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Yuli’s Monster 2019 - Can he repeat it?

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World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Seven Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

During the off-season, I like to take a moment to look back and reflect on the season, lessons learned, take some time to read about new stats, and the most fun part - looking at my predictions.

After a 2018 season that saw Yuli’s performance decline from the year before, many started to question if Yuli should be traded or had hit age related decline. His .291/.323/.428 triple slash amounted to a 107 wRC+, which as a 1st baseman, is not great. The projections did not paint a better picture for 2019 at .284/.320/.437. With all this said, I wrote an article called Reasons for Optimism for Yuli in 2019.

Don’t worry, this isn’t an article tooting my own horn, but here was my prediction: .295/.340/.490 for 2+ WAR in 2019.

Yuli’s actual? .298/.343/.541 - 132 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR.

Looking at the first two numbers, I was spot on, but Yuli took his power to a whole other level this year (as well as his defense). So I started to wonder what drove the differential in power.

Statcast Data:

If you look at the season as a whole, Yuli had an identical 89.3 mph exit velocity as he did in 2018 (still 0.5 mph lower than 2017). He continued to drive down his strikeout rate (11% -> 10.6%) and increased his BB/9 (4.0% -> 6.0%). He did have an increase in his launch angle, and improved his Ground Ball (44.9% -> 38.6%), Fly Ball (20.4%->21.4%), and most importantly his Line Drive (25.8% -> 27.3%).

So the question that’s probably on everyone’s mind, is whether or not this is sustainable or if he had a fluke year.

The expected stats on statcast come in at: .284/.329/.422. These do not see his performance as repeatable and actually align extremely closely to the projections from prior to the season.

As you dig deeper, Yuli’s July looks like an aberration than something that can consistently be repeated with 12 of his 31 HR coming in the month of July where Yuli was beyond hot (hitting an absurd .408/.437/.847!!!!!!)

Yuli’s xwOBA by month
Baseball Savant / Statcast

Summary:

From an age perspective, it’s easy to say that Yuli will be 36 next season and use that as a simple answer that Yuli will not be able to repeat. On a pure statistical standpoint, it seems like the answer is no, that Yuli can not repeat his 2019 in 2020.

But part of me isn’t buying it. Maybe it’s the eye test misleading me, I’m not sure. In his age 35 season, Yuli tied his fastest sprint speed for his career, he performed significantly better against fastballs in 2019, and has continued to improve his K% and BB%.

It is also worth mentioning Yuli’s defensive evolution. He came to the MLB as a player who had pre-dominantly played 3B (with 2B, SS, and CF thrown in), having never played 1B in his career from what Baseball-Reference shows in his foreign league play. He drew some ire from fans as he learned the position, but from the eye test, he became an elite defender at the position. He was even a finalist for the Gold Glove Award - largely due to his ability to scoop bounced pitches, which he was the best in league at according to mlb.com. The advanced stats did not look as kindly at Yuli’s defense, but I believe that to be partially skewed due to the Astros usage of the shift.

Plus how could you forget this play:

Especially when he does it twice in two games:

(Video at https://www.mlb.com/astros/video/gurriel-makes-stop-dives-for-out?t=world-series )

Do I believe that Yuli will repeat his 2019? No, not from a power perspective. But I do think he has a chance to continue to improve even from my 2019 prediction.

Steamer and Depth Chart have an identical triple slash projection coming in at:

.288/.331/.484 for a 116 wRC+ and 1.7-1.9 WAR.

I’m still taking the over, with a prediction of .301/.352/.510 and 2+ WAR

Poll

Do you think Yuli will beat out the projections again in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Yes
    (136 votes)
  • 25%
    No
    (57 votes)
  • 13%
    Meh
    (30 votes)
223 votes total Vote Now