When the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, they were expecting to receive a player who’d have an OPS around .850 and a WAR around 4.5. However, the 27-year-old exceed all expectations last season; he posted a 7.6 WAR and 166 weighted runs created plus (wrc+). The general expectation was that Yelich would regress in 2019, which he cubically refuted heading into the season. Well, it appears Yelich has once again proved his doubters wrong; not only is he avoiding regression, but he’s getting better. Will that lead to another NL MVP award for him? It sure looks like it.
There were legitimate reasons to believe Yelich’s production would decline somewhat this season. His batting average balls in play (BABIP) of .373 indicated that he was benefiting from a bit of luck, especially with a very high 51.7% ground ball rate. Yet, here were are, and entering Saturday’s matchup against the Dodgers, he has a 1.225 OPS with 11 home runs (he just hit his 12th and 13th as I’m writing this) and a 1.7 WAR already. Even more impressive, he’s put up this production with a reasonable BABIP of .307, a hard contact rate of 59.1%, and a decreased ground ball rate of 39.4%. Therefore, not only is Yelich putting up historic numbers right now, his production looks to be completely valid.
The decreased ground ball rate has to be the main takeaway. Yelich’s previous career low ground ball rate was last year’s 51.8% rate, which prevented him from emerging as a star when he was a member of the Marlins. However, it looks like he’s finally bought into the hype of launch angle, which has increased from 4.7 all the way to 16.4 this year. Launch angle, or lack thereof, was always the one weakness in Yelich’s game. He’s a solid fielder and an outstanding contact hitter, but his high ground ball rates produced skepticism if he’d ever become the elite slugger he seemed destined to become with his 6’3” frame. Now that he’s finally bought into the theory of launch angle, the sky is the limit for Yelich.
Outside of Yelich, there doesn’t seem to be much competition for the NL MVP. Cody Bellinger currently is on an absolute tear with a 1.379 OPS and a 2.0 WAR, but he’s being boosted by a .397 BABIP. Anthony Rendon (1.3 WAR), Paul DeJong (1.2 WAR), and rookies Pete Alonso (1.2 WAR) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (1.1 WAR) are off to strong starts, but none are on Yelich’s level. The same can even be said for Ronald Acuna Jr. and Bryce Harper, who’ve done well so far this season but have come nowhere close to Yelich’s production. Yelich’s low road OPS (.649 OPS) is the only concern about the 27-year-old, yet his 50% road hard contact dismisses that worry. If Yelich was in the AL, we could be looking at a historic race for MVP between him and Mike Trout. However, he’s in the NL, where quality is clearly overmatched by quantity; commissioner Rob Manfred might as well give him the MVP already.
As this point, the question isn’t whether Yelich will win NL MVP, but rather will it be unanimous? If he continues to buy into the idea of launch angle and doesn’t change anything drastically with his approach, we could be watching one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time. Usually, 50 home runs and a 10+ WAR would be outlandish to expect from a player. For a player like Yelich, who could be putting himself on the Hall of Fame trajectory, however, that production not only seems possible but incredibly reasonable.
Stats From Fangraphs and Baseball Savant