Growing up, a favorite part of Sesame Street existed in one of the songs, " of these things is not like the other.” Looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror regarding the results of Christian Yelich , this feeling resonates. Yelich cratered last year. Not just a little, like rock bottom. Representing the only hitter projected by ZiPS to hit at least .300 with 12 or more home runs for the truncated season, Yelich underwhelmed.

He launched 13 home runs, his problems did not lie in his power. One season removed from hitting .329/.429/.671, Yelich's slash line fell to .205/.356/.430 in 247 plate appearances spanning 58 contests. Short season can provide volatile outcomes, so dismissing Yelich could be a mistake. However, it's worth digging to find answers for his struggles at the plate.

In an article from The Athletic, Eno Sarris explored how the lack of in-game video affected many veteran hitters. Especially one like Yelich who relies on pitch recognition, timing and loading with his leg kick during at-bats.

Even in this home run, Yelich seems a bit off with his timing yet drives the ball out slightly to the left side of the center field fence. This resurfaces later in the profile, so tuck this tidbit away. While not referencing the self-fulfilling prophecy, Yelich's quote prior to the restart of baseball activities and games from an article with Will Sammon proved prophetic for the talented hitter: "I think this year is unique in the aspect of you just don't know you're going to get from anybody... You're going to see really good players have really bad years. It's going to happen. Not only position player-wise, but pitcher-wise. You don't have that large sample size for everything to even out, so if you get off to a tough start or a bad start, you're really behind the 8-ball."

It's easy to suggest giving Yelich a mulligan in 2020 due to his small sample results but they still need to be digested. Yelich scored 39 runs with 22 RBI and stole four bases in his 58 games. He also registered career highs with a 18.6 walk percentage and 30.8 strikeout rate. His isolated power decreased to .225 as did his weighted on-base average (wOBA) to .343 last year. However, his swinging strike percentage went down to 10.9 percent and Yelich notched the lowest O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage of 20.3 percent of his career. Noting no video capability to make in-game adjustments to a pitcher or his mechanics, Yelich seemed tentative.

Switching to his Statcast data, Yelich recorded 124 batted ball events with 15 barrels (12.1 percent), a 94 MPH average exit velocity and 55.6 hard hit percentage. Both the average exit velocity and hard hit rate rank as his career bests so far on the site but the quality of contact due to a spike in ground ball percentage and reduced launch angle mitigated these gains.

In terms of his plate discipline, Yelich's zone swing percentage and zone contact rates both declined. He also chased less with his chase contact percent also down. His swing percentage fell by almost 11 percent but his whiff percent rose by more than five points. Tentative, out of tempo and pressing at the plate when making contact but he still finished second in the National League in walks (46). Such an enigmatic campaign.

Before leaving the Statcast portion of this profile, Yelich ranked in the 88th percentile in xwOBA, the 98th percentile in hard hit rate and walk percentage, the 99th percentile in exit velocity and even the 81st percentile in speed. His expected numbers do not jump off the page but Yelich deserved better than his numbers showed last season:

According to Statcast, Yelich owned a .250 expected batting average, .476 expected slugging and .365 xwOBA (28 points above his actual). So the zone profile above helps the Yelich rebound crowd for 2021. In an effort to find out what affected Yelich along with the lack of video, the answer may be the shift. In 2019, teams only shifted against Yelich just over 32 percent of the time during his plate appearances. Last year, this number spiked to 54.3 percent, a rise of over 22 percentage points. Yelich recorded a .470 wOBA versus the shift in 2019 but dipped to .310 in 2020.

Usually a shift only affects power hitters who pull the ball into it. Keeping in mind the increased hard hit rate, ground ball percentage rise and shortened season, Yelich fell into a slump and could not hit his way out of it. Using data on Fangraphs, when Yelich pulled the ball, he hit .229 with a .792 on-base plus slugging (OPS) and .323 wOBA. In the center of the diamond, Yelich hit .463 with a 1.390 OPS and .578 wOBA. To the opposite field, Yelich batted .314 with a .914 OPS and .381 wOBA.

