NL MVP Race 2019: Christian Yelich

By: Romeo Wada

Since being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich has emerged from being a consistent hitter to being one of baseball’s top stars.  Coming off a historical career year in 2018, Yelich picked up right where he left off, putting together another remarkable season. Despite a September 10th injury sidelining him for the end of the season, Yelich has still put together a strong case for another MVP award.

Yelich’s season checked all the boxes for both cumulative stats and per plate appearance. He ended the season with 44 home runs, 97 RBI’s, and an impressive slash line of .329/.429/.671 (BA/OBP/SLG). In many ways, this season was even better than his 2018 season, where he slashed .326/.402/.598. Fangraphs’ advanced stats seemed to agree with this assessment, rating his WRC+ at 174, compared to 166 last season. However, this year’s MVP award will be far more contentious given the strength of the field. Cody Bellinger led the Dodgers to 106 wins while leading the league in total bases, and Anthony Rendon led the league in doubles and RBI’s while also providing stellar defense at 3rd base.

While Rendon and Bellinger both had fantastic seasons, and both played significantly more games (146 for Rendon and 156 for Bellinger compared to 130 for Yelich), Yelich was still the most dominant offensive force in the MLB. When normalizing results per at-bat, it becomes clear how incredible Yelich’s year at the plate was.

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While Bellinger might have hit more home runs, and Rendon might have driven in more runs, in Yelich’s offensive output comes out on top when analyzing more all-encompassing statistics. Yelich’s edge in these categories is a testament to his ability to not only get on base but also hit for power.

While critics of Yelich’s MVP Case might point to his weak defensive performance, his baserunning more than makes up for this facet of his game. Fangraphs rated him as 3.9 runs below average on defense, but his 30 steals contributed to being 8.5 runs above average on the base paths. Anthony Rendon and Cody Bellinger were only worth a paltry 0.4 and 1.4 runs above average on the base paths.

The “Team Factor”

 However, when it comes to deciding an MVP, there is more to the argument than just individual stats. Each player’s team, and the narrative surrounding the season play a significant role. When analyzing the rosters of the Brewers, Dodgers and Nationals, Yelich’s individual value as the lone star stands out. Looking at the top seven position players other than Rendon, Bellinger, and Yelich in terms of WAR for each team (Nationals, Dodgers, and Brewers), the Brewers have the lowest cumulative WAR for those seven players (16.5) compared to the Dodgers (20.1) and Nationals (18.8). It seems as if Bellinger and Rendon are supported by other players in the lineup who provide protection. Meanwhile, Yelich is the stand-out star in a scrappy Milwaukee team, where other than Grandal (owning a 5.2 WAR), other players don’t provide the same level of output and protection. The Brewers had a record of 67-63 leading up to Yelich’s injury. Within those games, Yelich’s production was an essential component of many of the victories. Yelich had a .381 batting average when the Brewers won compared to his .272 batting average when they lost. He also had 30 Home Runs and 71 RBIs when the Brewers win compared to 14 Home Runs and 26 RBIs when they lose. These splits show how Yelich is not only successful individually, but also crucial for team success.

This should be one of the most fascinating MVP races in recent years, and it will be interesting to see how voters factor in Yelich’s missed time and the Brewers’ record.

Posted in MLB

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