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Christian Yelich has been MLB’s least valuable player through first week

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The former Marlins outfielder is in the worst slump of his potentially Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Fish Stripes is, first and foremost, a Marlins fan community. You expect coverage of every team-related story, and we attempt to give it to you here on the website and across our other platforms. But this COVID-19 crisis has kept the Fish off the field since last Sunday. They could potentially return early next week with a makeshift roster of uninfected players. Even that looks dicey as of this writing, however.

I looked elsewhere to get my baseball fix on Wednesday night, browsing through MLB.TV’s menu of 14 games. I settled in for a matchup between the Brewers and Pirates, and was stunned by what I saw and heard.

The Marlins have been crucified for trading away outfielder Christian Yelich (for good reason). He’s been the best player in the National League since the beginning of the 2018 season, and practically on par with the otherworldly Mike Trout if we narrow the scope to the last two full calendar years.

But early on in this 2020 campaign that is so critical for both the Brewers franchise and his eventual Baseball Hall of Fame credentials, Yelich is an automatic out. Through six full games, he has a .037/.071/.148 slash line with strikeouts in 12 of his 28 plate appearances. He hit a three-run homer last Saturday. The only time that he’s had the opportunity to run the bases—after drawing a walk on Monday—he was caught attempting to steal second to end the inning. By FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, no qualified position player in the league has been less valuable.

The Pirates starting pitcher on Wednesday was right-hander Joe Musgrove, who had previously started against Yelich four times, allowing at least one hit on each occasion and a 1.231 OPS overall.

Stathead Baseball

You would never have been able to guess that they had that kind of history from watching this latest contest. Musgrove got Yelich to whiff twice on sliders in roughly the same location.

The Brewers aren’t clamoring for a refund of Yelich’s $215 million contract extension quite yet. It helps that his teammates have been able to split the first six games, and the expanded playoff field affords them some margin for error. However, the level of concern could escalate fairly soon. In this shortened season, a sample of 28 plate appearances carries approximately the same weight as 76 plate appearances would in any other year.

From a Marlins perspective, the trade is still a source of angst. Lewis Brinson had a comparable slump to Yelich (arguably worse) in April 2019 that included strikeouts in 16 of 30 plate appearances with only one hit in between. He was demoted to Triple-A shortly after that and showed little promise upon re-emerging on the roster later that season. Even with a roster ravaged by COVID-19 cases, the Marlins are non-committal about their plans for Monte Harrison, who will turn 25 years old in the coming days and still hasn’t contributed in the majors. Second baseman Isan Díaz and right-hander Jordan Yamamoto both delighted the fanbase with uplifting performances in their big league debuts, but it’s premature to call either of them significant building blocks for the 2020s.

As much as this blockbuster deal has been dissected throughout the last two-and-a-half years, the next two-and-a-half will be far more consequential. Can Yelich remain among MLB’s brightest stars and keep the Brewers in perennial playoff contention despite no new waves of young talent on the horizon? And will any of the four prospects that the Marlins received contribute consistently, putting the franchise in a better place than it was before the rebuild began?