PHOENIX – Players, for the most part, seek to get better each season, looking to be at least a bit more productive than the previous year.
Is that even possible with Christian Yelich?
In his first season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018, the left-handed-hitting outfielder put together one of the greatest offensive performances in franchise history, good enough to run away with the National League most valuable player award. Yelich led the league with a .326 batting average, becoming the team’s first batting champ, a .598 slugging percentage, 1.000 OPS and 343 total bases.
And, oh yeah, Yelich made a run at the Triple Crown, finishing with 36 home runs and 110 runs batted in.
Not too shabby considering he spent time on the 10-day disabled list in April with an oblique strain.
So, Mr. Yelich, how do you plan to top that showing?
“I think your expectations as a player are always high,” said Yelich, still in the prime of his career at 27. “No matter how high the expectations are from the outside, from media, from fans, wherever, you hold yourself to a high standard and understand what you are capable of.
“Will it be like that every year? I don’t know. I think that was one of those years that was a lot of fun. A lot of people’s favorite words in baseball right now are ‘regression’ and ‘coming back to the mean’ or whatever you want to say. We’ll see, you know?
“I hope that’s not the case. I don’t plan on it being the case. I think you just prepare the way you’ve always prepared and go about the game the same way and see where you stand at the end of the year.”
The Brewers are preparing for their first spring training games.
RELATED: A guide to Brewers spring training
SUBSCRIBE TODAY: Get unlimited access to our Brewers coverage
Yelich and fellow outfield star Lorenzo Cain were acquired within hours of each other on Jan. 25, 2018, the former in a trade with Miami and the latter signed off the free-agent market. The impact they had atop the lineup – Cain usually batted first and Yelich second – was instrumental in the Brewers’ surge to the National League Central crown and push through the postseason to Game 7 of the NL Championship Serie.
Yelich elevated his overall numbers to the top of the league with a second half for the ages, arguably the best ever for the Brewers. In 65 games after the break, he batted .367 with a .499 on-base percentage, .770 slugging percentage, 1.219 OPS, 25 homers – four more than his previous high for an entire season – and 67 RBI.
Yelich hit for the cycle twice within three weeks, both times against the Cincinnati Reds, and sparked the Brewers to the late-season surge that allowed them to catch the Chicago Cubs and pass them in a Game No. 163 showdown at Wrigley Field.
“You always want to play at a high level,” said Yelich, who is under contractual control by the Brewers for four more seasons. “You want to help the team win and contribute any way possible. It was definitely a lot of fun down the stretch, not just for me but the team.
“Like I said earlier, you chase those feelings again. How awesome it was to be part of those celebrations, and winning the division, and playing in the playoffs. You remember that, and you want to get back to it, and it’s fresh in your mind going into spring training.”
Thank you! You’re almost signed up for
Keep an eye out for an email to confirm your newsletter registration.
Yelich wasn’t finished doing good deeds once the season ended. Watching a California wildfire nearly burn down his mother’s house in Westlake Village, and another come close to his own home in Malibu, along with those of teammates Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas, Yelich wanted to do something to help those in need. He also was deeply troubled by the mass shooting at a nightclub in Thousand Oaks, California.
Yelich banded together with Braun, Moustakas and Mike Attanasio, son of Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, to form the “California Strong” movement, raising money for those who lost homes and loved ones. They put together a celebrity softball game at Pepperdine University that was a big hit, and eventually raised some $1.5 million. And they hope to continue the cause as long as possible.
To put it mildly, it was an active winter for Yelich. He traveled to Hawaii to film an episode of the TV reboot of “Magnum, P.I.”, and went to New York to collect his MVP trophy as well as do promotional work and interviews with major media outlets, giving of his time willingly.
Yelich is a strong, young man, but that was one full dance card. The Brewers took note and want to make sure he paces himself in spring camp, but Yelich said he doesn’t need a recliner to get to opening day.
“It was definitely different… but at the same time I feel like I had enough time to decompress and get away from it, and focus on baseball, get my head straight a little bit,” he said.
“I’m focused on getting back to being a baseball player and really everything else that came with it. It’s exciting to be back doing what you love and what you do as a baseball player. I think there’s a lot of excitement this time of year, not only myself but everybody.
“You really never know what you’re going to see in these next seven or eight months. I found out first-hand last year.”
As for trying to improve on the previous season, manager Craig Counsell said Yelich needn’t worry about such things. Just carry on and aim to be the best version of yourself, and everything will work out just fine.
“The first thing that goes through your head is that anybody who has a great season, they were locked in for a large portion of the season and performed at a really high level,” Counsell said. “Those are guys who (say), ‘I don’t really want the season to end.’ They’re in such a good place, you want to keep going.
“You have a break and you step into a different place when you come back here. He acknowledges that, and that’s a big part of it. Sometimes, chasing the past, for any player, can get you in trouble. It’s the combination of ‘I have something different in front of me’ with the experience that puts you in a good place.
“That’s exactly the place I think he is in.”
By the numbers
164 OPS+ by Christian Yelich in 2018, tops in the National League.
22 Stolen bases last year by Yelich, another career high.
77 Extra-base hits by Yelich in ’18, fifth in the NL.
68 Starts in right field for Yelich last year, with 63 in left, 13 in center.
118 Runs scored by Yelich in 2018, second in the NL.