There’s no sugarcoating what Yelich has done these past two years. He hit 21 home runs in over 700 plate appearances after topping that figure in less chances in both 2018 and 2019 alone. He stole just 13 bases these last two seasons, a figure that sits below five of his seven previous seasons. His 2021 batting average was a 4% improvement on 2020, and it was still more than 4% below his career average. We don’t need to dig all that deep here. It’s a simple equation. The Brewers pay Christian Yelich a lot of money to hit the baseball. He quite simply has not done that these last two seasons. That’s not going to work.
Yelich’s 2021 was a struggle, setting a troubling trend
The advanced metrics tell a similar story. His wins added above average have been negative the last two years after seven straight positive seasons. The same is true of his runs better than average numbers. His 1.8 total WAR in ’20/’21 is worse than all but one of his previous seasons, and he played just 62 games in a 1.6 WAR rookie season. He’s striking out as much and homering as infrequently as he ever has. It’s simply been a tough ride for him these last few years, and that’s especially true when you consider his relatively mediocre defense. Yelich isn’t a terrible defender, but his arm just isn’t very strong. He doesn’t provide enough there to not hit very well, and yet that’s where we find ourselves. In the two seasons of his career where he’s been paid the most, he’s performed the worst.
Offensive Grade: D
Fielding Grade: C
Overall Grade: D+
Yelich Isn’t Going Anywhere
Here’s the simple reality – Christian Yelich is going to be a starting outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers next year. He’ll likely be the starting outfielder in 2023, and 2024, and 2025, and all the way through 2029, when his massive contract ends. Either he’s good enough to not trade these next few seasons, or he’s bad enough that he can’t be traded. There are three general outcomes here.
One, Yelich regains his old form or something close to it and provides a reasonable or even more-than-reasonable bang for his buck for much of the contract’s length. This isn’t out of the question. Miami Yelich wasn’t the same power threat as the MVP version we saw in ’18 and ’19, but he was still a very solid contact hitter. Throw in the improved walk rate he’s shown in the last two seasons, and there’s plenty of tools to work with here.
It’s important to emphasize that this is not a guy that came out of nowhere to play like an MVP for two years. The next hitting coach will need to fix his suddenly gone ability to do something with balls that are actually thrown in the strike zone. This will admittedly be easier said than done, but the tools, again, are there. If this happens, the Brewers are probably happy with keeping Yelich for the duration of his contract, and it’s not all that likely a team is going to offer anything significant for him over the next few years anyway.
Two, Yelich makes some strides here and there and becomes a generally serviceable player. If this is the case, a trade wouldn’t be likely for a while. The Brewers would have to do what they could to squeeze as much use out of him as possible. But, it’s possible that someone is willing to accept the money in 2027 or 2028 if they need a bit of an offensive boost. This isn’t really ideal for the Brewers. It is likely better than a few more repeats of the last two years though.
Three, Yelich continues to be a shell of himself for the next few years. This would put the Brewers in a brutal spot. You can’t trade a guy making 20+ million a year and hitting like Yelich did last year, and that means a small market team is looking at eight more years of a massive dead weight on their payroll. This is obviously the worst-case scenario. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.
This would be my key takeaway. There has been plenty of criticism of Yelich these past few weeks and months. That’s fine; his play deserves it. He has looked lost at the plate for the better part of two years. Most of the time, he simply hasn’t been able to buy a hit on any kind of pitch. He failed to deliver in big moments. The contract simply hasn’t matched the player.
But the player has already been given the contract, and he deserved it when he got it too. Yelich was a star for two years. He’s played significantly more games than he hasn’t as one of the best offensive players in baseball these last four years. Why give up on him now?
At the end of the day, Christian Yelich is a Brewer. There’s no changing that. There’s no escaping it. You can’t trade him. You can only beat the same dead horse into oblivion. So support him instead. Believe in him. Show him that the best fans in baseball back their players whether they’re up, down, or somewhere in between.