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Yelich up for 2nd MVP; Counsell MOY finalist

@AdamMcCalvy
November 4, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich did his best work early in the season and manager Craig Counsell left his biggest imprint late, but they both wound up in the same place Monday: Finalists for baseball’s most prestigious end-of-season awards. Yelich, the reigning Baseball Writers' Association of America National

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich did his best work early in the season and manager Craig Counsell left his biggest imprint late, but they both wound up in the same place Monday: Finalists for baseball’s most prestigious end-of-season awards.

Yelich, the reigning Baseball Writers' Association of America National League MVP Award winner, is a finalist for the honor for the second straight year, this time with Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and Anthony Rendon of the Nationals. Ditto for Counsell in the BBWAA Manager of the Year category after finishing runner-up a year ago. He’s a finalist again with the Braves’ Brian Snitker (last year’s winner) and the Cardinals’ Mike Shildt.

The results of balloting will be announced next week -- Manager of the Year on Nov. 12 and the MVP Award on Nov. 14 -- on MLB Network.

Complete Awards coverage

“They can do it all,” Yelich said of his fellow MVP finalists on MLB Network. “You saw what Rendon can do throughout the playoffs, led that team to a World Series. I think he’s been one of the more underrated guys in the game for a while. He’s been a solid player for many years and he finally had that really, really good season. And Cody can do it all as well. He’s been fun to watch. …

“It’s well-deserved for everybody, and we’ll see who comes out on top.”

Here’s a look at each of the Brewers’ candidates:

NL MVP

Despite going down on Sept. 10 with a knee injury that ended his season, Yelich is bidding to become the first back-to-back league MVP since the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera won the American League honor in 2012 and ’13. The most recent back-to-back winner in the NL was Albert Pujols of the Cardinals in 2008 and ‘09.

All-time NL MVP Award winners

Statistically, Yelich has a solid case in spite of missing the Brewers’ final 18 regular-season games. Here’s where the finalists finished in various statistical categories among the NL’s 68 qualifiers before BBWAA members cast ballots prior to the first pitch of the postseason:

Fangraphs’ WAR

Yelich: 7.8 (t-1st)
Bellinger: 7.8 (t-1st)
Rendon: 7.0 (4th)

OPS

Yelich: 1.100 (1st)
Bellinger: 1.035 (2nd)
Rendon: 1.010 (3rd)

Batting average

Yelich: .329 (1st)
Rendon: .319 (3rd)
Bellinger: .305 (9th)

On-base percentage

Yelich: .429 (1st)
Rendon: .412 (2nd)
Bellinger: (.406 (3rd)

Slugging percentage

Yelich: .671 (1st)
Bellinger: .629 (2nd)
Rendon: .598 (3rd)

Weighted runs created plus

Yelich: 174 (1st)
Bellinger: 162 (2nd)
Rendon: 154 (3rd)

Weighted on-base average

Yelich: .442 (1st)
Bellinger: .415 (2nd)
Rendon: .413 (3rd)

Home runs

Bellinger: 47 (3rd)
Yelich: 44 (4th)
Rendon: 34 (t-17th)

Runs batted in

Rendon: 126 (1st)
Bellinger: 115 (7th)
Yelich: 97 (t-14th)

Stolen bases

Yelich: 30 (3rd)
Bellinger: 15 (t-11th)
Rendon: 5 (t-35th)

In almost every category, Yelich was even better than a year ago, when he won the NL MVP Award by a relatively comfortable margin over runner-up Javier Báez of the Cubs. But two factors are working against him this time: the superiority of Bellinger and Rendon in defensive metrics, and the fact that Yelich was knocked out by a foul ball off his right kneecap on Sept. 10 in Miami.

The Brewers went 13-5 without him, finishing a sensational September that put them in the NL Wild Card Game. For voters who take the word “valuable” literally, that could factor into their vote.

“That’s going to be interesting,” said MLB Network’s Tom Verducci during Monday’s broadcast unveiling the finalists. “It is part of the narrative.”

Yelich cannot control that. What he could control was brushing away the notion of regression and performing at a higher level as the reigning MVP, in spite of regularly being pitched around by opponents unwilling to let Yelich be the one to beat them.

“You had to learn when you were being pitched around or when they were coming after you,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it was, ‘Stay within the strike zone. Stay within your approach. Just play the game … and trust yourself.’ Once I started doing that, I felt more comfortable with it. You rely on your baseball instincts and play the game.”

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Counsell is a finalist again on the strength of a second consecutive 20-7 September, during which he squeezed every out from a pitching staff bolstered by September callups. In each of the past two years, the Brewers were an average at best staff from Opening Day through the end of August and then delivered the NL’s best ERA in September -- 3.01 this season.

But Milwaukee’s surge to the finish line this year was even more dramatic than the year before. A loss to the Cubs on Sept. 5 lowered Milwaukee’s postseason odds to about six percent according to the various models, but they soared when the Brewers rattled off 18 victories over the next 20 games, a stretch that overlapped with Yelich’s injury.

“It was all hands on deck,” said Brewers pitcher Brandon Woodruff. “We’re ready for anything. There’s no egos. You put it aside and do what’s right for the team to win a championship.”

All-time NL MOY Award winners

Said pitching coach Chris Hook: “Counsell did a really nice job of that. I think we did it all year long. But in September we had more resources to lock it in even more.”

As a result, the Brewers made the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981 and ‘82.

“I might be biased, obviously -- well, not might be, I’m definitely biased when it comes to this -- but I think he should definitely be the winner of that,” Yelich said of Counsell Monday night. “All the things that we had to overcome as a team, adversity from Spring Training through the end of the season, he was able to steer that ship into the playoffs and he gave us a chance.

“He did a phenomenal job. He’s a great manager, somebody I love playing for. It would be well-deserved if he wins that honor.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.