If you’re the Los Angeles Dodgers, there is really one-hitter in the Milwaukee that you have to be studying nonstop. Christian Yelich put up video game-like numbers all season long and will probably finish as the NL Most Valuable Player. Yelich slashed a ridiculous .326/.402/.598 to go along with his 36 homeruns and 110 rbi’s. His final OPS sat exactly at 1.000 and his OPS+ was at 164. All of those are career-highs for him, and I don’t expect much to change in the playoffs. He has not quite caught fire yet, but he did go deep against Colorado.
— MLB (@MLB) October 8, 2018
Slowing Him Down
So the question for the Dodgers is how do you stop this guy? Pitching around him isn’t much of a solution, as Colorado proved for us. They walked him six times in three games and we all know how that went for them. He has enough talent built around him in the lineup to make that a very difficult thing to do. He does have a weakness though. And really, it’s not much of a weakness it just makes him appear slightly human. Yelich has jumped on first pitch fastballs all year long, hitting an absurd .521 on first-pitches in 2018. He has also launched 12 of his homeruns on the first pitch.
So what I am suggesting is that Yelich not be fed first-pitch strikes. If you look at his hitting zones, there are a few places I would expect to see Dodger pitching go with their first pitches to him.
Yelich likes the ball in the same place as essentially every other left-handed hitter in the league: down and in. He’s made his living there in 2018 and that is exactly where the Dodgers need to stay away from. Clayton Kershaw is a guy that I worry about for this because that is right where he lives against lefties. Up and away, out of the strike zone, is where Los Angeles should be starting him off. It won’t be an easy task to get him to chase, but it is far better than taking your chances with a fastball out over the plate.
Very Few Flaws In His Approach
Yelich uses all parts of the field in his approach. He’s not really a guy that you can utilize the shift on in order to beat him, especially with the speed he has. On batted balls in 2018, 32.7% were pulled, 38.1% were up the middle, and 29.1% were to the opposite field. There is just no way you can set up a defense to defend that sort of approach. He also just makes a lot of contact in general. Yelich had a 79% contact rate when swinging at pitched, either inside or outside of the zone. He also only chased pitches outside of the zone 27.7% of the time. All told, Yelich struck out 135 times in 147 games.
The truth of it all is that there really is no sure way to pitch to Yelich. I think above all, leaving a first-pitch out over the plate is the worst thing you could do for him. Remember back in the 2002 World Series when the Angels just could not figure out what to do with Barry Bonds? I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot like that for the Dodgers. Just keep the damage to a minimum and we’re going to be fine.
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