Christian Yelich and Andrew Benintendi may have been separated at birth, but everyone forgot to tell them. These two young outfielders possess extremely similar skill sets. Both having above-average patience at the plate (10+ BB%) while also both possessing below-average strikeout rates. To add to their patience, they both profile as potential 20HR/20SB guys, with Benintendi already accomplishing that feat in his rookie season.When checking xStats for each player, shockingly enough, the similarities between Yelich and Benintendi continue.

Yelich- .274 xAVG/.363 xOBP/.443 xSLG
Benintendi- .274 xAVG/.355 xOBP/.440 xSLG

To add to the uncertainty of which player you prefer, draft position won’t change your mind. Both players are separated by just 6 spots according to NFBC ADP (Benintendi ~40, Yelich~ 46). To help me decide who the people liked more, I put up a poll on my twitter to see which player they preferred.

With nearly a 100 votes, Yelich was the clear winner with a 65%-35% split. But, that didn’t stop our fantasy writers from still being split on the issue. It was so divisive that our writers, Rhys White and Austin Perodeau, decided to continue this argument on paper.

 

 Andrew Benintendi is Worth the Price – Rhys

Benny Biceps is involved in one of the most debated fantasy baseball topics of the 2018 draft season, who to take first in your draft between Andrew Benintendi and Christian Yelich. Both players have very similar stats. I am here today to tell you why you should pick Benintendi over Yelich. Chickentendi showcased the skills to become not only a real-life star but also a fantasy star. He posted a 20 HR-20 SB season hitting .271/.352/.424 with 90 RBIs and 84 runs. Benintendi seems primed to improve upon a solid rookie year being locked into the two-hole of that Sox lineup.

In his age 22/23 season, Benintendi showcased plate discipline that many veterans wish they possessed. He displayed an ability to draw walks, doing so in 10.6% of his plate appearances with a .352 on-base percentage. Let’s take a deeper dive into Benintendi and his advanced approach. He is a 5’10 lefty has an elite contact percentage of 82.5%, putting him behind the 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve who had an 84.9%. That 82.5% contact percentage looks even better when you see that pitchers only threw 42.3% of their pitches in the strike zone when they faced Beni.

While we say many players could steal 20 bases, Benintendi actually accomplished this feat it in 2017, tied for 27th in stolen bases during the 2017 season. Last year he posted a sprint-speed of 28.2 (FT/S) during the 2017 season. He ranked as the 80th fastest player in 2017, and he mixes that well above-average speed with efficiency on the basepaths. In 2017, he attempted 25 stolen bases and was successful 20 times…an efficient 80%. When you combine the speed and the efficiency he showcased in 2017, it wouldn’t surprise me if he stole 20 bags in 2018 and it would behoove Alex Cora to not utilize his lefty’s speed on the basepaths.

The Red Sox lefty will never win the home run category for you however, he will contribute to that category for whoever drafts the former Razorback. It has been reported he has come into camp at 190 pounds, 20 pounds heavier than his 2017 weight, which should help him add to his 20 homers in 2017. Benintendi, while he only hit 20 homers (only like I could hit 1), had the 55th most hits that exceeded 95 mph with their exit velocity. That places him in the same conversation as players like Kris Bryant and Joey Votto. No, Benintendi isn’t in the realm of those sluggers. But with some changes, from him and a new approach, this offseason Benintendi could increase his power output when you mix in his elite contact rate and more physical physique.

This offseason, the Red Sox brought in a new hitting coach, Tim Hyers. This should help Benintendi increase his power production; while Hyers was with the Dodgers, he valued patience and getting the ball in the air. Hyers joined the Dodgers for the 2016 season, the same season that Justin Turner put the ball in the air more and unlocked more power in his game. Looking at the chart below you see that the year Hyers joined the Dodgers was the same year Justin Turner increased his fly ball% from 36.2% to 40% and bumped his homers from 16 to 27.

 

 Justin Turner’s Batted Ball Profile 2014-2017
Year   Ground Ball %    Fly Ball % Home Runs
2014 48.7% 28% 7
2015 36.2% 36.2% 16
2016 36.1% 40.0% 27
2017 31.4% 47.8% 21

 

 

Now, you may be asking yourself, “How does this impact Benintendi?” Well, his new hitting coach was there and saw Justin Turner have amazing success getting the ball in the air and Benintendi with his elite bat-to-ball skills can afford to get the ball in the air more. With the success of JT and reports on a Sox broadcast that they worked on a drill that the hitters had to hit 5 consecutive fly balls, we can realistically project that if he takes his 38.4% fly ball rate to 42%, we could easily see Benintendi add more home runs in 2018 pushing the left-fielder from 20 to 25 homers, only adding to his draft day value.

 

So why do I prefer Andrew Benintendi over Christian Yelich?

I want to preface this by bringing up that I do like Christian Yelich and would gladly take him on any of my teams if Benintendi gets selected before me. After doing some research on both players for this argument with my friend (I hope Austin considers me a friend), I just question if Yelich will actually be able to utilize his new ballpark to his advantage.

My compatriot brings up that Yelich will be going from the second-worst left-handed power park to the third-best, but with Yelich being so reliant on ground balls and having a below average fly ball rate since becoming a big league regular in 2014. Now we all know that, in order to hit homers, you have to get the ball in the air. This is my main concern people taking Yelich over Benintendi because of that glaring 55.4% ground ball rate and his subaverage 25.2% fly ball rate. To be fair, Yelich has excelled so far with his current approach so I don’t see why he would sell out to utilize his new park when he has a four-year track record of being successful. Benintendi is getting a new hitting coach who already has the guys working on getting the ball in the air.

