If the Brewers want to make their third-consecutive playoff appearance, they’ll need Christian Yelich to look more like himself when it counts.
Last night’s series-opening 1-0 win for the Brewers over the rival Chicago Cubs saw the game end in dramatic walkoff fashion in the bottom of the ninth. It also saw former MVP Christian Yelich do the type of things MVPs often do in jumpstarting the winning rally.
Yelich started off the bottom of the frame by drawing a leadoff walk. He then advanced from first to third after Jedd Gyorko dumped a single into right field, and eventually trotted home easily on Ryan Braun‘s game-ending sacrifice fly.
It was a much better result for Yelich than any of his three previous plate appearances on the night. All three resulted in strikeouts with two coming with runners on base and one with a runner in scoring position.
Unfortunately, poor results with runners in scoring position have become an all too familiar trend for Yelich in 2020. It’s a trend that will likely need to reverse itself if the Brewers expect to end this season with another playoff bid.
How bad have things gotten for Yelich in 2020?
Yelich was one of the more elite run producers in 2019 when the Brewers had runners in scoring position. He ranked in the top ten among qualified National League batters in that situation with a 1.155 OPS (5th), .693 slugging percentage (6th), 10 homers (4th), and a 20.4% walk rate (10th).
2020, on the other hand, has seen a severe drop off in the numbers for Yelich. Hitting just .143 with runners in scoring position, Milwaukee’s best player has seen the aforementioned OPS (.687), slugging (.393), and walk rate (17.6%) all take dips, as well as most other stats across the board.
There are two big factors that explain this. For one, Yelich is just plain striking out more. While he is striking out about 10% more often in general from 2019 to 2020, it has been even worse with runners in scoring position, as his strikeout percentage has jumped from 18.9% last year to 32.4% this year.
And when Yelich is making contact, it’s not nearly as high of quality as it was last season. With runners in scoring position in 2019, he was making hard contact 57% of the time. In the same situations this season, that has dropped all the way down to 23.5%.
Yelich is just 4 for 28 with runners in scoring position so far in 2020. If he were hitting at his 2019 average (.327), you could add another five hits to that total. Imagine how many close games this year could have had the script flipped with a big hit in a clutch situation.
An inconsistent Brewers offense needs more from Yelich
Simply put, the Brewers need to score more runs. After scoring 4.74 runs per game in 2019, Milwaukee is scraping together just 4.24 runs per game in 2020, 24th best in the league and a number that only jumped above 4.00 rpg after Wednesday’s 19-run outburst.
While the Brewers did well to pull off a close win in last night’s game, that was definitely an exception to the rule. It was just the fourth win, compared to 18 losses, when scoring three or less runs. On the other hand, they are 16-4 when scoring four or more.
Of course there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the inconsistency on offense, from slow-starting offseason acquisitions to Brewer veterans having down years. But only one of those players won an NL MVP award two seasons ago.
Milwaukee made a significant commitment to Yelich over the offseason, signing him to the largest contract in team history and making him a Brewer through at least 2028. If anyone should be expected to lead the way to a potential offensive breakthrough, it’s the team’s superstar.
Luckily, we’ve all seen what Yelich is capable of doing in the past and if anyone can turn things around in the most clutch of situations, it’s the former MVP. Hopefully he does it in time for the Brewers to make a playoff run.