Two men in the NL have played like they were shot out of a cannon since Opening Day. Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich have amazed the rest of the NL (and all of baseball) with their torrid paces this year. It’s seemed like the two are challenging each other at times to see who can push the limits further. Unless someone else catches fire for the next 2 months, it’s a two horse race for the NL MVP crown.
Bellinger was leading the race by a small degree, but he’s pulled up recently. He hasn’t hit a home run since July 16th, and his batting average has fallen from .340 to .330 in that span. Most of his other stats, such as OPS, have subsequently dropped by a similar margin. Nevertheless, the 23 year old 2x All Star remains a key contributor on both sides of the ball for one of the best teams in baseball this season, the Dodgers.
Taking a look at WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, Bellinger sits at 6.8 as of July 30 while Yelich is at 6.0. However, Yelich has a slight edge when it comes to batting. He leads the Majors in home runs (36), batting average (.337), slugging (.707), OPS (1.141), and OPS+ (188) and leads the NL in OBP (.434). Bellinger lags just behind his Brewers competitor in all of these stats, with 34 homers, a .330 avg, an OBP of .431 , a OPS of 1.104 and OPS+ of 187.
Yelich is ahead by a nose at the moment, at least offensively. Once Bellinger recovers from this cold stretch, there’s still a battle to be had. The McGwire-Sosa comparisons are off the charts, but there’s lots of baseball yet to be played. Let’s see how these two keep up in the next two months before we put them in that category.
Defensively, it’s a different story. Using dWAR, which is only a defensive measure of a player’s wins above replacement, there’s a difference between the two. Bellinger’s dWAR is 1.1, while Yelich is in the hole right now at -0.1 dWAR. Bellinger is more versatile defensively and can play multiple positions, so he’s considered defensively superior to Yelich. How much does this factor into NL MVP voting?
Team success could play a role in the discussion too. As mentioned, the Dodgers are currently the best team in baseball and should cruise to another NL West title. The Brewers are in the playoff mix, but are just 5 games above .500. They’ve got to compete with numerous teams down the stretch such as the Phillies, Nationals, Cubs and Cardinals.
What’s more valuable? Bellinger, who’s contributing to the best team in baseball, or Yelich, who’s dragging Milwaukee up the standings with all his might? Yelich’s current WAR suggests that the Brewers would be below .500 without their star outfielder.
One thing that is certain: this is one of the most entertaining MVP races in years, between similarly fantastic athletes. It’s great for baseball, but even better for the fans.