Christian Yelich can’t buy a hit right now.
After another 0-for-5 night with 3 strikeouts in Wednesday night’s series finale in Pittsbugh, the former MVP is now 1-for-27 to start the season, striking out 12 times.
It’s clear his timing is off right now, and it likely doesn’t help that the last week is the first truly competitive pitching he’s faced since early September of last year. On top of the high whiff rate — his current 42.9% K% is more than twice as high as last year’s 20.2% — he’s not hitting the ball hard when he is making contact, with an average exit velocity of 89 mph much lower than his 93.2 mph average last season that ranked in the top 2% in the league.
The slump is becoming a daily story, because these types of things become daily stories early in the season when they’re more noticeable — since they’re the only numbers in the books right now.
While it’s true that Yelich has largely been slump-proof during his 2+ years in a Brewers uniform, similar stretches have happened before — which is why Craig Counsell isn’t terribly worried, and we can shout down any nonsense of him mailing it in now that he got his big contract.
A reminder — this has been six games. So few that AP Style says I should type “six” out instead of using the numeral. That’s a tiny amount in a normal season, and remains an incredibly small sample even in a shortened 60-game season. It’s 10% of the at-bats he’ll presumably make this season.
So let’s go digging through his old game logs and see what comes up in terms of similar slumps.
- In 7 games from June 22nd through June 29th, Yelich went 3-for-26 with 9 strikeouts. Two of those hits came in a single game, leaving 5 of those 7 games hitless.
- In 4 games from August 11th through August 16th, Yelich went 1-for-15 with 6 strikeouts. This was after missing about a week, and was quickly ended by going 5-for-7 in the wild 14-inning game against Washington.
- In 6 games from April 24th through April 29th, Yelich went 3-for-23 with no extra-base hits and 6 strikeouts.
- In 6 games from June 18th to June 24th, Yelich went 4-for-24 with 10 strikeouts. A solo home run was the only extra-base hit.
- In 7 games (6 in which he got an at-bat) from June 27th through July 7th, Yelich went 3-for-19 with 4 strikeouts.
(Note: If you take that entire span from June 18th through July 7th, Yelich went just 9-for-45 in 14 games)
- In 6 games from August 7th through August 12th — the middle of his crazy second half that won him an MVP — Yelich went 2-for-25 with 10 strikeouts, with a solo home run the only extra-base hit.
So, sure, you could say 1-for-27 is probably the worst slump Yelich has seen as a Brewer, but as the game logs show, he’s usually good for two or three of these per season. This one just happens to be at the start of the numbers counting after not playing competitively for 10 months.
There are also quite a few other major names off to slow starts during this weird year that will almost certainly be remembered as an outlier, no matter what happens.
Kris Bryant is 2-for-22 in 5 games, striking out 10 times. Pete Alonso was 2-for-20 before a 4-hit night on Wednesday. Cody Bellinger is just 5-for-26 and hasn’t homered. Ronald Acuna is 4-for-24. Eugenio Suarez is 2-for-21. George Springer is 1-for-21. Yelich is far from alone.
Another important factor to consider: Yelich has yet to play a home game, and he’s been a significantly more successful hitter at Miller Park during his time as a Brewer. There was a 200-point difference in Yelich’s OPS between home and away last season (they were both excellent, though — 1.006 on the road and an absurd 1.201 at home), and a significant split in 2018, too (.944 vs. 1.061).
A return to Miller Park could make those 2020 numbers improve in a hurry, especially if he starts making more contact (and really, Yelich’s ability to make contact has never been a concern throughout his career). Even just a couple more grounders sneaking through over the past week would have calmed everyone down.
In short: relax, Roxanne.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant