We all know how good a healthy Christian Yelich is. This summer was a forcible reminder that that talent is still there. Alas, the summer is over.
Yelich’s Performance Has Slipped, Significantly
After playing the first game of the series against the New York Yankees, Yelich was benched due to lower back soreness, a move that may have been a few days (or weeks) too late. Since the start of September, Yelich has slashed just .125/.241/.167 over 29 plate appearances, a far cry from his midsummer renaissance.
Yelich has been a workhorse for the Brewers for the past two seasons and for most of his career, but after fracturing his knee in 2019 and repeatedly aggravating a back issue that started in 2015, it’s more likely that his deteriorating performance is a result of injuries than anything else. Furthermore, given that he was scratched from the lineup for soreness in an an area he’s had issues with in the past, it would be a prudent move to rest him before it gets any worse.
At his best, Yelich is one of the best outfielders in baseball. At his worst, he’s a liability in the lineup. History has shown us that he’s usually at his worst when he’s battling physical limitations, so maybe an extended break will help restore him to full strength.
The Brewers Don’t Really Need Him
In Yelich’s worst full month of the season, the Brewers had their best month since April, going 17-9 in August. The team’s offense was average, posting a .708 OPS, but the pitching was lights out. With Freddy Peralta having his best month and bullpen names like Abner Uribe, Hoby Milner, and Trevor Megill rising to the occasion, Milwaukee had a 3.36 ERA in August, third best in MLB.
All year, the Brewers have made it clear that they win games through pitching and scoring barely enough runs to squeak by with the win. At 631 runs scored, they are 18th in MLB and have scored the fewest of any division-leading team (the Minnesota Twins are next, with 664). It also helps that his replacement, Tyrone Taylor, slashed .271/.339/.542 in August and has an OPS .260 points higher than Yelich’s in the limited sample size of September.
Milwaukee doesn’t have the biggest lead over the Chicago Cubs, but given their relatively similar strength of schedule, FanGraphs is still giving the Brewers an 80.4% chance to win the division. Thus, benching a freezing-cold and battered Yelich accomplishes two goals. It gives the Brewers a stronger lineup to finish the regular season so they can secure their spot as the third seed, while getting Yelich ready to perform in the postseason. Something like a 10-day IL stint would likely pay dividends for the team, allowing him to heal without getting too rusty when the games start to really matter.
It’s never easy to bench a player, especially when he’s the face of your organization (not to mention its highest-paid player, by a margin of $15 million a year), but managing a baseball team is all about making hard decisions. The Brewers are fortunate enough to have the outfield depth and standings position to cruise into October baseball, but if they keep letting Yelich limp out there, even that might change.
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