Analysis

The San Francisco Power Outage: Mike Yastrzemski’s Bat is Re-energizing the Giants’ Outfield

Since 2008, the first year since 1992 that Barry Bonds was not patrolling left field for the San Francisco Giants, the team has not been able to find outfielders with anywhere near the hitting prowess that Bonds possessed. In fact, the team has only had 3 qualifying outfielders post an OPS above .800 since Bonds’ last season in 2007: 2010 Aubrey Huff (only 80 appearances in the outfield), 2010 Andres Torres, and 2013 Hunter Pence. There might be some hope, though, in the team’s new right fielder, Mike Yastrzemski, who is bringing power back to the San Francisco outfield.

Furthermore, just 4 Giants outfielders have posted qualified seasons with an ISO above .168 since 2008. According to Fangraphs, ISO is “a measure of a hitter’s raw power and tells you how often a player hits for extra bases.” ISO is calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. The site says that an ISO of .170 is above average, a .140 is average, and anything below .120 is below average to awful. In the last 11 years, 8 Giants outfielders have posted a below average ISO for the season. To pile on even more and show just how bad the outfield by the Bay has been, we can look at the team’s total outfield hitting stats instead of specific outfielder seasons. Since 2008, Giants’ outfielders are 4th worst in the league in the following stats: slugging percentage (.403), OPS (.726), ISO (.142), and wRC+ (99), according to Fangraphs. In short, the Giants outfield has been terrible at the plate since the greatest power hitter of all-time left. This isn’t about Oracle Park being a pitcher-friendly park—even park and league adjusted stats like wRC+ and ISO+ have Giants’ outfielders in the bottom 5 in baseball in this time period. Nonetheless, Yastrzemski could be the light at the end of the tunnel for the Giants. Newly-hired President of Baseball Operations for the Giants Farhan Zaidi worked his magic on March 23rd of this year when he traded for Mike Yastrzemski from the Baltimore Orioles.

              Yastrzemski is a 28-year-old rookie who couldn’t break into the big leagues with the Orioles. But when he arrived in San Francisco, the team that started Connor Joe and Michael Reed on opening day in the outfield figured they had nothing to lose by giving Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson a chance on May 25th. Yastrzemski has said that finally getting to the big leagues after 6 seasons in the minor leagues was “a huge weight off [his] shoulders” (nbcsports.com/bayarea) With a name like Yastrzemski, it is easy to see how it would be hard for Mike to be stuck in the minors for so long. But now, 3 months into his major league career, it almost impossible to understand why the Baltimore Orioles never felt like Yastrzemski deserved even a single MLB at-bat.

              Yastrzemski is probably not going to be the player his grandfather was, and he certainly isn’t the next Barry Bonds. Still, the season the younger Yastrzemski is putting together is a huge upgrade for Giants’ outfielders. Per Baseball-Reference, through 78 games this season, he has amassed 17 home runs, 15 doubles, and 47 RBI (a 162-game average of 35 HR, 31 2B, and 98RBI). In the year of the juiced ball, though, I don’t want to rely too much on traditional counting stats. Nevertheless, Yastrzemski still looks like an improvement. According to Baseball-Reference, he is slugging .535, a massive step up from the team’s outfield SLG of .403 since Bonds left. His OPS is .856, which accounts for an OPS+ (OPS relative to the league average and park adjusted) of 122. Moving on to more advanced stats from Baseball Savant, Yastrzemski’s xSLG, a statistic that measures a player’s expected slugging percentage based on their exit velocity, launch angle, and sprint speed, is in the 80th percentile of the league. He also squares up the ball well, as his Hard Hit % is in the top 1/3 in baseball. These two stats indicate that this season is probably not a flash in the pan—Yastrzemski can hit for power. On top of all of this, his BA of .269 is definitely respectable. I’m not saying he is a perennial all-star, but he is an above average hitter who is a huge upgrade for the Giants.

              Again, Yastrzemski is not this generation’s next great power hitter. As a 28-year-old rookie, he is definitely late to the punch for debuting in the big leagues. But is he an asset for the Giants, a team that has been completely unable to find consistent hitting from their outfield for the last decade? Absolutely. If he can keep up what he has been doing this year at the plate, he should continue to get at-bats for the Giants. The Giants aren’t out of the woods yet in terms of outfielders, but right field should hopefully be locked down for the next 3-5 years by a player with 30 home run power for the first time in a long time. 

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