You can’t win a division in March or April. You can’t win an MVP award, either.
Christian Yelich was likely going to be in a dogfight with Cody Bellinger for the NL MVP. This didn’t seem like the case if you were to ask this question back at the beginning of the season, though.
You never want to see a guy get hurt, let alone a superstar who threw the team on his back and was carrying them to the playoffs. In September, Yelich was hitting .345 with a 1.237 OPS in nine games. He had three long balls, too, keeping pace with Bellinger but trailing rookie sensation Pete Alonso by three as of the morning of Sept. 11.
With Yelich out for the rest of the season now, not only are the Brewers losing their best player, but others in the NL have the opportunity to make up ground and maybe unseat the reigning, defending NL MVP and take home hardware of their own.
Let’s take a look at some of the deserving candidates in the Senior Circuit and see how the race shakes out.
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Cody Bellinger’s April/March this season was something to behold: In 31 games, Bellinger hit .431/.508/.890 — that’s good for a 1.397 OPS, if you don’t feel like doing the math — with 14 home runs. Surely, those numbers weren’t sustainable.
Let’s check the tape:
Bellinger: 141 games, .306/.410/.639, 44 home runs. 23 defensive runs saved. 7.2 fWAR/8.3 bWAR
Yelich: 130 games, .329/.429/.671, 44 home runs. 0 defensive runs saved. 7.7 fWAR/7.1 bWAR
But in a more recent, smaller sample size, it’s a little different. Since Aug. 23:
Bellinger: 17 games, .218/.386/.418, two home runs in games vs. the Yankees, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants and Orioles
Yelich: 17 games, .310/.467/.534, three home runs in games vs. the Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Astros and Marlins.
That said, the Yelich injury news provides Bellinger the opportunity to take back the MVP conversation.
It’s unfair to say that the NL MVP debate was going to be open and shut, but given the above numbers, Bellinger has some ground to make up and enough time to make it. By fWAR, Yelich’s season is done, and he’s got 7.7 WAR, leading Bellinger by 0.5, which is ground he can certainly make up in the next few weeks.
By fWAR, both players were in lock step in the first half. Despite his hot start, Bellinger led Yelich by WAR 5.4 to 5.1. In the second half, though, Bellinger had 1.9 fWAR (54 games) to Yelich’s 2.6 fWAR (48 games).
Of course, this sprung the great commercial by MLB to promote the race:
While flashy and cute, at this point, it’s a bit irresponsible to believe that there aren’t a few more names in the MVP race in addition to Yelich and Bellinger.
Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Don’t sleep on Anthony Rendon, man.
Some team is going to be very happy to sign him this offseason (hopefully), whether it be the Nats or someone else aching for third base help. Rendon has quietly been one of the NL’s better players for a few years now, with a 27.0 bWAR/32.5 fWAR since arriving in 2013. In fact, by fWAR, Rendon has been the best third baseman in the NL since 2013, leading Nolan Arenado (30.2) by a few wins in almost 200 less games. Crazy, right?
Rendon currently has career highs in: home runs, batting average, OPS/OPS+ and has eclipsed 300 total bases for the first time in his career. By the way, he leads the majors in average (.335) and he also the seventh-lowest K rate in the NL (13.2).
Rendon has double-digit home run power and, by the way, hasn’t really slowed down at all this season: In 35 games between August and September, he’s hitting .382 with nine home runs and a 1.126 OPS. Those are MVP-type numbers, and he’s helped the Nationals chase down a wild-card spot in a big way.
As it stands, Rendon has a 6.1 bWAR/6.8 fWAR, trailing Bellinger, Yelich and someone else on this list who may surprise you. But with 19 games left, should Rendon finish strong, he could — and should — be atop ballots, too.
Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks
While the Diamondbacks are slipping out of the NL wild card race, Ketel Marte has entered the minds of MVP voters — or, at least, he should.
The ascending Dbacks star has split time in the outfield and at second base this season, and has excelled wherever he’s played: He has a 6.9 fWAR as of this morning, which is third — THIRD! — in the NL behind Bellinger and Yelich.
Much like many, many players who have taken advantage of the (presumably) juiced baseballs this season, Marte has set a career high in home runs with 34 so far. He entered this season with 22 home runs in his career (402 games between Seattle and Arizona).
Akin to Rendon, Marte also doesn’t strike out a lot, with a 13.9 percent K rate, 0.7 behind Rendon. He has 84 strikeouts in 547 at-bats this season.
Some people will point to Coooooooors — rather, Chaaaaaaaase — for his numbers this season, but his home/road splits prove that not to be the case. Marte has a .958 OPS in 75 away games this season, 13 more than he’s played at home. He has a 1.019 OPS at home, though, and that’s stupid good, too.
Marte’s defensive abilities and improved power bat could propel him to the conversation, but the fact that Arizona is out of it — or close to it — could hurt his case.
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