The 2018 National League MVP race has been a wild frenzy all season long, with seemingly a new favorite every week, making the race feel like a “faceless” one. In the American League, when you bring up the MVP award, it’s a clear-cut tier of Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez. But in the Senior Circuit, there are a legitimate seven or eight guys, at least, who you can make a case for: Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, Lorenzo Cain, Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Christian Yelich, and few of the pitchers too.
But it’s that last name which is starting to rise above the rest and put an image in our head of when we think of the NL MVP favorite. Yelich was part of the Miami Marlins fire sale from this past winter and was a hot commodity because he was a young All-Star caliber player with a very team-friendly contract through 2022. And considering what they had to give up to get him (package surrounding prospect Lewin Brinson), it’s fair to say that Yelich has comfortably outperformed expectations.
He was never an All-Star in his four-plus seasons with the fish, but his last two seasons showed that he had the potential. We saw him take steps forward in 2016 and 2017, although 2017 was a step back from his breakout in 2016. And he never had “future MVP” written over him, and the first half of 2018 further established that. He was having a pretty good, but unspectacular, season, hitting .292/.364/.459 with 11 home runs. But lo and behold, he has exploded like a supernova since the All-Star Break and is having his best season yet, and one that is deserving of some MVP votes.
He’s hitting .356/.415/.724 with 20 home runs in the season’s second half, and what’s really shocking is the power. He topped the 20-homer mark just once in his career (21), and his first 11 of 2018 came in 318 at-bats to start the season but has 20 in only 225 at-bats since. Yelich’s stellar play has come at a time when the Brewers needed it most: in the heat of a division race. And during the stretch, he’s collected two cycles and both against the same team. One cycle is rare, but two in a season? Even more so. Two against the same team? Never been done before until just a few days ago.
And he’s not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon, with a 1.406 OPS and three home runs in last 28 plate appearances. His season numbers are up to a splendid .319/.385/.569 with 31 home runs, a 152 OPS+, a 154 wRC+, an elite .404 wOBA, a 5.8 bWAR, and a 6.1 fWAR. And the outfielder does damage against both sides of pitching: .971 OPS against righties and .912 against lefties, while having a .925 OPS with men in scoring position.
The 26-year-old is top ten in the National League in on-base percentage while leading the league in batting average, slugging, and OPS. He leads all NL position players in fWAR, and is 4th in bWAR, but leads in offensive bWAR. He also leads the NL in wOBA and wRC+.
And on the other side of things, his competition has things working against them. Up until this past week, Freddie Freeman was scuffling bad and he his numbers do not compare. Nolan Arenado is entrenched in a terrible slump right now, Matt Carpenter has slowed down a bit, and Trevor Story is dealing with a knock. His biggest competitors are either Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks or Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs.
Goldy has the numbers to match Yelich, but voters will no doubt look at each player’s respective team success, whether that’s fair or not, and that works against the first baseman. The Brewers are going to make the postseason while the DBacks have tapered off and look unlikely to make it. But you couldn’t go wrong with him.
Javier Baez’s has two more home runs than Yelich and is a better defender at multiple positions, which is why his bWAR is higher by 0.2. But offensively, Yelich has been better all-around, and you can’t dispute it. Baez has the power but is only getting on-base at just above the league-average clip.
Frankly, it may come down to whoever between the Brewers and Cubs wins the NL Central. But if Yelich finishes off the season strong, there is no reason for him not to be the favorite for the award. Whether he wins it or not, however, Christian Yelich is blossoming into an elite MLB star.
Featured Image via DandreaPhotography