McCovey Coven: Mike Yastrzemski’s Other Lineage

The Giants' secret society initiated its newest member this year.

You don’t know Mike Yastrzemskis true lineage.

Both his biological and baseball lineage hit the mainstream when he played his way into the national spotlight last season: grandson of Boston great Carl Yastrzemski; spent six years toiling in the Orioles minor league system; broke out last year on a weirdly competitive but ultimately blah Giants club; broke out again this year on a weirdly-competitive but ultimately (likely) blah Giants club.

Missing from that tale is the true source of Yaz’ magic. For you see, there exists a secret society in San Francisco. They look like anybody else on the baseball field, but their play is buoyed by the shadowy machinations of their secret order. I don’t know when they meet. I don’t know where they gather. I don’t know from whenst they spawned, what grants them their power, nor why they came to be.

Now bear with me, because this coven exists for anyone to see, but they keep their identities hidden behind baseball minutiae and random statistical thresholds. Fear not, for I am here to show you the way. By the end of our journey, you, too, will testify to the surreptitious nature of the McCovey Coven. Put on your Indiana Jones fedora, get your Nick Cage/Benjamin Gates impression ready, and grab your freakiest, deakiest eyes-wide-shut-style masquerade mask because we’re going undercover.


McCovey Coven’s Membership


In the 25 seasons of the Wild Card Era (1996-present), the Giants have employed an extraordinary number of decent ballplayers tasked with patrolling the grounds at the doorstep of McCovey Cove. I say decent, because, well, it’s not actually an extraordinary group of players. But there have been a lot of them, and they have been decent. Yastrzemski is the latest novitiate to join this broad brotherhood of ad-lib right fielders who have come at one time or another to inhabit the grasslands south of centerfield at Oracle Park.

They won’t just let any Dick, Tom, or Harry who parks his cleats in the right-field grass for half a season into their club, of course. You gotta contribute. You gotta pay your club dues. Set a minimum of 3.0 rWAR during their Giants tenure and now we’ve got the full membership of 11 players: Moises Alou, Ellis Burks, Jose Cruz Jr., Glenallen Hill, Stan Javier, Hunter Pence, Armando Rios, Reggie Sanders, Nate Schierholtz, Randy Winn, and of course, Michael Andrew Yastrzemski.

The reason these 11 players form a collective – and not just an unspectacular (if fun) through-the-years montage – is because there’s not another group like it throughout baseball. Excluding pitchers (because honestly, who cares about pitchers, amiright?), there isn’t another team in the sport that can boast this many productive players at any position over the last 25 years. Check every positional group on all 30 teams, and no team had more than 8 players generate 3.0 rWAR at any position. Except the Giants in right field.

Put another way, the Giants have fielded 15% more (decent) right fielders than any other team at any other position over the last 25 years. Conspiracy, you say? Nefarious dark arts, you say?

My thoughts exactly.


No Superstars, No Problem


By career rWAR, the best player to ever don the black and orange robes of McCovey’s Coven is Reggie Sanders – who spent just 1 season in San Francisco. The 17-year ML veteran posted a .250/.324/.455 line in his age-34 season, good for 3.6 rWAR as he helped the Giants reach their lone World Series of the Bonds era. Was Sanders a superstar? He put up 39.8 rWAR for his career over 1,777 career games, which comes out to, hmm, 3.6 rWAR per 162 games. He was an All-Star (1995), and a very good player. But not a superstar. By total rWAR, he ranks 18th overall among right fielders of the Wild Card Era – the highest-ranking member of McCovey’s Coven.

But this is exactly what makes this group amazing.

That the Giants have failed to develop – or acquire in any fashion – a consistent presence in right field could be considered an organizational blind spot. On the other hand: haven’t they?

It’s a mark of real organizational aptitude that they have, actually, developed a consistent presence in right. The name on the back of the jersey has changed, but time and again they found new acolytes to initiate into the order. It’s easy to park Bonds in left field for 15 seasons and watch him rake (though, a little more oversight there would have been okay).

