A lot has changed for Christian Yelich in a year, especially since Nov. 15, when he was named the National League most valuable player. He has been on the road for nearly two weeks this winter, an off-season circuit of photo shoots, awards shows and interviews. On Saturday, he was in Manhattan to formally accept the M.V.P. plaque at the annual New York baseball writers’ dinner.
Around this time last year, Yelich was a young and talented but not-so-well-known outfielder for the dysfunctional and eternally changing Miami Marlins. As part of a team fire sale, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on Jan. 25, 2018. He produced a dazzling season, particularly in the second half when he hit as if he had unlocked the cheat codes to a video game. He finished with a N.L. best .326 average and 1.000 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, plus a career high 36 home runs and 110 runs batted in.
He led the surprising Brewers, the team in the smallest market in the country, to the N.L. Central title. They came to within one game of the World Series, falling to the big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the N.L. Championship Series. Yelich, a native of the Los Angeles area, received 29 of 30 first-place votes for the M.V.P. Award.
Yelich, 27, stopped by The New York Times on Friday to answer some questions about his big year, the business of baseball and the wildfire-relief charity, California Strong, that he helped create with several other major leaguers. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Baseball players generally don’t have renown of football or basketball players. Why are you doing this post-M.V.P. media tour?
It’s important, not only for yourself, but for the game. If you’ve been blessed to be in a position and put on the field to speak out on these topics, as far as California Strong or the direction the game is headed. Obviously you want to bring as much attention to the game as possible and grow baseball as much as you can. It’s important. It comes with the responsibility that being a league M.V.P. comes with. I’m just learning on the fly, trying to the best I can.
Is there something culturally different about baseball that discourages players speaking out like they do in the N.F.L. or N.B.A.? Why don’t you see that much activism, or players inserting themselves into the political or culture conversation?
I don’t think it’s a conscious effort not to be engaged in that stuff. You still see a lot of baseball players doing good. At the end of the day, when you’re trying to do good, that’s all that matters. Whether it’s in a different aspect than in the N.B.A. or N.F.L., you should use your platform for good.
How is the California Strong campaign going? You said you’ve raised $1.5 million.
It all started was basically a group text with Ryan Braun, Mike Moustakas and [the son of the Brewers’ owner] Mike Attanasio, just basically trying to find information on if everybody’s houses were O.K. Since everyone had to be evacuated, information was kind of minimal. Once we found out that everyone was O.K., it kind of turned into: how can we help? We thought we needed to give back, because the Borderline shooting happened basically a few hours before that night when all the fires started. So we thought about doing something to give back to the hometown and help get people back on their feet.
The N.L.C.S. was mostly on a cable network, Fox Sports 1, while the A.F.C. and N.F.C. title games in the N.F.L. were more widely watched on Fox and CBS. Do you think baseball needs more of a national audience?
I don’t think baseball is ever going to be the fast-paced game that football or basketball is. It’s never going to be constant action. That’s never how the game is played. With players being allowed to express themselves a little bit more freely on the field, there’s also been a bigger push for them to be on social media to sharing their lives and personalities. It’s going to attract the younger fan because they’re going to feel like they’re engaged and maybe a little bit more invested in these players because they know them a little better. And when there’s a game like that, they tune in and see how their favorite player or team does.
What’s life like after winning an M.V.P.?
It is different and everything changed one afternoon, basically. There is the show and the announcement and then everything is completely different the next day. You just take it in stride and it’s not anything that’s been overwhelming or I can’t handle this. It’s not like that by any means, but it’s definitely been a lot of fun.
Has there been much chatter between you, your teammates or other players about the slow free-agent market or how two superstars, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, remain unsigned?
We talk about it. I don’t want to share exactly what those conversations are. They’re two of the best players that we have in the game right now. The process hasn’t played out. Players talk. I’d like to leave it at that.
This past season was the first in which there were more strikeouts than hits. It’s an issue with the commissioner’s office; they’d like to see more hits and more action. Do you see it as a problem?
I don’t know how you solve it, but you’ve definitely seen an increase in velocity year by year. There’s been an emphasis on the whole launch angle thing and pitchers combating that with throwing fastballs up in the zone. There’s been a greater push on analytics and teams to look into it and how to get guys out. Hitters have that as well, but hitting has always been hard. Hitting a baseball is still incredibly hard. It’s just one of those things where hitters have to make an adjustment and we have to find a way. Since I’ve been in the league for parts of six years, you can tell already the difference as far as just the amount of power arms you face on a nightly and daily basis.
Given the oversaturation of statistics and measurements in baseball, what do you look at to evaluate your own performance?
I feel like probably the biggest one is O.P.S. It’s the biggest stat that people take value from in the game, from the people who evaluate it and the people who play it. Just because it’s slugging and on base — two of the things that make up a productive baseball player. We’ve gotten away from batting average a little bit. I still think batting average is important; other people will tell you it’s not anymore in the game, but you don’t want to make outs, basically. You still have to get on base and be productive. Somehow getting on base and getting a hit are really not that big of a deal. It’s still really hard to get a hit in the big leagues, whether it’s a single or homer. There’s still something that can be said for that. You’ve seen that, where the game has gotten away from it, where it’s become acceptable to hit .220 or .230 and hit 30 homers.
Every hit almost feels like a miracle because pitchers are throwing so hard. Do you ever sit back and think, This is a really freakish skill I have?
Sometimes it feels a lot harder than other times. There’s times when you’re in the on-deck circle or on the bench and you’re like: ‘I have no shot. I don’t know how I’m going to do this but I’ve got to figure it out.’ And other times you’re more locked in and it doesn’t feel as hard. It’s the same feeling every spring training when the pitchers are throwing their bullpen or live batting practices and you’re like” ‘Oh man, this might be the year I go 0 for 500. I don’t know how I’m going to do this.’ And then you get back to the process. I feel like, from the side or in the dugout, this guy is throwing is so hard. And then when you get in there, it’s not really what you think it is because you’re so used to it. It just slows down every day when you’re in there.
In the second half last year, did the ball look like a beach ball to you?
There are times even during that second half where there were week stretches where it kind of leaves you and doesn’t feel right. But it comes back quicker. When you go on stretches like that, there’s still times where it doesn’t feel great but it still comes back to you quicker. Some years, you’re constantly searching for “it” — and “it” is different for everybody.
Can you purposefully foul off a pitch?
I can’t. I feel like the only guy that probably could purposefully foul off a ball is … Who do you think?
No. But he might be one of the guys. But I was going to say Joey Votto. I haven’t talked to Joey about this, but I feel like sometimes Joey is up there just trying to walk and he’s just trying to foul the ball off until he walks.
Do you guess at the plate?
I don’t like to guess. Just react. Some guys are guess hitters. I just could never do it. If you guess and guess wrong, you have no shot of hitting anything else.
When you look back on your childhood, what do you think was a difference maker in terms of allowing you to become an elite athlete in terms of your development?
The most important thing for kids would basically be have fun and enjoy it. Travel ball has become a business and not as much fun for kids these days. They think their kids are getting scouted when they’re 8, 9 or 10 years old. You should just enjoy the game at this point in your life. Why is there any pressure to play well when you’re 8, 9 or 10? It doesn’t matter if you hit five homers or strike out five times in a game. The Milwaukee Brewers are not watching your travel ball game right now and saying, ‘Johnny is a first-round pick and we’re taking him this year.’
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