We’ll never know why the Orioles deemed Mike Yastrzemski expendable, but their loss has been the Giants’ gain. He has given them three key qualities since his arrival at the end of May: speed, defense, and power. These have all been in short supply for the Giants — not just in the outfield, but all over the roster since about the end of 2016. Yasztrzemski is by no means elite in the first two categories, but he’s been above the league average in that power category, and for the Giants, that makes him practically an All-Star.
But here’s why there’s a post about Mike Yastrzemski and his power. Here’s his 11th home run of the season — it came during the Facebook game last week:
Bryce Harper doesn’t even bother with that one. Just takes a few steps towards center field and watches it sail over his head. A no-doubter from a player who has hit a lot of them in just 252 plate appearances.
Here was his first home run in San Francisco:
You don’t see a lot of current or recent Giants hit home runs to dead center field, left-handed batters in particular. But... more on that part in a bit.
Here he is in Arizona hitting his third home run in four games:
Here’s one he hit on Sunday. If you can, just listen to the sound of it :
He's going the distance. He's going for speed.— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) August 12, 2019
These are all mistake pitches absolutely crushed by his left-handed pull power. He’s doing what professional players ought to be able to do at a minimum — show power on their pull side — and doing something that major leaguers ought to be able to do at a minimum: crush mistakes.
His swing looks geared for launch angle. There’s a bit of an uppercut by way of a swing that looks aimed to get underneath the ball a bit more. It doesn’t look like he’s trying to square up the ball and hit it into the gaps. It looks like he’s trying to hit it as hard as he can.
But it’s not just a matter of swinging hard. Whatever he’s doing in the weight room and in the cage while working in his swing has simply given him a base level of power that, when compared to the rest of the Giants especially but contextualized to the rest of the league, is simply greater than average.
Here’s his walk-off home run to cap the series with the Mets:
Here’s another example of him driving the ball the other way:
And here’s a clear example of his uppercut/underneath swing combining with his natural strength to drive the ball to left field:
But let’s go back to that Mets walk-off. That was one that caused Mickey Callaway to draw a line from it to the notion of juiced balls:
Mickey Callaway says he was also surprised by Mike Yastrzemski’s walk-off: “I was. Especially who hit it... it just kept on going. We see it over and over, balls just keep on traveling.” #Mets #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/jv2PP0HVWz— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) July 22, 2019
And this conspiracy Twitter account to go “all in” on the juiced ball notion:
Just when you thought the Mets have suffered enough.— JUICED BALL EXPOSED (@juicedballexpo1) July 22, 2019
Juiced ball homerun of the night goes to Mike Yastrzemski. Trying to lean in to hit a pitch down and away, the ball jumps off the bat and what looked like a routine flyout, instead ended the game. pic.twitter.com/WlBJOpPNBZ
Yeah, the ball’s are juiced. That’s indisputable. Home runs are being hit at a greater rate than ever before. A couple of sub-parts to that, though, stuff that the conspiracy theorists and ticked off baseball managers forget:
- The balls have not helped the Giants very much, especially at home.
Oh, wait. No. It’s just that. That’s the only note about the juiced balls, because it’s not simply a matter of the juiced balls where Yastrzemski’s concerned. He’s got the bat speed and strength to swing a fraction of a second later and still do damage.
Here’s one example of him power flipping a pitch away:
Here he is driving a 95 mph fastball to left centerfield at Dodger Stadium during a night game:
These aren’t just the feats of a juiced ball. There’s player strength beneath the league’s chicanery.
Observe Yastrzemski’s spray chart for home runs:
No doubters and a couple of would-be “cheapies”. Looks legit. Add in a 40.9% hard hit rate (league average: 34.4%) and expected slugging percentage (based on the quality of contact as measured by Statcast) of .457 that’s tied with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and greater than Manny Machado’s and here is a baseball player who’s hitting above average for 2019.
Just to really drive home the point about his underlying strength and bat speed, here’s his spray chart for doubles:
Left field has always been Oracle Park’s power alley, but in the post-Bonds era, the Giants got away from players who could take advantage of it. They opted for slightly less powerful players who could hit the ball back up the middle or outrun soft contact, or drive the ball into the gaps, but beyond, say, Michael Morse and perhaps Hunter Pence did they add batters with pure pull power with the strength to simply launch the ball into that alley.
Yastrzemski’s stength and bat speed have gone hand in hand with the new ball to give him batted ball success all over the diamond. Sure, Oracle has still hurt his numbers — .791 OPS there vs. .847 OPS on the road — but it hasn’t been able to disprove the notion that he’s a quick-swinging, strong-hitting batter that’s been rare for the Giants over the past decade.
His .229 Isolated Power (ISO) at Oracle this year leads Giants with a minimum of 100 plate appearances at home. Remember, ISO “is a measure of a hitter’s raw power and tells you how often a player hits for extra bases.” Cut that minimum to 50 PA, and Yastrzemski (119 PA) is tied with Stephen Vogt (91 PA) for second, well behind Alex Dickerson and his .426 ISO (53 PA).
His .236 overall ISO is eighth-best among NL left fielders. The Braves’ Austin Riley has a .263 ISO in just three more plate appearances than Yastrzemski, but the totality of his contributions still fall a bit shy of Yazstremski’s, by virtue of disparate weighted on base averages. Riley, who could very well win the NL Rookie of the Year, has a .325; Yasztrzemski is at .338. Yastrzemski, also a rookie, has been a bit more valuable overall, too, with a 1.1 fWAR to Riley’s 0.8.
Yes, he doesn’t walk much and he strikeouts out a lot, but he hits the ball hard and he plays a nice left field (4 outs above average, per Statcast). Farhan Zaidi isn’t looking to build a lineup of complete hitters... mainly because he can’t right now. But rather than build a team of high contact, low strikeouts players as the previous front office did, he’s found guys like Yastrzemski to bring some power into a powerless lineup. Like all modern teams, the Giants have put together a roster of high-skill players who can compliment each other.
Walks are Belt’s job. Not striking out a bunch is Posey and Pillar’s job. Hitting the crap out of the ball is Yastrzemski’s.
About a week and a half ago, I tweeted this:
For the past month or so, Tyler Austin has only been a threat to strike out, but with him, Alex Dickerson, and Evan Longoria gone or out, the only power threats on the roster right now are Sandoval, Gennett, and Pillar.— McCovey Chronicles (@McCoveyChron) August 2, 2019
Man, was that way off. Add Yaz to that list.