With each moon shot driven to center, line drive slapped to left and clutch knock scalded down the line, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich tightens his grip on the greatest season in franchise history.
After cranking out four hits and two more home runs on Monday in Pittsburgh, Yelich now leads the National League in dingers (39), on-base percentage (.428), slugging percentage (.705), OPS+ (185) and total bases (279).
He has recorded hits in 81 of his 102 starts this season, including in 22 of his last 23 games. Through the Brewers’ good times and bad in 2019, Yelich has been the lone constant, a metronome ticking across 162 games, if the metronome emitted sounds like the crack of a bat three times a night.
Brewers’ fans are no stranger to monster offensive campaigns. Ryan Braun’s MVP season in 2011. Prince Fielder in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Robin Yount in 1982 and Paul Molitor in 1987. The list goes on; for a small-market, expansion franchise, Milwaukee has seen its fair share of legends.
But what Yelich is doing now is unparalleled in Milwaukee lore. Yelich’s offensive stat line is 19 percent better than the next-best Brewer (Braun in 2011). Even if you throw in the Milwaukee Braves, Yelich has been three percent better than Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s extraordinary 1959 line.
Yelich has always been a well-rounded offensive player, and through his first four months in Brewers duds last season, he merely looked like a slightly better version of his Miami self. But he famously flipped a switch last July and has been laying waste to NL pitchers ever since. In 169 games since the 2018 All-Star break, Yelich leads the sport in just about every important category:
64 home runs (Mike Trout is second with 51)
151 RBIs (Anthony Rendon is second with 133)
.348 BA (Jeff McNeil is second at .334)
.730 SLG (Trout is second at .671)
11.8 fWAR (Trout is second with 10.7)
51.2 Hard-Hit Percentage (Justin Turner is second at 50.6 percent)
Yelich is doing the unthinkable: He has out-Trouted the Angels star for the past calendar year. He also ranks inside the top 10 in steals, runs, on-base percentage, walks and triples. Yelich is certainly not on Trout’s level yet – he would have to post these numbers for eight straight years to even be able to utter Trout’s name – but this prolonged tear has still been an otherworldly spectacle.
Just five players all-time have topped a .330 batting average with 45 home runs and a 180 OPS+ in a season: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx. Those players are probably five of the eight best hitters to ever live. Through Monday’s win, Yelich is hitting .336 with 39 home runs and a 185 OPS+, putting him on pace to join one of the most select groups in the game.
Remarkably, while the rest of his peers obsess over launch angle, Yelich is nowhere near the top of the charts when it comes to lifting the ball in the air. Last season, Yelich ranked just 367th in launch angle amongst the 390 hitters with at least 100 batted ball events. That number is up slightly in 2019 – he ranks 196th out of 341 – but he is still last in launch angle among the 10 best home run hitters this year.
What Yelich does do is hit the heck out of the ball. He ranks third in average exit velocity this season and fifth in barrels per plate appearance. Smoking liners with these suddenly juiced superballs is a potent combination, especially in the hitter-friendly Miller Park. Yelich’s home OPS is nearly 300 points better than his road mark, though his .997 road OPS still ranks third in the game.
Yelich is as unassuming as they come, but when he is operating at the peak of his powers like he is right now, he is capable of dotting balls to every single inch of the park. He is immune to lefty/righty splits, sprays the ball from foul pole to foul pole and has turned the entire strike zone as red as the Predator’s heat vision.
For as excellent as Yelich has been in 2019, Milwaukee may need him to be even better over the next two months to carry the team’s tattered pitching staff and inconsistent lineup back to the postseason. If Monday night was any indication, Yelich seems up for the challenge.
When Brian's not writing about sports, he is probably prattling on about Marquette hoops, digging through statistics, or re-binging his favorite television series. Any conversation that begins with a quote from "The Office" or "West Wing" is a surefire way to grab his attention.