Christian Yelich instantly became one of Major League Baseball's best players when he arrived in Milwaukee to play for the Brewers in 2018. During his first two seasons with the franchise he was arguably the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout. He won the National League MVP in 2018 and finished runner-up in 2019. He was riding high. Then the bottom fell out.
Since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Yelich has been a different player. He's been serviceable and hasn't suffered a complete and total collapse like Cody Bellinger, but he hasn't been the superstar we saw from 2018 to 2019. Hell, he hasn't even been the best player on his team. How did this happen?
During his MVP season in 2018 Yelich slashed .326/.402/.598 (1.000 OPS), with 36 home runs, 110 RBIs and an OPS+ of 164. He won the NL batting title, a Sliver Slugger and the Hank Aaron Award. In 2019 he was even better. He slashed .329/.429/.671 (1.100 OPS), with 44 home runs, 97 RBIs, racked up 30 stolen bases and posted an absurd OPS+ of 179. He did all of that in 130 games, making those numbers even crazier. Once again, he won the NL batting title, the Hank Aaron Award and a Silver Slugger. He was the first player in MLB history to have back-to-back seasons hitting .325 or better with 35 home runs and 20-plus stolen bases, and the first player since Rogers Hornsby to lead the NL in batting average and slugging percentage in consecutive seasons. For reference, Hornsby did that in the 1920s.
Since 2019 Yelich appears to have completely lost his power. From 2018 through 2019, he hit 80 home runs and laced 63 doubles. In the 218 games since, he has 26 home runs and only 35 doubles. His slugging percentage has plummeted to .394 over the past three seasons, down from a combined .631 during his two stellar seasons.
Since 2020, Yelich is slashing .235/.353/.394 (.747 OPS) with a pedestrian OPS+ of 103. That's compared to a combined line of .327/.415/.631 (1.046 OPS) and an OPS+ of 171 during his breakout seasons.
So how has Yelich, a guy who appeared to be one of MLB's breakout stars a few years ago, become essentially a replacement level hitter? The simple answer is, there's no simple answer.
Yelich has dealt with back issues dating back to his time with the Miami Marlins. Those started popping up again late in the 2019 season and again in 2021. The most significant injury he suffered came on September 10, 2019 when he was cruising to a second-straight MVP award and the Brewers looked like a World Series team. He fouled a ball off his right knee, fracturing his kneecap and ending his season. He hasn't been the same since.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, after the 2019 season they signed Yelich to a nine-year, $215 million extension. Of course they did, he earned that kind of money with his 2018 and 2019 season. Unfortunately, they haven't gotten the player they paid for.
There may be no easy fix here. Yelich's strikeout and walk rates haven't change a whole lot since his best seasons. It just seems that his power has evaporated and that's costing him hits. Maybe it's the knee. Maybe it's the back. Whatever the cause, he just isn't the same player and there's little to suggest he'll ever get there again.