Milwaukee Brewers: Why Christian Yelich’s 2020 season was not a fluke

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 31: Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts after striking out. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 31: Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts after striking out. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 01: Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts to his strikeout. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich had the worst season of his MLB career in 2020. I am not so optimistic to say that it was an outlier of a season.

There is not a lot of explaining that needs to be done about Christian Yelich‘s history, which is a testament to what he has accomplished over the years. He was a good player while in Miami, but after joining the Milwaukee Brewers he blossomed into a star. He made his first All-Star team in 2018 and won the NL MVP award. 2019 was a similar story where he made his second All-Star game appearance but he finished second in NL MVP voting.

The shortened 2020 regular season did not fare so well for the former MVP. He played in 58 out of 60 regular-season games and batted .205. To put it into perspective, he hit .326 in 2018, and .329 in 2019. His slugging percentage was much lower than the previous season and struck out more often. There are some glaring numbers that make me think Yelich’s 2020 season was not an outlier, and how 2021 could be a similar story.

Reason No. 1: Struggles against the shift

According to Baseball Savant, there were more teams that shifted against Christian Yelich in 2020. Historically speaking, Yelich has been a very balanced hitter who hit to all fields and used his speed, sort of like a typical lead-off/contact hitter profile. But the league has taken notice and shifted more often on Yelich.

In 2018, during his breakout MVP season, teams shifted 1.7% of the time. His wOBA (weighted on-base average) was .487 with the shift, and .422 without the shift. In 2019, teams decided to shift more often, approximately 32.3% of the time against Yelich. It did not make much of a difference because his wOBA was a whopping .470 with the shift. Without the shift, his wOBA was .429.

It is almost like he hits better with the shift on according to 2018 and 2019, but this was not the case in 2020. His 2020 wOBA with the shift on was down to .310. Without the shift, his wOBA was .370. Teams shifted 54.3% of the time in 2020 against Yelich. This should be a genuine concern for Milwaukee Brewers fans because data is telling teams to shift even more on the former MVP, and it seems to be working.

What is interesting is that he played better against the shift in 2018 and 2019, so the shift wOBA numbers may not be the direct cause of his low numbers. But I think it could be a big reason why his game changed. Going from 32.3% to 54.3% of times teams have shifted is a large bump.

What is also interesting is that his pull percentage is not higher than usual. His pull % in 2020 was 33.9%, while his 2018 pull % was 31.3%, and in 2019 it was 35.8%. So the move to shift more often against Yelich must mean teams figured out how to shift on Yelich.

Another number to look at is his .259 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Yelich’s BABIP has not dropped below .300 since he entered the MLB. This might also represent how the shift has affected his lack of hits because teams are just in the right positions at the right time.