Let’s start this blog post by taking a shot at a familiar punching bag, the Florida Marlins (no, we will not call them by their proper name until that joke of a franchise proves they deserve it). Last winter, during an epic fire sale, the Marlins traded Christian Yelich to the Brewers in a trade so lopsided it would get vetoed in your local fantasy league. In return for a near Triple Crown winner, Milwaukee sent Florida four prospects you probably haven’t heard of. The headliner, Lewis Brinson, hit .199 with a 62 OPS+ in 109 games this year. Yikes.
But maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on the Marlins. After all, entering 2018 Yelich had been a good-not-great major league player. Between 2016 and 2017 the young outfielder hit a respectable .290/.373/.460 while averaging 19 homers and 89 RBI. That’s solid production, but Yelich was by no means a star.
Here’s a great Fangraphs article that explains the shift in approach Yelich made as a hitter in 2018. To simplify, Yelich has been far more aggressive on first pitch strikes this year. It makes sense why he would want to do this. In this age of 100mph fastballs and wipeout sliders, hitters don’t want to be down in the count. If a pitcher is giving you a first pitch strike, might as well swing right?
The results speak for themselves. Including Game 163 Yelich hit .326 with a 1.000 OPS, 36 homers, and 110 RBI. It gets crazier....The 26-year-old has particularly turned it on in the season’s second half. Over his final 74 games this year he hit .367 with 75 RBI. Oh, and over his final 35 games he put up a .500 OBP. This is why we’re talking about him as an MVP candidate.
So let’s get to that. Is Christian Yelich deserving of National League MVP honors? It feels like that’s where everyone is at, and it helps that Yelich leads all NL position players in WAR. Now the MVP isn’t the WAR award, but it’s a nice place to start when thinking about potential candidates. What’s crazy about the MVP discussion this year is that the top four NL WAR leaders are all pitchers. For me, a pitcher needs to be having a truly DOMINANT/historic campaign to win the MVP award, which is what Jacob deGrom has done. The probable Cy Young winner put up a 1.70 ERA in 2018, good for the fifth lowest mark since the mound was lowered in 1969.
But the MVP conversation is for another day. If deGrom doesn’t win it, then Yelich will. He was the best player on the best team in the National League. He hit for two cycles. He came up big when it mattered most in September. He fell two homers and one RBI short of the first NL triple crown since 1937. He won the batting title. He ranked second in runs and first in total bases. He’s THE story in baseball entering October.