market. Yes, he can still run but man his approach since his knee injury has sapped him of not only his power but also his ability to hit for average. If he were just the Yelich of Miami, a .290 ish hitter with 20+ HR potential, while overpaid he would still be solid. The man has 3(!) extra base hits all season in 88 PA, (1 double, 1 triple and 1 home run). Wong and Taylor had 2 each last night alone.

 

I don't think Yelich will ever be what he was but my gosh what a dramatic and unforeseen fall.

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