About a year ago, the baseball world was enraptured by Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich and his remarkable breakout season. For years, Yelich had been a solid top-of-the-order guy for the Miami Marlins, a good athlete and talented hitter who came into 2018 with a career .290/.369/.432 batting line despite lacking ideal power for a left fielder, and was signed to a favorable contract (five years of team control at just under $12 million a year, on average). That inspired the Brewers to trade four prospects, three of whom had ranked in the top 100, to Miami to acquire the outfielder’s services.
Around the 2018 All-Star break, Yelich turned from solid into Ted Williams. In 65 games after the break, Yelich hit .367/.449/.770 with 25 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He hit for the cycle twice in three weeks, once as part of a 6-for-6 effort in a win over the Reds. The Brewers, viewed as pesky challengers to the two-time defending division champion Cubs, had the best record in the NL in the second half and ended up making it to Game 7 of the NLCS. Yelich was by far the hottest player on the team—both at the plate and in the zeitgeist—and ended the year with the NL MVP award, capping as tidy an MVP narrative as you’ll ever see.
At the start of the 2019 season, the topic of Yelich’s likely regression was just as captivating. For years, he had been a skinny dude who needed Giancarlo Stanton to drive him in, and even the most optimistic Yelich boosters could not have foreseen a future in which he’d lead the NL in slugging percentage. Maybe he had 30-homer power in him, rather than the 21-homer ceiling he displayed in Miami, but his second-half hot streak in Milwaukee seemed like just that: a streak, the best two and a half months of his career, from which he’d surely return to some lower baseline in 2019.
Not so. Yelich opened 2019 by hitting one home run in each of his first four games. By the end of April he’d hit 14 home runs, and he’s only barely slowed down. The 2018 NL MVP entered September with 41 home runs, two off the MLB lead, and is as hot as ever. For evidence of this, look no further than Yelich’s photo shoot in the forthcoming ESPN the Magazine Body Issue.