• Christian Yelich presents the most balanced case to win the National League MVP. Still, that might not be enough to overcome the superior attributes of competitors like Javy Baez or deGrom.
By Emma Baccellieri
September 27, 2018

Editor's note: SI is highlighting the top candidates in a crowded race for the National League MVP award. Check out our primers on Lorenzo Cain, Javy Baez, Jacob deGrom, and Freddie Freeman.

There’s no question that Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich has looked better than ever this season. His 156 OPS+ is more than twenty points above his previous high. His .576 slugging percentage is more than a hundred points above his career average. For the first time, he was named an All-Star. He’s never hit so many line drives or so few groundballs. Nearly a third of his flyballs have become home runs—or more than twice as many as last year. Yelich is swinging more than ever, and he’s been rewarded with his first annual batting average above .300.

Yelich, then, has certainly been at his best. But has that been enough to make him the best? WAR, at least, will say yes. Both FanGraphs’ and Baseball Prospectus’ versions of the metric list him as the best position player in the National League. (Baseball-Reference has him in second place, just behind teammate Lorenzo Cain.) But WAR starts arguments better than it ends them, so let’s keep going. Yelich’s the league’s only hitter with an OPS+ above 150, and he takes the top spot for both batting average and slugging percentage. 

He stands out in the fancy metrics of Statcast, too. His 92.1 mph exit velocity is higher than all but two other hitters in the NL, and he’s one of just two hitters with more than half of their batted balls classified as “hard hit.” Or turn your attention to storytelling stats, such as win probability added and base-out runs added—which aren’t necessarily predictive or indicative of true talent, but do offer some compelling information about how much a player has done to boost his team’s odds when he comes to the plate—and see that he’s done more in this department than has any other player here. Yelich’s 5.1 WPA is the best in the league, measuring just how much his bat has increased his club’s chance of victory. What, exactly, does that look like? With two outs and men on, there hasn’t been anyone better in the NL. In those situations, Yelich has a whopping 1.273 OPS.

You can describe Yelich’s offensive prowess with all sorts of numbers, then; just take your pick. Meanwhile, his defense may not be particularly flashy, but he’s proven that he can play capably at each outfield position. And, really, when you’ve so clearly been the best hitter in the league—what more do you need? (If you simply must ask for something more, Yelich has 21 stolen bases, too.)

No other candidate has consistently been as good at the plate as has Yelich. That doesn’t make him a perfect contender; he doesn’t have the defensive flair of Javier Baez, or the red-hot breakout of Matt Carpenter, or the… anything of Jacob deGrom. But it does make him the best contender. The NL has had no more well-rounded hitter. Yelich’s better than he’s ever been, and it just so happens that he’s been better than everyone else, too.