Fantasy Fallout: Brewers Add Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain
Greg Jewett breaks down the fantasy baseball impact of the Milwaukee Brewers' trade with the Miami Marlins for Christian Yelich and the signing of free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain.
In an off-season mired in debates about collusion, along with a rash of relief pitcher signings, something of significance happened. Miami continued to shed its Major League roster having dealt Christian Yelich, their last remaining starting outfielder from 2017, to the Brewers for four minor-league players with Lewis Brinson as the headliner.
On the surface, this trade makes sense for both teams. The Brewers upgrade their outfield with Yelich. The return package gives Miami more depth for its depleted farm system along with Brinson, who should move into the starting lineup to open the season. His skill-set features an intriguing blend of power and speed which will make him of interest as a late round target in fantasy drafts.
As for Yelich, he’s been a very consistent hitter, slashing .293/.371/.447 the last three seasons with some power and speed himself. Yelich launched a career-best 21 home runs with 98 RBI in 2016 and gave fantasy analysts hope for his power to continue trending up. He followed up with 18 homers last year with 16 stolen bases and scored 100 runs for the first time. While his counting statistics exhibit some variance, Yelich’s development as a hitter remains intact.
In fact, according to Statcast’s David Adler, Yelich led major league outfielders with the most hard hit baseballs (216) last year. Former teammate Marcell Ozuna finished second with 214, Mookie Betts third (209) and the third former Marlin, Giancarlo Stanton fourth (199). Irony aside, playing half of his games in Miller Park should result in more production.
Starting with his new home, using ESPN’s ballpark factors from last year, Miller Park ranked eighth in runs, 12th in home runs and 11th in hits. For comparison, Miami’s ranks of 28th in runs, 25th in home runs and 27th in hits may explain Yelich’s home and road splits. In 2017, Yelich hit .265/.352/.391 in 79 home games with seven home runs in 294 at-bats, a .126 isolated power and 34 RBI. Away from Miami, he hit .299/.385/.484 with 11 home runs in 308 at-bats, a .185 isolated power and drove in 47 in 77 contests.
These numbers fall in line with his career numbers as well. Yelich generated a 113 weighted runs created plus in Miami in 317 games slashing .278/.363/.396 with 18 home runs and 114 RBI. On the road, his home runs jump to 41 in 325 games with a .301/.374/.465 slash line, 128 wRC+ and 179 RBI. For the visual learners, first, here’s Yelich’s spray chart from 2017 with Miller Park as the overlay, courtesy of BaseballSavant.com:
Also, thanks to Daren Willman of MLB.com, Yelich’s career spray chart in Milwaukee looks pretting inviting as well:
Detractors will cite Yelich’s low launch angle, ground ball tendencies and 21 home run mark as reasons to discount improved production with this trade. However, the charts do not lie. Even if Yelich continues to hit the ball in the same manner, outs and doubles will fare better in Miller Park. Yelich does not need to his 30 home runs to improve his fantasy standing, any migration of his career marks on the road translating to a full season of production will make Yelich worth reaching for this year.
Especially at a time when players with batting average potential over .300 seem to be dissipating. But it gets better, right? Of course it does. Milwaukee finished second in stolen bases as a team last year with 128 in 169 attempts. Yelich’s 16 steals from last year seems more likely to repeat along with the 100 runs. Depending on where he hits in the lineup, his RBI total could take a hit, with 22-to-24 home runs all seem within reach to cushion the blow. Heed the road splits, ballpark effects and let others downplay the move while making Yelich a target for 2018.
After taking all of this in, it gets better. How often do we hear this and it’s a let down? Lorenzo Cain agreed to a 5-year $80 million dollar deal in principle. Milwaukee’s rumored to confirm on Friday, but things seem to be happening for the Brew Crew. Lorenzo Cain returns to where his career started hitting atop a burgeoning lineup.
