The name of the game for small market teams like Milwaukee and Miami, is to build a team with young controllable talent. The Brewers have had success with that strategy with guys like Orlando Arcia, Corbin Burnes, and Josh Hader.
They also found it with a small trade you might of heard of, The trade for then Miami outfielder Christian Yelich in January. This isn’t going to be an article saying “We all saw this MVP year coming.” Truth is no one saw a season like this coming. When you look at his stat progression over the years however, the Marlins blundered in a HUGE way!
My first confusion with this trade is from the Marlins side. Why didn’t they build the team around Yelich? Like I said before, small market teams are built around young controllable talent. Yelich, at the time, was a 26 year old up and coming outfielder who was controllable for many years, on a team friendly contract. WHY DIDN’T THEY BUILD THEIR TEAM AROUND HIM?
I really don’t understand the thought process. From trades of Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna, they received a boatload of talented prospects with bright futures. The idea of using Yelich as a backbone, with players like that progressing in the minors, is a scary thought. Think of how the Brewers used Braun as a backbone as they progressed through a rebuild. That one kind of worked out for the Brewers.
The second and most prominent point is Yelich’s stat progression. Since he has come up to the big leagues his linear progression is very impressive. Down below are graphs representing his growth over the years. These graphs do not include this past season for further proof that Yelich was progressing to be a star before his MVP season. In both wOBA and WAR he has a steep slope going in the right direction. I won’t go into the math and process behind it, mostly because I don’t want to bore you. However, using this gives you a great look visually on a players progression.
This first set of graphs are representing Yelich’s War (wins above replacement) from the ages of 21-25. The first graph is year by year plotted out. You can see that there is quite a few ups and downs and doesn’t give you a full picture. This is where the second graph comes into play. Think of it as averaging the ups and downs to a straight line. As you can see this line goes by a steep positive slope, which shows rapid improvement overall, year by year.
The next graphs show wOBA (weighted on base average- similar to OPS but OBP is worth 1.8 times more than SLG). wOBA is one of my favorite stats and I think can be the most telling. Like before the first graph shows the raw plotted out data, while the second shows the average line. The second line may not be the most exciting to look at or as visually appealing as the first data set, however, it is just as good. Since wOBA is a decimal stat, the values aren’t as big as WAR. When you zoom in you can see that it is another flourishing positive incline.
Although using graphs may tap into my baseball geekiness, they are still a great representation of a players progression. Using graphs in the argument proves that Yelich was growing into star potential. Even though no one saw it coming this quick, it was to be expected at some point. David Stearns has mentioned that Yelich is a player that he kept his eye on since taking over the GM position. Even without a breakout season like 2018, Yelich proved to be an impact player, and explains why Stearns kept his eye on him.
Again bringing us back to the initial point of this piece. Why did the Marlins trade away a gem in Yelich? Maybe it was the intriguing prospect haul that was given in return, which is another story in itself. Anyways, it is crystal clear that Yelich would have been an impact player anywhere. I still don’t quite understand why he wasn’t a base for a rebuild, being the type of player with his contract. Yet, I think Brewers’ fans are happy it happened the way it did. As Billy Beane would say, “When your enemy’s making a mistake, don’t interrupt them.”