For the visual crowd, first Yelich's spray chart from 2020 displaying his ground balls, line drives and fly balls:

Then, his same chart from 2018-through-2019:

There's going to be pull side ground outs for Yelich in any season, so the shift tendencies probably continue. However, if Yelich returns to his past production, the timing and ability to hit to all fields needs to bounce back. Most importantly, Yelich needs to be confident and not tentative at the plate. He's only entering his Age-29 season, still within his power peak. Lest one forgets, his first 60 game sample from 2019 (53 games played) with Milwaukee yielded 22 home runs with a .313/.425/.719 slash line. If he hit anywhere near close to this last year, he'd still be a top three consensus pick in fantasy. So, will Yelich return to a normal rhythm in 2021 and regain his ability to maximize pitches in the strike zone.

Using the swing and take charts from Statcast, it's much easier to conceptualize how Yelich struggled to attack pitches, especially in the zone. First, his chart from 2019:

Yelich recorded only a 22 percent take rate in the strike zone resulting in a positive 24 in terms of runs produced. Fast forward to last year:

His take rate in the zone rose to 35 percent resulting in a negative runs produced rating. During his MVP season in 2018, Yelich owned a 27 percent take rate with a positive 33 runs produced. In game adjustments, improving his timing and more games should allow him to rebound in the upcoming year.

Before delving into his projections, from the onset of the second half through the end of last year, here's how he fared:

  • Yelich 2H 2019-through-2020: 106 games, 462 plate appearances, 73 runs, 25 home runs, 52 RBI, 15 stolen bases; .265/.387/.517, 16 BB%, 27.3 K%, .252 ISO, .382 wOBA

Over his last three years, all with Milwaukee, here his results:

  • 335 games, 1,478 plate appearances, 257 runs, 92 home runs, 229 RBI, 56 stolen bases; .308/.408/.599, 13.3 BB%, 22.2 K%, .289 ISO, .416 wOBA

During his tenure in Milwaukee, Yelich boasts a 10.6 swinging strike percentage with a 75.3 contact rate, 86.7 Z-Contact percent and 27.5 O-Swing percentage. Even minor migration to the mean makes Yelich bound to improve going forward. Remember, one of these things does not like the other.

As for his projections, two sites see him a bit differently while both seem wary of his batting average this year:

  • Yelich 2021 Steamer projection: 150 games, 670 plate appearances, 104 runs, 35 home runs, 97 RBI, 18 stolen bases; .280/.388/.530, 14 BB%, 23.6 K%, .251 ISO, .381 wOBA
  • Yelich 2021 ZiPS projection: 140 games, 618 plate appearances, 97 runs, 32 home runs, 88 RBI, 18 stolen bases; .273/.379/.523, 12.3 BB%, 20.4 K%, .250 ISO, .395 wOBA

It's intriguing to see how ZiPS rates Yelich on the Milwaukee team page projections and his three-year one on his page on Fangraphs. If one used his slash line from there, the .303/.394/.574 line seems much more in line with his last three years rather than focusing his recent results weighed down by 2020. Given the decline of the lineup around him, Yelich takes  a hit in counting statistics like runs and RBI. With this in mind using a range of .290-to-.306 for his batting average, here's how his projections could end up for 2021:

  • Yelich with 350 plate appearances: 55 runs, 19 HR, 46 RBI, 11 SB
  • Yelich with 500 plate appearances: 78 runs, 28 HR, 66 RBI, 15 SB
  • Yelich with 650 plate appearances: 102 runs, 36 HR, 86 RBI, 20 SB

There's many moving pieces to Yelich's profile, but his remarkable run with the Brewers should not be overlooked in last year's shortened season disaster. Motivated to prove his detractors wrong and armed with video to adjust, Yelich makes for a nice rebound candidate to take a chance on keeping tabs on his in-season results.

Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski

The Athletic articles by Eno Sarris and Will Sammon