MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell is confident former MVP Christian Yelich’s 2020 hitting struggles won’t carry over to next season.
After winning consecutive NL batting titles in 2018 and 2019 during his first two years with the Brewers, Yelich hit just .205 with 12 homers and 22 RBIs in 58 games. Although his high walk totals gave him a solid .356 on-base percentage, Yelich also struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances.
“It’s not going to happen again,” Counsell said Thursday. “Whenever we ask the question, ‘Why did that happen?’ Christian doesn’t have an answer, necessarily. He can’t explain all of it. I can’t explain all of it. I don’t think Christian wanted it to happen. But it did. What it does is it puts your mind to work, and that’s what he’s doing. He’s going to get to work and make sure when we start up that he’s in a good place and ready to go.”
Yelich’s slide contributed to the Brewers’ team-wide hitting problems as they went 29-31 but still earned a third straight playoff berth thanks to Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff format. Yelich had won the MVP in 2018 and finished second in the balloting in 2019.
He wasn’t the only big-name hitter to struggle last year in the pandemic-shortened season, which may help explain why Counsell believes his star player will bounce back.
“I just know it’s going to be better,” Counsell said. “I know it’s going to be good. So, I feel really good about that. I don’t worry about it. I’m confident in it.”
Counsell also said he hasn’t spoken with Ryan Braun about the 2011 MVP’s plans for next season. Braun, 37, talked multiple times last season about the possibility he might retire.
The Brewers declined to pick up a mutual $15 million 2021 option on Braun’s contract, making him a free agent. The veteran outfielder has spent his entire MLB career in Milwaukee and has a franchise-record 352 home runs.
Counsell acknowledged next season would have an unusual feel if Braun isn’t around.
“It’s going to be different, there’s no question,” Counsell said. “There at the end, it didn’t turn out the way I would have liked it to, necessarily, for him. But in another way, it kind of did. I mean, if this is the end, he played on three straight playoff teams in the last three years of his career.
"You know, when guys signed contracts like that, I think we often say, ‘Well we signed up for the first couple years and we know the last couple years might not be that good.’ And he was a part of and part of leading those three teams to the playoffs in his last three years. That’s ending your career on a really, really strong note, and something that’s really impressive in my eyes.”