2016 Fantasy BaseballAndrew MillerFantasy Baseball

2016 Fantasy Baseball: Is the Christian Yelich Breakout Coming?

Christian Yelich has been a much better player for the Miami Marlins in his three seasons in the Majors than he has for fantasy owners. Yelich has put up 7.9 fWAR in just over two full-seasons’ worth of games (332). His wRC+ in each season? 117. His wOBA? .341, .341, .343. But despite a handful of steals and decent averages he has failed to post any outstanding fantasy stats. After looking at his stats it’s hard to say which season has been his best. But when you break it down a bit more it’s easier to see at which time Yelich has done his best work.

Yelich started 2015 slowly before succumbing to a back strain and landing on the disabled list from April 20 to May 8. He struggled after he came back, but he finally hit his stride in early June:

Year OBP ISO XBH% BABIP BB/K
2013 0.370 0.108 6.2 0.380 0.47
2014 0.362 0.119 6.8 0.356 0.51
Post-6/8/15 0.404 0.140 9.3 0.403 0.58

Sure, it’s an arbitrary date, but let’s give him some time to get back into the swing of things after the early-season injury. What we may be seeing here is a then-23-year-old really hitting his stride. A prorated full-season line from his 364 plate appearances after June 8 includes a .338/.404/.479 line with 51 doubles, 97 runs, 10 homers and 23 steals. His .404 on base percentage would’ve ranked fifth in the Majors had he done it for the whole season, behind only Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt. He’s always gotten on base at a high rate, with his lowest minor-league OBP during an extended stay at one level coming in at .365. His improving plate discipline stats say the OBP hike is for real.

His BABIP also rose to over .400, a number which isn’t sustainable, but isn’t too far out of Yelich’s ordinary range. His BABIPs at his three longest minor-league stops were .373, .397 and .346. You might worry about a decreased BABIP sapping most of his fantasy potential, but this increased BABIP isn’t driven by a bunch of seeing-eye singles. His extra base hit rate went way up, and so did his isolated slugging. I think those two are probably the same thing, but it’s just more of a reason to believe this isn’t fluky.

All of these signs point to a fourth-season breakout for Yelich, as long as he can stay healthy. Yelich is currently ranked 38th among eight rankers at Fantasy Pros. I haven’t done my rankings yet, but I think he’d come in around 32 just after a quick look at the guys several spots ahead of him. At the very least he’s going to give you a good floor in average, OBP and 20 steals, and if the power rolls over to this year, which I think it will, he should hit somewhere around 12-15 homers.

There are two ways of drafting outfielders this year: Either drafting two studs in the first three or four rounds and then picking up someone like Yelich as a third outfielder, or rolling with three middle-round outfielders like Yelich, Kole Calhoun, Hunter Pence or the like. There’s really no wrong way to attack outfield this year, but when you do attack, try to make sure Yelich is a part of your strategy.

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