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.
PITTSBURGH, PA – AUGUST 23: Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers tosses his bat away after striking out. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Reason No. 3: I have a feeling that Yelich’s timing was off, or he was not seeing pitches well

I am not just using the eye test to think Christian Yelich’s timing was off or he wasn’t seeing pitches well. I came to these conclusions because his zone swing percentage was surprisingly lower than in past years. His 2020 zone swing rate was 58.1%, compared to 2019 where he swung at 69.6% of pitches in the zone.

That is quite the difference and tells me that he is either being too patient, or his timing is off which led him to not swing at hittable pitches. And even when he did swing at pitches in the zone, he only made contact 78.1% of the time, compared to 83.9% like in 2019. His whiff percentage was higher than in past years, reaching 33.6%. His second-highest whiff % was in 2019, but only at 28.2%.

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His chase % was nearly 10% less than 2019, but his contact on pitches chased out of the zone was dramatically lower. The Milwaukee Brewers outfielder historically chases around 25% of pitches out of the zone, but his chase contact is around 50% so it does not hurt him too much when he does chase. In 2020 though, his chase contact percentage was 38.4% which is a big drop-off.

Yelich also swung at the 1st pitch a lot less frequently in 2020, which also makes me think his timing was off or was not seeing pitches well. In 2018 and 2019, he swung at the 1st pitch nearly 30% of the time, while in 2020, he only swung 13.4% of the time. I do not think that was an intentional change, because why would you change something when you are playing well (2018 MVP).

His flare/burner % was also highest than in 2019, which might signal his lack of good timing and pitch recognition. In 2020, his flare rate was 28.2% compared to his 23.8% in 2019. Christian Yelich’s barrel percentage was a tad lower in 2020, but I do not think the difference is big enough to be a major source of concern.

What is also concerning though is his lack of success against the offspeed pitch compared to past years. During the Milwaukee Brewers outfielders 2018 MVP run, his wOBA against offspeed pitches was .398. In 2020, his wOBA against the offspeed was a horrible .188. That is a huge difference and might be a sign of bad pitch recognition, his timing is off, or he is being too aggressive and whiffing more often.

But, his whiff % on offspeed pitches did not really change, he actually limited his whiff % on offspeed pitches compared to 2019. This tells me that he is just not making good contact on the offspeed pitches because his timing is off. To build on my point, he also was unsuccessful against the fastball compared to 2019. His fastball whiff rate was nearly 10% higher than in 2019.

Yelich usually crushes the fastball but his wOBA dropped down to .382 against the fastball. In 2019, his wOBA against the fastball was .458. But as I mentioned earlier, he is hitting balls harder but at the expense of consistency.

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When you put all of this together, there should be genuine concern about how Christian Yelich will perform for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021. It is not like Yelich just had a career-high strikeout rate, or just was struggling against the offspeed, he was struggling in many aspects. When an MVP caliber player is struggling in so many areas, that makes me think it is a bigger picture issue such as lack of timing or pitch recognition.