The Decline of Christian Yelich
In 2018, first-year Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich made an immediate impact. Having a breakout season becoming a first-time All-Star. Continuing to catch fire in the second half of the season, eventually leading Milwaukee to an NL Central best 96-67 record. Yelich finished the 2018 season with a .367 batting average, .402 on-base percentage, and a .598 slugging percentage. Furthermore, Yelich crushed 187 hits, 36 homers, and collected 187 RBI’s. The outfielder ran away with the 2018 National League MVP title and earned the Silver Slugger award. Unfortunately, the Brewers would fall short to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the NLCS. One game shy of Milwaukee’s first World Series appearance in 36 years.
The reigning NL MVP posted another strong season in 2019, becoming an All-Star for the second consecutive season. Christian Yelich hit a career-high 44 home runs, in addition to a .329 batting average, .429 on-base percentage, and .671 slugging percentage. Sadly, Yelich’s back-to-back MVP campaign would be cut short. After a freak knee injury against Yelich’s former team the Miami Marlins. Sidelining Yelich for the remaining 19 games of the season, despite his absence Milwaukee miraculously surged to a playoff appearance. Eventually, losing to the Washington Nationals in the NL Wild Card game.
Spring of 2020, the Milwaukee Brewers extended Christian Yelich’s contract through 2028, worth $215 million dollars. The franchise’s largest contract signing in history. In a pandemic-affected season and return from injury, Yelich’s batting numbers declined. While improving to become one of MLB’s best in walk percentage helped Yelich reach on base. Ironically, Yelich’s strikeout rate increased to 30.8%, the 11th worst in the league, considerably higher than his career average. The outfielder struggled mightily against right-handed pitchers; Yelich batted a .169 average, .326 on-base percentage, .345 slugging percentage, with a staggering 55 strikeouts. The irony continues, as Yelich had a career year against left-handed pitchers batting a .293 average, .431 on-base percentage, .638 slugging percentage, and only 21 strikeouts.
A consistent rhythm was hard to find for Christian Yelich; a shortened season prevented a normal amount of plate appearances. In 2020, Yelich swung for a career-low number of pitches 34.6% percent as a sign of discomfort. A far cry from his previous two seasons; Yelich led the league in swings at pitches percentage in 2018 and 2019 with 44% and 45.2% percent. Yelich finished 2020 with career lows in batting average, .205, and .356 on-base percentage.
The Milwaukee Brewers finished with a 29-31 record and clinched the eighth seed in the playoffs. For the first time in National League history, a team with a losing record reached the postseason. As the Brewers lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs for the second time in three years.
On April 11, 2021, Christian Yelich suffered a lower back injury, only nine games into the season. Prior to the injury, Yelich’s slash line was .333/ .459/ .367 and an OPS of .826. Already improving from the previous season. On May 3rd, Yelich returned to the Brewers' starting lineup against the Philadephia Phillies after missing 20 games on injured reserve. In his first game back, Yelich agitated his lower back, placing him on injured reserve again.
Eventually, Christian Yelich returned for the second time on May 18 against the Kansas City Royals. The struggles continued, and after improving his batting in his first ten games, Yelich began to decline. May was Yelich’s worst month as a batter in 2021 with a batting average of .189 percent. Uncharacteristically, taking 15 games before Yelich hit his first home run of the season.
Many of Christian Yelich’s hits were infield ground balls, hitting at his highest rate since 2017. In 2021, his rate reached 55.7% percent. In addition, Yelich’s line drive rate was the second-worst of his career, slightly improving from his 2020 season. Much like 2020, Yelich struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers with a slash line of .187/ .294/ .318 and only two home runs. Compared to right-handed pitchers, .271/ .387/ .394 and seven home runs.
The mental toll of the past two seasons must have been difficult for Christian Yelich. After coming off near back-to-back MVP seasons, the expectation was high. Obviously, the 2020 pandemic-affected season was a challenge for every player. Especially for Yelich, after coming back from his season-ending knee injury. Health has been a concern, in 2021. Yelich missed 45 games. Evidently, Yelich has become less aggressive, swinging at fewer pitches in the previous two seasons.
Thankfully, Milwaukee has become one of the best teams in baseball; despite their superstar’s slump and largely due part to Milwaukee's star-studded bullpen. But an area of concern for the Brewers in 2021 was batting. Milwaukee needs Christian Yelich to be healthy and his elite offensive production back to make a deep run in the postseason. Hopefully, in 2022, Yelich can make a strong comeback to return to his superstar form.