It has been six days since Christian Yelich last took the field for the Milwaukee Brewers, following his exit after the second inning of a 9-3 win against the Cardinals on April 11th with a sore back. The club had said yesterday that he was improving, but Yelich was held out of the lineup again today and during the pregame presser, manager Craig Counsell announced that the former MVP would be placed on the 10-day Injured List. He added ominously that the hope is for Yelich not to be out long-term.
OF Christian Yelich has been placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to 4/14, with a lower back strain.— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) April 17, 2021
RHP Eric Yardley has been recalled from the Alternate Training Site. pic.twitter.com/ATecXFJlV4
Yesterday, Craig Counsell reported progress for Yelich and pointed out that his recurring back stiffness never landed him on the IL. Here's what changed: "We ramped it up yesterday but we didn't go forward today," CC said. "That was a sign that we just needed to slow down."— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) April 17, 2021
In Yelich’s place, the Brewers have recalled reliever Eric Yardley, who was optioned down to the Alternate Training Site just five days ago. Normally a player would have to wait 10 days to return to the big leagues after an optional assignment, but the injury meant the Brewers were able to bring him back early. One of the team’s top relief arms during the pandemic 2020 season, Yardley has so far allowed five runs in 5.0 innings pitched out of the bullpen this year. With Yardley’s return, the Brewers have gone back to a 14 pitcher/12 hitter alignment.
Coming off of a down season last year, Yelich’s .333/.459/.367 slash line and 131 OPS+ thus far appear to be a significant improvement, but the underlying numbers tell a different story. He’s hit the ball well but isn’t stinging it like he used to (70th percentile exit velocity, 63rd percentile hard contact), and his expected wOBA is below the league’s average. He’s struck out in 12 of his 37 plate appearances across nine games and is swinging-and-missing at a career-worst 12.8% rate. His power has been non-existent, with one extra-base hit (a double) and a .033 ISO.
Beyond the continued performance concerns with Yelich, by my count this is now the sixth instance of him missing multiple games with a back issue since he joined the team in 2018. Plenty of fans took issue with Ryan Braun’s recurring back issues over the years while he was The Face of the Franchise, and it seems like this is something that those who root for the Brewers will also have get used to dealing while he’s under contract for most of the next decade.
The Brewers have struggled to score runs consistently thus far, ranking 9th in the National League with 4.15 runs per game. “The number of guys we’ve lost right now from an offensive perspective is definitely significant,” Counsell said when he was asked about the losses of Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Kolten Wong all at the same time. “It does change your offense, there’s no question about it. Hopefully it’s a short-term thing and they’re back in there soon.”
The Brewers are fortunate to have proven performer Jackie Bradley, Jr. available to play everyday in the outfield, but beyond him, the club now needs to rely on some unproven commodities to step up in the absence of their regular players. So far Billy McKinney has been extremely productive, but guys like Daniel Robertson, Jace Peterson, and Dan Vogelbach have struggled. Tyrone Taylor has yet to get much of an opportunity. The Brewers were able to backdate Yelich’s IL stint by three days, meaning the earliest that he’ll be eligible to return is April 24th.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant