When discussing the National League MVP, names like Freddie Freeman and Jacob deGrom are brought up frequently. Taking a look at their respective performances, it’s evident they are deserving of the honor. Now, after a red-hot start to the second half, Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich has emerged as a potential dark horse candidate for the award.
Since the All-Star game (in which he homered), Yelich has hit a scorching .358/.398/.679 line, with an OPS of 1.077. On the year, he sits at a .310 BA with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs. He’s established career highs in BA, OBP, OPS, OPS+ in his first season outside of Miami. Additionally, he’s on pace to exceed his totals in RBI, hits, and HRs. His trade to Milwaukee has given him new life and has pushed him to the next level of superstardom. This has stacked his numbers favorably against the other two top candidates for MVP, Freddie Freeman, and Nolan Arenado. Here’s a side-by-side comparison between the three candidates.
Nolan Arenado: .309/.391/.580, 30 HR, 85 RBI, 2 SB (504 PA)
Freddie Freeman: .320/.402/.530, 20 HR, 77 RBI, 7 SB (542 PA)
Christian Yelich: .310/.372/.514, 19 HR, 61 RBI, 14 SB (479 PA)
At a quick glance, Freeman and Arenado seem to have an edge on Yelich. Freeman boasts the highest BA and OBP, while Arenado leads the pack in home runs, slugging, and RBI. The one polarizing aspect of his game has been the home advantage of Coors Field, a hitter’s paradise. Over his career, he’s had a batting average 53 points lower away from home with 24 fewer home runs…in 4 more games. This year, the discrepancy is still present (1.104 OPS at home vs .847 away). While the gaudy numbers those two post may be the most enticing, Christian Yelich brings something to the team that the others don’t — versatility. In a somewhat crowded Milwaukee outfield, Yelich has started in all three spots and performed well. He’s had the bulk of his playing time in left field (65 games), but also played in right field (49) and center field (17 games) a considerable amount. Through today, he has posted a 2.6 UZR and 2.8 RngR (range runs) in the three spots, both considered above average.
He doesn’t just perform strongly in three outfield spots but also has excelled in three different lineup spots. As you can see below, he’s mostly been plugged in the two-hole behind Lorenzo Cain but gives Manager Craig Counsell different options to attack opponents.
1st (62 AB): .274 BA, 4 HR, .813 OPS
2nd (329 AB): .304 BA, 12 HR, .879 OPS
3rd (40 AB): .375 BA, 3 HR, 1.055 OPS
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Yelich’s game his consistency. As you can see below, he hasn’t let platoon stats get the best of him. In fact, Yelich has actually excelled against same-handed pitchers. Against right-handers (in roughly 200 more PA) he’s shown more pop with 7 more long-balls and over double the amount of RBI.
Interestingly, Yelich has had newfound success without fundamentally changing his swing. Major League Baseball, infatuated with the long ball, has established an average of 12.3-degree launch angle on contact. Yelich is at about a quarter of that average — 3.8. Despite the low angle, he’s hit the ball hard at 93 degrees average. The MLB aggregate, on the other hand, falls 4.5 mph below his total. He has stayed consistent with his approach from time in Miami but perhaps boosted his maturity at the plate.
To add on to his impressive offensive feats, he’s also racked up some personal accolades. Chief among them was his first All-Star appearance in his first season with the Brewers. Recently. He received the team’s 2018 Heart and Hustle Award, awarded to only one player on each team who shows off good sportsmanship and 100% effort. His latest award was the 7/29 player of the week award, which he shared with then-Oriole but now-Brewer Jonathan Schoop. In that week, he was first in OPS (1.000), on-base percentage (.548), total bases (29), runs scored (8), RBI (10) and extra-base hits (7).
Yelich, who was acquired by the Brewers in exchange for a trio of prospects including Lewis Brinson, has been one of the key reasons the Brew Crew has remained afloat in the NL Central. Along with Jesus Aguilar, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Josh Hader, and newly-added infielder Jonathan Schoop, Milwaukee seem primed for a deep playoff run. We can also expect long-term success from the Brewers, thanks to some club-friendly contracts. Thanks to Yelich’s versatility, consistency, and improved power, he’s become a force to be reckoned with in the National League, even if he doesn’t get the MVP.
(Photo Credit: AP News)