How Valuable is Christian Yelich to the Brewers?
The Milwaukee Brewers recently announced the mutual departure of outfielder Lorenzo Cain, 36, after a six-year tenure with the franchise. Cain, a fan favorite, had two stints with Milwaukee. Known for his freakish athleticism and miraculous catches. But this season, Cain met an all-time low. With 145 at bats Cain had a career-low .179 batting average and only one homer.
On an expiring contract, the move made plenty of sense to manager Graig Counsell. Segueing for younger Brewers outfielders such as Johnathan Davis and Tyrone Taylor to have more playing time.
This sparked the question; how valuable is Christian Yelich to the Brewers long term?
Christian Yelich, 30, the former National League MVP is under contract with the Brewers through 2028. A seven-year extension signed in March 2020, meant for Yelich to be instrumental in the foreseeable future for the Brew Crew. Unfortunately, this 2022 season has revealed to be another slouch year in production for the left fielder. A steady decline beginning in the 2020 season. Yelich simply doesn’t play with the distinct moxie he once possessed.
So far this season, in 67 games played, Christian Yelich’s slash-line is a .235 batting average, .321 on-base percentage, and .369 slugging percentage. Career low numbers this season in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It’s hard to believe Yelich is only four seasons removed from back-to-back histrionic Silver Slugger award-winning seasons.
The bewildering aspect of Yelich's game is his roughly league-average batting stats. Yet, he’s one of the league’s hardest hitters. His average exit velocity is in the 90th percentile and his hard-hit rate is in the 94th. Despite this, it has only translated to seven home runs so far this season.
One reason is where Yelich is placing the ball. This season his ground ball percentage is 55.8%, gradually increasing over the previous three seasons. Another is a high strikeout rate. Yelich is lowly ranked in the 26th percentile.
On June 8th, Graig Counsell decided to bump Christian Yelich to lead-off batter. In hopes of alleviating the pressure of batting third in the lineup. The conventional lead-off batter, second baseman Kolten Wong, has been absent due to injury. A perfect opportunity to shake things up for Yelich. Consequently, Yelich’s batting average has improved since the shift from .224 to .278 as a result. There have been glimpses of promise this season.
Earlier this season, Yelich went on a nine-game hitting streak. Going 14-for-39 (.358 batting average) with two home runs during that stretch.
Another shining moment came on May 11th. Yelich batted remarkably against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. Completing his third career cycle. Placing him in MLB history as one of six players to ever do so.
Ultimately, the Brewers are holding onto their most prized possession, their franchise player. Yelich shows signs of optimism leading Milwaukee in walks, stolen bases, on-base percentage, and runs. In addition to retaining his hard-hitting ability. While improving on contact when swinging to 78.3%, it's his highest since his 2018 MVP season. While still at a fairly young age there’s reason to believe Yelich can return to his formerly dominant play.
Where Yelich proves his value is in his willingness to help the team. Accepting the opportunity of being moved forward in the batting order rather than pushed backward. Offering himself to come in as a designated hitter. Allowing other outfielders to step in and play when facing weaker opponents.
The trust Counsell has in his former MVP remains strong after years of working together. The vision is to see positive consistency in his game moving forward. Yelich has overcome injuries in the previous seasons and has become healthy. The reliability for Milwaukee in 2022 has been vital. As health has emerged as one of the biggest obstacles for the club this season. The opportunity to breakout is there. Let’s see what happens.