Yaz is the legacy you should be watching

February 26th, 2020

You know the name Yastrzemski. It's one of the most famous names in baseball. But you probably know it because Carl's a Hall of Famer and it would knock you out of a spelling bee. Not because of Mike.

If you know , it's probably because you saw him catch the first pitch from his grandfather at Fenway. Maybe, if you were really keeping track of things, you heard about his feel-good story -- he spent seven years and 700 games in the Minors before he finally made it to the big leagues as a 28-year-old last May.

But you should know the new Yaz because he's good.

Legacies are all the rage in MLB these days. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was one of the most hyped prospects ever. Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio play right next to him. Fernando Tatis Jr. is awesome to watch. But you know whose rookie season was right up there? Yastrzemski's.

Yaz is for real. Here's why you should watch the Giants' sophomore center fielder in 2020.

He's putting up numbers
You might not know what Yaz's rookie stat line even looked like. Well, it looked like 21 homers, a .272/.334/.518 slash line and an .852 OPS in his 107 games. That's really good.

Yastrzemski had a 123 OPS+. That means he was 23% better than your average hitter. His OPS+ was tied with Shohei Ohtani's. It was one point better than Ronald Acuña Jr.'s. It was 17 points better than Vlad Jr.'s.

Yaz was the best hitter on the Giants. He was the Giants' best rookie hitter since Buster Posey. But his rookie year is over. This is a new season. Why is Yastrzemski going to keep hitting in 2020?

He makes great contact
Watch Yastrzemski hit. He's got a pretty swing. And the ball comes off the bat just right.

If you want good hitting numbers, you'll want to do two things. One: hit the ball hard enough. Two: hit a line drive or a fly ball. Do both, and you'll be getting base hits and home runs. Yastrzemski does both.

Statcast classifies anything hit harder than 95 mph as a hard-hit ball. That threshold is where a batter really starts to see outs change to hits. Then there's the line drive/fly ball "sweet spot": a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. That encompasses both the "line drive" range that's best for base hits -- 8-16 degrees -- and the "fly ball" range that's best for home runs -- 24-32 degrees.

It's the balance of contact and power. Get both the exit velocity and launch angle just right -- 95+ mph and 8-32 degrees -- and good things are going to happen. Yastrzemski lives in that Goldilocks zone of contact.

Highest % of hard-hit + sweet-spot contact in 2019
Minimum 250 batted balls (225 hitters)

  1. Nelson Cruz (MIN): 26.1%
  2. J.D. Martinez (BOS): 25.6%
  3. Juan Soto (WSH): 25.5%

4) Mike Yastrzemski (SF): 25.4%
5-T) Cody Bellinger (LAD): 24.6%
5-T) Matt Olson (OAK): 24.6%
5-T) Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL): 24.6%
Hard-hit: 95+ mph. Sweet spot: 8-32 degrees.

Look at those names. The combined hard-hit/sweet-spot leaderboard is basically a list of elite hitters in Major League Baseball. And right there in the top five is Yastrzemski.

Over a quarter of Yaz's batted balls as a rookie were hard-hit and in the launch angle sweet spot, and that puts him in elite company. Cruz, Martinez and Soto were the only other hitters with as many balls in play as Yastrzemski who reached both thresholds as often as he did. Lower the minimums a little, and you'll see a few others like Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez pop onto the list. That's good company to be in.

By themselves, Yastrzemski's hard contact and air contact are very good. His 42.9% hard-hit rate ranked in the top quarter of baseball, just ahead of hitters like Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman and Pete Alonso. Yaz's 11.2% barrel rate -- barrels are the ideal level of contact for home runs and extra-base hits -- ranked in the top quarter of MLB, too, ahead of Mookie Betts. Yaz's 36.9% sweet-spot rate ranked just outside that, ahead of DJ LeMahieu, Alex Bregman and Trevor Story.

All those things are important on their own. Putting them together is even better -- that's when you get home runs like the 108.5 mph, 29-degree, 472-foot blast Yaz hit off the facing of the upper deck at Coors Field on Aug. 2, the Giants' longest homer in over four years. The union is where Yastrzemski stood out.

He's got an all-around skill set
The contact quality is the highlight for Yastrzemski, but he does a lot of other things well. That's a good sign for young Yaz's sticking power.

Platoon splits? Yastrzemski had a 117 OPS+ against righties and a 144 OPS+ against lefties. Yes, those were limited plate appearances against southpaws (89 of them), but a .329 batting average, .561 slugging percentage and .943 OPS in lefty-lefty matchups is still pretty impressive.

Using the whole field? Check out Yastrzemski's spray chart. He hits it all over the place. Take his home runs, for example: nine were pulled, seven were hit to center, five were hit to the opposite field. Or all his extra-base hits: 32.6% were pulled, 37.0% were hit to center, 30.4% went oppo. It's a nice aesthetic.

Defense? Yastrzemski was a capable outfielder, worth +3 Outs Above Average last season. He made three catches with a catch probability under 50%. Speed? His average sprint speed was 27.5 feet per second, above the Major League average of 27 ft./sec. He had three sub-four-second home-to-first times, five sub-eight home-to-second times and four sub-12 home-to-third times, all tops on the Giants.

There are other numbers you could pull. The point is, Yaz is well-rounded.

Yaz is the guy to watch on the Giants right now -- for more than just his name and his narrative.