Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich (22).
- Christian Yelich won the NL MVP last year despite being a 200-1 longshot before the season.
- This year, his odds range between 10-1 and 18-1, but you shouldn't expect him to be in the race again.
- The main reason why Yelich was able to win the MVP was because of his much improved power numbers, which were inflated by an unsustainable home run to fly ball ratio.
Last year, Christian Yelich was 200-1 to win the NL MVP. That’s 0.5% implied odds for you non math folk. He won. I was happy. The fella made me look smart. Naturally, I can’t help but crap all over his parade this year.
To make up for his 2018 odds, he opened at 18-1 to win the hardware again this year. People have been betting on him, too, as he has moved to 10-1 at one book and 16-1 at a couple others.
Do NOT bet on Yelich to win the NL MVP again. Save your money for something else because a Yelich MVP bet is akin to burying it, shredding it or burning it.
If you’ve read some of my other articles this preseason, you may have seen some Yelich bashing already. In fact, I believe this is the third time I have bad-mouthed him, but the first time I’ve dedicated an entire article to him.
Yelich is a fine and dandy baseball player. Great, in fact. But he ain’t the Colossus of Clout that some would have you believe.
Let’s recap his 2018 season.
In the first half of the year, he had a .292 batting average, 11 homers, .823 OPS, 122 wRC+. Solid, but nothing special.
The second half, and particularly the end of the year, was something else, though:
- Second half: .367 average, 25 homers, 1.219 OPS, 220 wRC+
- September/October: .370 average, 10 homers, 1.313 OPS, 240 wRC+
When did Christian Yelich turn into the King of Crash? Oh that’s right, he didn’t. He got lucky. And I’m not even going to hold his .373 BABIP (second-highest in MLB) against him.
As a baseball nerd, I like to take a deeper look at the numbers. A glimpse behind the stats you’ll see on the back of his baseball card.
The main reason why Yelich won the MVP was because of his power surge. His his 36 jacks were 15 more than his previous career high.
How’d he manage that?
Take a look.
An absurdly high amount of his fly balls were home runs, that’s how.
The 35.0% rate was the third highest single-season mark Fangraphs has ever tracked dating back to 2002. The two higher percentages were posted by Ryan Howard and Aaron Judge, a couple of big boys.
Every hitter who has even managed to top 30% in a season has been a beastly man-child and/or used steroids. Every hitter except Yelich, that is.
Without his power, Yelich is not among the league’s elite. He’s a decent outfielder and baserunner with a good eye and some pop at the plate. Unfortunately, he’s a ground-ball hitter.
In every season of his career, more than half of his batted balls have been on the ground. Not a bad idea if you’re Ichiro Suzuki, but if you’re a middle of the order bat like Yelich, you want to drive the ball in the air, not on the ground.
It worked out last year, but when that unsustainable HR/FB% drops (probably significantly), it’s highly unlikely he’ll find himself in the MVP race again.
Furthermore, it’s quite rare and difficult to win back-to-back MVP awards. Just ask Mike Trout. Here’s a list of the guys who have managed the feat:
- Miguel Cabrera: 2012-2013
- Albert Pujols: 2008-2009
- Barry Bonds: 2001-2004
- Frank Thomas: 1993-1994 (HOF)
- Barry Bonds: 1992-1993
- Dale Murphy: 1982-1983
- Mike Schmidt: 1980-1981 (HOF)
- Joe Morgan: 1975-1976 (HOF)
- Roger Maris: 1960-1961
- Ernie Banks: 1958-1959 (HOF)
- Mickey Mantle: 1956-1957 (HOF)
- Yogi Berra: 1954-1955 (HOF)
- Hal Newhouser: 1944-1945 (HOF)
- Jimmie Foxx: 1932-1933 (HOF)
Is it me, or is Yelich not the same caliber ballplayer as the rest of these fellas? Eight hall of famers, two future hall of famers, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris and a guy whose head and feet started growing again in his 30s.
It takes something special to win the MVP. Everything has to be just right. Everything did go right for Yelich and the Brewers last year, but don’t expect it to happen again.