Trivia time! Who won the NL MVP in 2018? Cmon, think! Time’s up … Christian Yelich. Who won NL MVP last year, 2019? Got your answer? It’s Cody Bellinger.
These stud outfielders are setting the pace in the National League. Vegas experts predict that National League newcomer Mookie Betts will also be involved in the NL MVP race, but Betts is not even the best outfielder on his team.
Yelich won the 2018 NL MVP award in a landslide. This was before Bellinger had arrived on the scene in LA. The 2019 NL MVP vote was closer – but Bellinger received 19 first-place votes to Yelich’s 10 and won by a total of 362 vote points to 317.
Who has the edge this season? Vegas says it’s Yelich … slightly.
Odds on Yelich to win 2 MVPs in 3 years are 6 to 1. Odds on Bellinger to repeat as MVP are 7 to 1. These are the top 2 players in the NL MVP race to begin the season.
Who’s the better bet? Ehhh … it’s a tough call. A real tough call. Let’s break it down.
Why Christian Yelich Could Win 2020 NL MVP
Christian Yelich. The man can hit. Maintaining a high batting average seems to be no problem for the 28-year-old. His career low average is .282. His career mark is a tick over .300. In two seasons in Milwaukee, Yelich has hit .326 and .329.
Although Yelich can hit singles with the best of ’em, he is far from a Punch and Judy hitter. Yelich hit 36 dingers in his MVP 2018 campaign and then blew that number out of the water with 44 last year.
Left field, center, right – it’s all the same to Yelich when hitting. He makes every park he plays in seem small. Lefties who can hit to the opposite field with power are especially dangerous in today’s game because you can’t shift on them.
Yelich made “hard contact” on over 50% of his batted balls in 2019. The only player in the MLB making more hard contact last year was Nelson Cruz.
Check out this heat map. This is the location of every pitch Yelich saw during the 2019 season. Pitchers tend to attack Yelich middle-away and they like to keep the ball down.
This is no issue for Yelich who is more than capable of hitting the ball where it’s pitched.
Let’s not forget about defense. The Brewers have Yelich in right field – although he will switch over to left field several times per season. Yelly is not going to win any Gold Gloves but he can hold his own in the outfield.
Yelich scored 1.2 range runs above average in 2019 – meaning he can cover a bit more ground than your average MLB outfielder. As a frame of reference, the league leading outfielder in range runs last year – Harrison Bader – had 10.2.
Why Cody Bellinger Could Win 2020 NL MVP
Also a lefty slugger, also an outfielder – Bellinger’s game shares many traits with Yelich’s although the two approach hitting differently.
Bellinger does not post great batting averages. In 3 seasons, he has hit .267, .260, and .305. His career mark is .278. Belly has more raw power than Yelly, though.
In 2019, Bellinger hit 47 homers while Yelich hit 44. Bellinger posted 84 extra base hits while Yelich managed only 76.
Take a look at how pitchers attack Bellinger with this heat map.
While keeping the ball down seems to be the game plan against Yelich, the key to pitching to Bellinger is keeping the ball away.
While Bellinger can go oppo, he definitely prefers to pull the ball. Bellinger’s 2019 batted stats are interesting. His opposite field hits decreased from 2018 but his hard contact rate increased.
This means Bellinger has made an adjustment at the plate. He is learning to pull more types of pitches – even those middle-away.
When it comes to defense, Bellinger is clearly superior to Yelich. For one, Bellinger is very versatile. While his main position is right field, Bellinger played over 20 games in center field last year and over 20 games at first base.
Bellinger was 5.6 range runs above average in 2019, which ranks 6th among MLB outfielders. Here is a clip of Belly robbing Yelly – what many consider to be his signature, MVP-winning play of 2019.
The arm? It’s disgusting. Don’t test Cody Bellinger.
This MVP race is a toss up. Yelich is a more complete hitter but Bellinger does more on the diamond for his team. My pick for NL MVP is … Cody Bellinger at (+700). I see the Dodgers having another very good season, which bodes well for Bellinger’s MVP chances.
See you on top, baseball fans!