Like Yelich, Cain’s a stable commodity owning a .299/.356/.445 slash line the last three seasons. He’s recorded at least 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases in two of the last years. Also akin to Yelich, Cain hit 12 of his 15 homers from 2017 on the road.
Kaufmann Park ranked 22nd in runs, 27th in home runs and 20th in hits last year. Moving to Miller Park will mean an upgrade in runs and hits along with the potential to repeat the power in double digits, perhaps setting a career high with 18? It’s not out of the realm of possibilities, here’s Cain’s overlay from his 2017 spray chart with a Miller Park overlay as well:
Since Cain’s a known commodity, once his signing becomes official, speculating on the lineup will ensue. It would appear Yelich and Cain will slot in the top two spots in the order. Brewers leadoff hitters last year slashed a paltry .241/.320/.367 yet scored a cumulative 91 runs. Whoever hits first seems assured of 100-plus runs. Milwaukee’s hitters in the second spot fared much better buoyed by Eric Thames hot start and Domingo Santana’s team leading on-base percentage for a combined .271/.384/.536 slash and 85 runs. In spite of this, not only will Yelich and Cain receive upgrades by the ballpark and resulting lineups, so will the hitters after them.
Evolution is continual and the Brewers seem, not only on the precipice of competing for the playoffs, they’re going for it. Windows open and close rapidly in this game, Milwaukee’s primed to add a starting pitcher via trade and continuing the process. Stay tuned.
Wrapping this up without addressing the Marlins return in the deal would be an oversight. Especially with the clear path to playing time created for Lewis Brinson. He will join his third organization within three years. But, he’s no longer blocked. Brinson’s ranked as high as the 16th overall prospect according to Baseball America in 2016 but dropped last year to 27th due to some injury issues.
However, Brinson hit 13 home runs and stole 11 bases in 76 games in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League hitting .331/.400/.562 over 76 games prior to his promotion to Milwaukee. Although Brinson disappointed during his brief time in the majors, the seeds have been sown for him to blossom.
Much of his development will depend on his ability to continue to cut down on strikeouts and stay healthy. Brinson’s five tool skill set makes him a tantalizing player to speculate on with the Marlins this year. Dating back to 2013, he’s hit at least 20 home runs and stolen 20 or more bases only once, but he’s hit 89 homers with 96 steals in 545 career minor league games with a .287/.353/.502 slash line. He’s a bit pull heavy, but here’s Brinson’s spray chart from last year courtesy of MLBfarm.com:
Translating this to the major leagues will be difficult, but Brinson could be a terrific player to target late in drafts with the hopes for an early adjustment followed by a strong second half. Brinson could project for 25 home run seasons in his future with 15-to-20 stolen bases. Time will tell but Miami did well in getting him.
Isan Diaz headlined Milwaukee’s return in the Jean Segura trade and he will bring his power bat to the Marlins farm system. Diaz won Milwaukee’s Minor League Player of the Year award in 2016 launching 20 home runs and 59 extra-base hits in 135 games. He struggled a bit in High-A last year but still hit 13 home runs in 113 games before suffering hand injuries including a broken hamate bone. Diaz should open the year in Double-A and merits tracking due to his power upside in the middle infield. Note, he did switch to second base last year from shortstop.
Outfielder Monte Harrison also heads to Miami. He split time between Single-A and High-A last year finishing with 21 home runs in 122 games and a .272/.350/.481 slash line. Last but not least, starting pitcher Jordan Yamamoto takes his 95 MPH fastball and nine wins last year to the Marlins. Yamamoto possesses an above average breaking ball but needs to improve command with his changeup to make a major league rotation. Comparisons to Mike Fiers popped up according to Baseball Prospectus.
For once, there’s news breaking in baseball. In a synopses, great day for Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Lewis Brinson. Domingo Santana owners should be worried since he may be trade bait for pitching. Miami did well in its return for Yelich and should take some of the heat off of the team from earlier this winter. Last, but not least, the countdown to J.T. Realmuto being traded starts, now.