The Milwaukee Brewers are rolling into the playoffs on the shoulders of outfielder Christian Yelich. Here are nine things to know about the Brewers’ budding superstar.
1. The Brewers acquired Yelich in January for four minor leaguers
On Jan. 25, Milwaukee general manager David Stearns dove headfirst into the trade market when he sent Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto to Miami in return for the 26-year-old Yelich. Brinson was the Brewers’ top prospect at the time and one of the best minor leaguers in baseball; he played in 21 games for Milwaukee in 2017. The other three minor leaguers were also well-regarded youngsters, so on the surface, it appeared to be a nice haul for the rebuilding Marlins.
Not so fast.
Of the four players headed to Miami, Brinson was the only one to appear in a major league game this season while the other three work their way through the system. And, well, Brinson was not good. Among National League players with at least 400 plate appearances, Brinson finished with the second-worst strikeout rate (29.6 percent), the second-worst walk rate (4.2 percent), the worst OPS (.577) and the fewest wins above replacement (WAR), according to Fangraphs (-1.0). He was the worst player in the NL, and even though he is still young, players don’t often flip the switch from historically terrible to perennial All-Star.
Meanwhile, Yelich leads NL position players in WAR by a lot (his 7.4 dwarfs the 6.1 posted by second place Anthony Rendon), meaning the Brewers managed to trade the league’s worst player for its best. Yes, Miami received three other pieces in the trade, but none are likely to turn into the centerpiece of a postseason team like Yelich is now. Even after one season, it’s clear the deal was a slam-dunk victory for Stearns and the Brewers.
2. Yelich and Cain arrived in Milwaukee on the same day
Hours after Milwaukee traded for Yelich, reports hit the wire that the Brewers also inked Lorenzo Cain to a five-year deal in free agency. The Brewers were a solid team in 2017, but they were likely punching above their weight and seemed poised for regression this season. But rather than sit on his hands and merely hope for internal improvement, Stearns made something happen and completely transformed his roster overnight. Outside of Boston, where Mookie Betts and JD Martinez have been the engine behind the Red Sox’ 108-win campaign, no duo has been more important for their team than Yelich and Cain.
The outfield pair has combined for 46 home runs, 208 runs, 51 stolen bases and a sparkling 24 defensive runs saved. Yelich and Cain are all-around superstars that can handle the bat, create havoc on the base paths and steal hits in the outfield. Brewers fans are used to talented duos after Robin Yount and Paul Molitor in the 1980s and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the 2000s; Yelich and Cain are on that level now too – and should propel Milwaukee into October over the coming seasons.
3. Yelich’s power is surging in the Brew City
While in Miami, Yelich was always a steady hitter, but he more often hit doubles in the gap rather homers over the fence. From 2014-17, Yelich played 145 games per year for the Fish, averaging 34 doubles and 14 home runs per season. But for the Brewers this season, Yelich has fully weaponized his power. In 146 total games, he has once again collected 34 two-baggers, but his home run total has spiked to 36, just one off the NL lead.
4. You can’t get him out with left-handed pitching, either
So often, managers turn to southpaws in the bullpen to limit the impact of powerful left-handed bats. Just last week, Craig Counsell started Dan Jennings, a left-handed reliever, whose only job was to get Matt Carpenter out. That strategy worked for Milwaukee, but it’s something opposing managers will be unable to employ against Yelich in the playoffs.
While Yelich’s power numbers dip ever so slightly against left-handed pitchers, he actually hits for a higher average (.327 to .321). In fact, no left-handed hitter was better against like-throwing pitchers this season. Yelich’s .972 OPS was by far the best mark posted by a lefty against lefties in 2018. If anything, opposing managers might need to take a hint from the Cardinals’ strategy last week: Manager Mike Shildt walked him five times in five plate appearances in the Brewers 2-1 road win.
5. Yelich has had some success this season against the other NL playoff teams
While Yelich has struggled in small sample sizes against the Cubs (.175 batting average) and the Braves (.148), he has absolutely blitzed the Rockies (.333) and Dodgers (.433) this year, with 11 extra-base hits in 14 games against the two NL West squads. Don’t worry too much about his numbers against Chicago: Yelich still managed to reach base 10 times in six September contests with the Cubbies.
6. Yelich is also Pete Davidson look alike!
Or at least, he was until SNL’s Davidson added the tattoos and blonde hair.
7. Yelich is having one of the best seasons in Brewers history
Even though Milwaukee is a small-market franchise with limited periods of success, the Brewers have still had some players post impressive campaigns for the Crew. Of course, as he vies for an MVP award, Yelich has tossed his name into the pantheon of blue-and-gold greats.
Over a single season, Yelich ranks third in franchise history in OPS (1.003), fourth in slugging percentage (.596), fifth in runs (118), 10th in batting average (.323), 12th in on-base percentage (.400), 14th in home runs (36) and 20th in RBIs (109).
8. He isn’t going anywhere
Maybe the best part of Yelich’s 2018 campaign – besides his video game numbers – is that Brewers fans can sleep easy knowing he will be in town for the foreseeable future. Yelich is under contract for three more seasons, earning just over $36 million total. He also has a club option in 2022 for a measly $15 million that the Brewers will surely pick up if he performs anywhere near his career levels.
While other teams will be clamoring for one of many high-priced free agents this winter, the Brewers will have already locked in their young star on probably the best contract in the sport.
9. And his love for Milwaukee is evident
His recent Player’s Tribune piece tells the full story. Few things are more enjoyable for fans than a fun, exuberant superstar who loves his adopted town. With Yelich, Milwaukee now has that experience once again.