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MVP to Mystery: The Christian Yelich Chronicles

The Major League Man of Mystery. What's next for the former MVP?

Since his 2018 MVP performance, there have been many more ups than downs for Christian Yelich. That, however, did not stop the Brewers from committing $215 million over nine years. Since then, Yelich has not been the same player.

His name has been plastered all over the “Do Not Draft” and “My 2022 Avoids” lists all off-season and many are wondering, “what happened?” How is it that someone of his talent can just fall off as quickly as they did?

 

The Injuries

 

Since May of 2019, Yelich has found himself on the injury report often. Between the ongoing back injuries that have spanned back to his days with the Marlins, to the fractured knee cap he suffered on September 10th, 2019 while the Brewers were riding a hot streak into the MLB Playoffs. In April of this past season, he was placed on the injured list for the first time as he was dealing with lower back stiffness. One month later, he found himself on the IL yet again and, this time, it seemed to be the injury that broke this camel’s back.

 

Back Injuries in Baseball

 

In 2016, there was an article written by Stefano Sinicropi, and how spine injuries were on the rise in Major League Baseball.

Sinicropi highlighted how 12% of injuries that resulted in missed time are due to back injuries. In an interview conducted with the assistant team doctor for the Mets, Dr. Joshua Dimes, he states “swinging a bat is not a normal activity” and how hitting is the main cause for the injury. One interesting thing of note was his mentioning of how a baseball player must use the correct combination of movements from both the upper and lower body to square up a baseball, all while staying controlled and coordinated through the athlete’s core and lower back. Without the proper synchronization, the incoordination of the body, throughout the process of the swing, can cause extra stress on the lower back. This then leads to recurring back injuries.

Notable names like David Wright, Clayton Kershaw, Lucas Duda, and Joe Panik were brought up in this article and how their seasons were impacted by the aforementioned injuries to their spine/lower backs.

In a publication from the National Library of Medicine, the study conducted stated that, from 2010 to 2016, 7% of all injuries in Major League Baseball were from back injuries. Each player sustaining these ailments found themselves on the injured list for around 54 days. The majority of these injuries come in April.

The one name that popped off the page, from the initial article, was another former MVP in David Wright and how his initial back injury that he sustained in 2011 caused lingering issues throughout the rest of his career. The correlation between Wright and Yelich was one that I wanted to compare.

Wright suffered from a stress fracture in his lower back that caused him to miss two months in the 2011 season. His last full-season came in 2014 before a series of back injuries consisted to persist from 2015 on. Ultimately leading to his diagnosis of spinal stenosis and forcing him into retirement.

 

David Wright vs. Christian Yelich

 

Created by @visual_endgame on Twitter

 

As highlighted in the chart above, there’s one thing that stands out. Even with the common back injuries, Wright’s production from 2015 to 2016 was not as negatively impacted as Yelich’s metrics have seemed to be headed in the opposite direction.

From 2015 to 2016, Wright was able to improve his launch angle, average, and max, exit velocity, and even cut down the ground ball percentage. Yelich, on the other hand, has seen his numbers steadily decline as the back injuries continue to ail him. Even though the high GB% is not something that Yelich has produced previously, the deep declines in launch angle are noticeable. Going from 11.3 in 2019, all the way down to 2.8 in 2021, is telling and is a huge red flag as we try to project Yelich going forward.

 

Production?

 

Between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Yelich had been a disaster. During that span, he played in 175 games, slashing .234/.360/.392 with only 21 home runs, 73 RBIs, and an OPS of .752. He also, barely, had an OPS+ above league average (103). The one thing that seemed to have been sapped from the former MVP was his power.

One may look at his Baseball-Savant page from this past season and be enamored by all of the red indicators in his batted ball data. However, it only means so much when much of that hard contact is being driven into the ground and is supported by the continuous dip in his launch angle (11.3 in 2019, 7.1 in 2020, and 2.8 in 2021), barrel % (15.8%, 12.1% and 7.6% respectfully), and the spike in his ground ball rate of 55.7%, sitting comfortably over the MLB average of 45.1%. The launch angle dip has to be the most concerning as it has mirrored the increase in back injuries he has suffered over the years.

Another significant change to his game has been the plate discipline. His swing rate dipped from 45.2% in 2019 to 34.6% in 2020 and followed up by 41.4% in 2021. All this lead to his chase rate ranking in the 96th percentile in all of baseball.

After digging into these metrics, the injuries have seemed to revert Yelich to his days in Miami, where he averaged a GB rate of 59.2% from his rookie season in 2015 to 2017. The one positive thing that he has going for him is the impressive 18.6% walk rate he had been able to produce this past season. However, is this a byproduct of him being afraid of a possible re-injury to his back on a swing?

 

Final Thoughts

 

So, what has happened to the former MVP? Has the mighty fallen? The recurring back injury could be to blame, but we have all seen what a healthy Christian Yelich looks like. That player produced a 44 home run, 30 stolen base, season in only 130 games. It is the same player that netted him the large extension with the Brewers and is leaving the Brewer faithful begging for more from their face of the franchise.

If Christian Yelich can stay relatively healthy, and make the proper adjustments to his game, one can hope his numbers can revert to “normal”. No, you should not expect for him to jump back to the 40 home run player he was but, anything in between that and his current production could make a huge difference for this, playoff-hopeful, Brewers team in 2022.

As we enter the start of Spring Training, how Craig Counsell manages Christian Yelich will be something to follow. Limited workouts, and time spent in the outfield during games, will give us a good indication of how Yelich is feeling now that they are ramping up for the beginning of the 2020 Major League season.

Featured image by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerdesigns_ on Twitter)

  • Guest01 says:

    What’s the mystery? STEROIDS. Sorry to say but just like DJ Lama-whatever on the Yankees they’re now doing it for two years instead of one year to get the big contract.

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