It’s much more challenging to continually find a new solution. In the 25 seasons since the beginning of the Wild Card Era, the Giants have started 17 different guys in right field on Opening Day. Winn boasts the longest run – a three-season stretch from 2007 to 2009 – while the late great Hunter Pence (DFA’ed, not dead) nabbed the most Opening Day starts with 4, not including this season when he opened the year as the designated hitter.


Initiating Yastrzemski


Yastrzemski never occupied a top spot in the org chart, not until he suddenly claimed it last season. The 5’10 southpaw hadn’t asserted himself enough to crack the bigs over his six years climbing the ladder in Baltimore’s system. But in the two years since the Giants inked him to a minor league contract, the now-30-year-old morphed into the game’s biggest outta-nowhere superstar since Max Muncy.

In 2019, he posted solid production over a 107-game, 411 plate appearance sample: .272/.334/.518 with 21 home runs, 64 runs, 55 RBIs, .245 ISO, 7.8 BB%, 26.0 K%, and 121 wRC+. By just about any measure, the 29-year-old rookie had broken out as a solid, even borderline All-Star right fielder. He fell short of Brotherhood standards, however, with just 2.8 rWAR.

This season, he scaled back his aggressiveness. He cut his year-over-year swing percentage from 47.1 to 38.7, while refining his eye to a year-over-year drop in chase rate from 27.0% to 20.3%. His first pitch swing rate also fell from 29% to 25%. He did more than stop swinging at pitches outside the zone – he also became more selective on pitches inside the zone by dropping his Zone Swing % from 67.6 to 57.3. Getting deeper into counts hasn’t fazed him. Across 216 plate appearances with two strikes, he’s posted a 181 wRC+.

Take this lesson home to all the young ones out there: don’t swing at pitches outside the zone, don’t be afraid to hit with two strikes, and as Frank Thomas advises, choose your zone, sit on it, and only swing if the pitch comes where you want it.

Lil Yaz took those lessons to heart and turned himself into a 153 wRC+ hitter in just a year’s time. He boasts a .287/.392/.557 triple slash with 9 home runs through 204 plate appearances. If he were to keep this up over 600 plate appearances, the Giants would be looking at a legit 6.6 fWAR superstar traversing that cavernous patch of grass in right field. That would easily be the best season by a San Francisco right fielder of the Wild Card Era. Ellis Burks‘ 5.0 rWAR in 2000 currently takes the cake.


Fulfilling The Prophecy


Amazingly, despite finding more productive players to chase gappers into triples alley than any team has been able to find for any position, Yastrzemski is already well on his way to becoming the best San Francisco right fielder in the bunch.

The pessimists will point out that he’s already 30-years-old, and in the small sample of 2020, it’s hard to tell the difference between smoke-and-mirrors and the Real McCoy. If this group of professional ballplayers should teach us anything, it’s that Giants fans should expect a new right fielder to patrol the grounds within a year or two. He’ll be decent. He’ll hold the line. He’ll get his robe, swear the vows, drink the blood of his forefathers. Or whatever it is they do.

But there is a prophecy that I just made up. A prophecy that foretells of The Prince That Was Promised, a superstar right fielder that will carry a bat they call Dongbringer. I am not an oracle. But in the field of Oracle, there has been a man some say is the superstar San Franciscans have been waiting for.

They call him Yastrzemski.

Over his first 154 games and 615 plate appearances – basically 1 full season – his 4.8 rWAR ties with Moises Alou for the 5th most career rWAR among the Coven’s membership. Rocking a triple slash of .277/.353/.530, Yaztrzemski could be the first real superstar to talk stoop at McCovey Cove.

Or he could just be another member of the brotherhood.

Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)

TC Zencka

TC Zencka contributes regularly to Pitcher List, and MLB Trade Rumors. Come say hi on Twitter.

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