The news came out that MLB is finally doing something about sticky substances used by pitchers to enhance spin rate. Spin Rates have been increasing over the past few seasons, and with it strikeouts are increasing with it. Have these elevated spin rates impacted Brewers superstar Christian Yelich at the plate?
Note: All of the averages for spin rate come from baseballsavant.com, and are based on the four most common pitches Yelich himself saw from 2016 – 2021.
Spin rates across the league are up. Has Brewers OF Christian Yelich been impacted by the increases in spin rates across the years?
From 2016 – 2019, the average spin rate of a curveball that Yelich saw stayed relatively flat (ranging from 2482-2498). In those four seasons, Yelich recorded 57 total hits on 1,152 total curveballs that he saw and recorded a total of 148 Batted Ball Events (BBE).
However, in 2020 the Average Spin Rate for the 180 curveballs Yelich saw jumped up to 2625, and he only recorded 4 hits on curveballs last season with 14 total BBE. This season, Yelich has seen 91 curveballs and is yet to record a hit. The average spin rate for curves this season is 2600. He does have 7 BBE.
It is interesting to see the BBE/Pitch ratio drop dramatically after 2018 then even further into 2020 and beyond. Part of the drop off I would imagine does come from Yelich being the league MVP in 2018, and pitchers being much more cautious when throwing a curve to Yelich. However, he did record a .605 Slugging Percentage of the curveball in 2019 still. That Slugging Percentage on curveballs fell to .250 in 2020, and is sitting at 0.00 in 2021.
Unlike the curveball, which stayed relatively level for multiple seasons, the 4-seam fastballs Yelich has faced have seen a relatively consistent upward trend over the past five seasons. Yelich’s BBE/Pitch ratio did not see the drop off that it did with the curveball, but also the percent difference is much lower. The 4-seam fastballs that Yelich is seeing is up 2.9% from 2016 – 2021, whereas the curveball is up 4.26%
The four-seam fastball also moves less than the curveball does, which the uptick in spin rate makes nastier, but not necessarily as unhittable as other pitches. Fastballs are rising more, and Curveballs are dropping more.
The average slider that Yelich saw has seen has increased spin rate 7% from 2016 to 2021. But despite that, his BBE/Pitch ratio has stayed relatively consistent. There was a jump up in 2018 that appears to be the outlier in this instance. 2019 saw a drop in Yelich’s BBE/Pitch, which was due in part to his whiff% on sliders being 46.8%.
The pitch with the most variance for Yelich is against sinkers. In his two seasons of MVP level play he was making contact on more than 1/5 of the sinkers he saw. Then it nearly halved from 2019 to 2020 – albeit a smaller sample size. However, the number established in 2020 is very similar to what Yelich is seeing in 2021, despite having a .353 batting average and .588 slugging in 2021 against sinkers as opposed to a .184 batting average and .368 slugging % in 2020.
Ultimately it may not be possible to state what direct impact the uptick in spin rate seen across the league is having on players. For Yelich, the average spin rates he has seen have been going up consistently. While one cannot point directly to one specific instance that Yelich has seen a noticeable decline in; it is possible the increase in spin rates has had a compounding affect.
The amount of pitches he has seen in the zone has climbed back up to 46.2% after a two year decline in pitches he saw in the zone. As MLB begins to crack down on foreign substances, it may be worth monitoring Yelich, and seeing how his stats change.