Brewers: Why Has Christian Yelich Been Better in the Leadoff Spot?

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Aug 21, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich (22) rounds the base after hitting a grand slam home run against the Washington Nationals in the eighth inning at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 21, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich (22) rounds the base after hitting a grand slam home run against the Washington Nationals in the eighth inning at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /
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In the two plus weeks that Christian Yelich has been batting leadoff for the Brewers, he has become an effective leadoff hitter, to the point that it would make a lot of sense to leave him in the spot even after Kolten Wong returns from injury. Has anything changed with Yelich, or the pitches he is seeing?

The start of the 2022 season has not entirely been the return to greatness that fans would have hoped for the former MVP Yelich. On the whole, he has been slightly above league average with a 102 wRC+ to go with a slash line of .245/.338/.377, a wOBA of .318, and a 24.2 K%.

In the first chunk of the season, Yelich primarily hit 3rd in the same lineup spot he has occupied for the past several seasons. After Kolten Wong landed on the injured list, Brewers manager Craig Counsell made a lineup change that may have unlocked the newest iteration of Christian Yelich.

On June 8th, Yelich moved up in the lineup, batting first for the Brewers. In the 17 games since he is slashing .304/.385/.420 with two home runs and a 126 wRC+. While not the Yelich of yore, this iteration of Christian Yelich is much more in line with the one Brewers fans expected when he was first acquired from Miami.

While Christian Yelich is not the same player he was in 2018 or 2019, since moving to the leadoff spot, he has found a way to be a productive member of the Brewers lineup.

With less power, Yelich is still getting on base, and doing exactly what a lead off batter should do: get on base, and get home.

Granted, there is a sizable difference between sample sizes as Yelich has 231 plate appearances from Opening Day through June 7th and 78 since June 8th. Despite his underlying metrics taking a tick down in Hard Hit% and Barrel%, he is far more productive in his new role than he previously was, and appears to be more aggressive, swinging more, and having less called strikes.

Perhaps one sign that this may not be completely sustainable for Yelich is his extremely high BABIP. BABIP typically will usually normalize, and the .388 BABIP that Yelich has would be a career high, above his career BABIP of .349.

What could have caused the changes?

Perhaps the legendary Yogi Berra’s quote saying, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical” is true. Especially with someone like Yelich, who has been vocal about his transformation, perhaps moving up in the lineup has taken the pressure off his shoulders and given him the opportunity to just exist.

Yelich’s production for the past two weeks has been closer to the production he was putting up back in his Miami days. In 2017, Yelich had a 117 wRC+ with a wOBA of .363 and 3.5 fWAR. In 2016, Yelich had a wRC+ of 134 to go a wOBA of .388 and a 5.8 fWAR.

This Christian Yelich is not the one fans may be hoping for, but a return to his pre-Milwaukee days perhaps provides a way for the contract he signed prior to 2020 to seem like less of an albatross.

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While not the production fans may be hoping for, this new look Yelich in the leadoff spot will help keep him productive and give the Brewers an opportunity to win and make the most of the contract he signed with the team.

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