In 2018, the Milwaukee Brewers had their best season in decades. Unexpectedly they made it to the NLCS, and in turn, one game short of the World Series. They managed to do this with no post-season expectations going into the 2018 season. So as you can imagine, hopes were high going into the 2019 MLB season. They started slow, but as manager Craig Counsell figured out the best way to set his lineup throughout the season, paired with an incredible resurgence in September, the Brewers pushed themselves into the post-season.
The Brewers had this September push without their reigning MVP, Christian Yelich. Injured at the start of September, the loss of Yelich seemed to signal the end of the Brewers playoff hopes. After all, Yelich improved upon his NL MVP award from last season, posting the best batting average(.329, tied with Ketel Marte), slugging percentage(.671), on-base percentage(.429), and on-base plus slugging percentage(1.100) in the National League in 2019. And when it came to the 2019 NL MVP voting, the injury soured Yelich’s chances of repeating as MVP. But it should not have.
A player who misses an entire month, and still posts numbers as incredible as these, should not be punished come awards season. The Brewers went 20-7 in the month of September without Yelich, which suggests that he was not as valuable first thought. But the Brewers run in September was in large part due to not having their best player. As the Brewers powered forward, it became clear that they were playing for more than just a playoff berth. They were playing for their injured teammate and MVP. An image of Ryan Braun holding up a Christian Yelich jersey after hitting a home run, tells you all you need to know about how valuable number 22 is to the Brewers. The passion the Brewers played with, knowing they were playing for more than just the playoffs, propelled them to clinch a playoff berth.
Now on the other side of the MVP debate in 2019 there was Cody Bellinger. Bellinger did ultimately win the award this year, as he was the obvious rival to Yelich’s crown. Bellinger had a great 2019 season, and played for the best team in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Being the best player on the best team historically has always been a recipe for MVP success, but Bellinger’s 2019 stats just do not match Yelich’s. Bellinger had a batting average of .305, good for only ninth best in the National League. While Bellinger did hit 47 home runs and drive in 115 runs(both more than Yelich in those categories), he also had one more month than Yelich to reach these numbers. The Dodgers also boasted the best team on-base percentage in the NL(the Brewers were ninth), which gives Bellinger a greater chance at improving RBI numbers. Defensively he is relatively equal to Yelich, which does help Bellingers case. Bellinger also posts a higher Wins Above Replacement(WAR) with a 9.0, compared to Yelich’s 7.1. But if you look at the effect each player has had for their team, not just on the field, but off the field as well, Bellinger just does not meet Yelich’s standards.
It is hard to imagine in recent history a player who had as good a season as Yelich, without winning MVP. This only ever happens if another player has had just as good a season without getting injured. Injuries have always dictated the voting in post-season awards, but an injury that only sidelines a player for a month should not. Yelich had the best year of his career, and the best year of any player in the National League.