Milwaukee likes to run and I will give that to my compatriot. While I believe Yelich could out steal Benintendi because Craig Counsell will let his guys run, I’m looking at you, Jonathan Villar! But because the vast majority of leagues involve archaic stats such as runs and RBI, I believe Benintendi will be in a better lineup to increase his counting stats. Last year, the Red Sox lineup ended the season as the last placed team in the American League in home runs. With the talent on that team, there is positive regression coming with the addition of JD Martinez. Benintendi is locked in now as the two-hole hitter for a lineup that will have Mookie Betts hitting in front of the burgeoning star and have one of the best pure sluggers in JD Martinez to drive him in. Yelich also goes from one of the better lineups in baseball to a lineup that is very uncertain as who will play day-to-day. I predict we will see Benintendi cross the 100-run mark with 90 RBI to go along with 25 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

 

 

Christian Yelich Deserves your Respect – Austin

Oh Christian Yelich, how you lure me in with your gorgeous swing. The former Marlins CF was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on January 25th for a slew of prospects. Since that day, I have spent a majority of my time salivating over the idea of Yelich moving from Marlins park which was 29th in park factor vs left-handed HR to Miller Park which is 3rd for Left-handed HR.

Yelich has been suppressed by the spacious Marlins park for most of his career. His career home/away splits show evidence that he has always been a much better hitter on the road. He is a career .301/.374/.465 on the road vs .278/.363./396 at home. His power always manifested when on the road; of his 59 total home-runs in his career, 41 have occurred away from home. A lot of his power increase on the road can be attributed to the increase in his HR/FB rate, which rises from 10.9% to 20.5% while on the road.

Yelich will finally be able to call a hitting-friendly park home and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him pushing 25+ HR in 2018. xStats even argues that Yelich was a bit unlucky with his power production in 2017. Based off of exit velocity and launch angle, xStats believes that Yelich should have hit 22 HR vs the actual 18 he produced. Don’t let his slender frame fool you; he has some thump behind his bat. His 90.4 AEV (average exit-velocity) was the 19th highest in baseball among players with 150+ batted ball events (BBE). He was also 4th in the MLB on 95+ MPH BBE with 213. For reference, Giancarlo Stanton was 9th with 198 balls at 95+.

With the 25-year-old lefty, when projecting power growth you stumble into the realization that he hits the ball into the ground, a lot. However, this trend is growing in the right direction. Since making his debut in 2013, his GB/FB has dropped from 4.58 down to 2.2 last season. With his decreasing GB/FB, his power has increased significantly and 39 of his 59 career HR in the last two seasons. I have heard talking heads hypothesis that he was hitting more ground-balls due to understanding he wasn’t going to muscle anything out of Marlins Park. That is more a hypothesis than a proven theory. Regardless, the last two seasons has shown that he can make his ground-ball approach work in fantasy.

The addition of power to Yelich’s profile is just one of the appetizing additions to his move to Milwaukee. Another is his SB opportunities. Since the hire of Brewers manager Craig Counsell in 2015, the Brewers are 2nd in the league in attempted steals with 519. During that same period, the Marlins only attempted 377 stolen bases. Yelich has always shown a knack for stealing bases while a Marlin. He stole 15+ bases in 3 out of 4 seasons while maintaining a 75% career success rate. He certainly has the speed to increase his stolen base numbers if given the green light on the base paths. His 28.7 Sprint Speed (FT/S) last season was the 39th highest among active players. A 20+ SB season is certainly within Yelich’s grasp heading into the new season, and he has the potential to reach 25 if all things break right.

 

So why do I prefer Christian Yelich over Andrew Benintendi?

I like Benintendi, I promise. Just given the choice between both OF, I tend to see myself leaning towards Yelich. Rhys has brought up some great points. Beni has an incredible feel at the plate backed by both a high contact percentage even with the low zone percentage pitchers were feeding him. My first real questions arise with his power.

Benintendi’s 87.2 AEV ranked him 179th in the MLB last season among players with a minimum 150 BBE. He doesn’t possess that elite exit velocity you look for to grow into a 25-30 HR guy especially when playing half of his games in Fenway Park. Fenway is one of the toughest places to hit home-runs for lefties in the Majors with a Park Factor of 0.881 (5th-Worst). Compare that with Yelich’s recent move to Miller Park which has a home-run Park Factor of 1.281 for LHB. Benintendi struggled versus lefties in his debut season. He hit just .232 while producing just three doubles and one home run in 131 PA versus lefties. Yelich brings an elevated exit-velocity while barreling up more balls per plate appearance (4.7 vs 4.0). So which player would you bet on taking the jump to 25+ home runs in 2018?

I touched on the Brewers and manager Craig Counsell’s love of stealing bases already, but I feel like it can’t be overstated. The Red Sox introduced new manager Alex Cora over the off-season, which adds a little bit of uncertainty on Benintendi’s stolen base numbers. While we know that the Brewers like to run under Counsell, we are still unsure of the managerial approach that Cora will take. He is coming from an Astros team that 286 SB over the last two seasons. Until we see Cora’s approach, I will take Yelich who has shown multiple 15+ SB seasons, the slightly higher Sprint Speed (28.7 vs 28.2 FT/S) while moving to an extremely aggressive team on the basepaths.

 

Final Thoughts

Truly, you can’t go wrong with either of these two players. Austin may prefer Christian Yelich, and Rhys may prefer Andrew Benintendi. The real question is; who do you prefer and why? If you want to tell Rhys and Austin why their arguments are wrong, or why you prefer one player over the other, don’t be afraid to let us know on twitter. You can find Rhys and Austin on the @Sixmanrotation Twitter account, or at their personal ones: @RhysBWhite and @roto_perodeau.

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