Christian Yelich, 2018 NL MVP, is having a terrible 2020 season so far.
Derek Holland, veteran starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, won’t overpower hitters with his pitches. He certainly didn’t in three at-bats against Christian Yelich on Tuesday. But it didn’t seem to matter as Yelich’s disastrous start to the 2020 season continued.
Yelich came to the plate for the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth inning against Holland in a 0-0 tie game and with a runner at first. Holland threw him a 92 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. It’s the type of pitch Yelich would’ve punished the past two years, but on this night, all he could do was hit a weak grounder to second base that turned into a double play.
Yelich also struck out in the first inning and grounded out in the sixth against Holland. The former National League MVP has just one hit in 25 at-bats this season (he’s currently 0-3 with two strikeouts as the Brewers play at PNC Park on Wednesday night). A solo home run off the Cubs’ Brad Wieck on Saturday is his only RBI. He’s hitless (0-13) over his last three games, something he did only once all of last season.
A slow start wouldn’t be such a big deal in a normal season. But in a 60-game schedule, five games is equivalent to 13 in a 162-game schedule. Over his first 13 games in 2019, he hit .367 with five home runs, 15 RBI, and a 1.222 OPS. He has just four batted balls this season with an exit velocity above 95 mph; he had 182 last season, 35th in the league, despite missing the final three weeks with a broken kneecap.
What’s most worrisome about Yelich’s play so far this year is it doesn’t resemble at all the player from the previous two seasons. Since 2018, Yelich leads all hitters with a .327 AVG (eight points ahead of Mookie Betts). He’s second to Mike Trout in both OPS and Weighted Runs Created. Before Yelich arrived in Milwaukee in a trade with the Miami Marlins, only Prince Fielder and Paul Molitor ever had a season with an OPS above 1.000 for the Brewers; Yelich has done it the past two years, joining Trout as the only batters to do so.
If there’s any consolation for the Brewers, it’s that Yelich is far from alone in having a slow start. Betts, fresh off signing a $365 million extension with the Dodgers, is batting .208 with no home runs. Reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger has yet to hit a home run in 22 at-bats and is hitting just .227. George Springer of the Astros is 1-20. Even Trout is batting just .211 with an OPS 400 points behind his mark last season.
The hurried push to get ready for the season meant batters could not get their usual preparation for the season. The Brewers played just one exhibition game against the White Sox in Chicago before starting the season. It’s no surprise that even All-Star players like Yelich have taken a little while longer to find their timing.
Yelich will get his MVP-caliber swing back. It’s only a matter of time. But, in a 60-game season, time is something the Brewers don’t have much of.