Betts, Yelich win first career MVP Awards
Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts was named the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player on Thursday, adding an appropriate finishing touch to a magical year for a team that won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and its fourth World Series in 15 seasons, and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich earned the NL MVP honors after leading Milwaukee to an NL-best 96 wins and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
As the Red Sox's first MVP Award winner since Dustin Pedroia in 2008, Betts beat out Angels outfielder Michael Trout, who was seeking his third AL MVP Award, and Indians infielder Jose Ramirez. The other players to win the MVP for Boston? Tris Speaker (1912), Jimmie Foxx ('38), Ted Williams ('46 and '49), Jackie Jensen ('58), Carl Yastrzemski ('67), Fred Lynn ('75), Jim Rice ('78), Roger Clemens ('86) and Mo Vaughn ('95).
• 5 amazing facts about your 2018 MVPs
:: AL Most Valuable Player voting totals ::
"It means a lot," Betts said. "It's definitely a special award and something that I cherish, but I think the most important thing is that we won a World Series and got to bring a trophy back to Boston."
Yelich was a near-unanimous winner, receiving 29 out of 30 first-place votes, with the other vote going to NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. Cubs second baseman Javier Baez finished second and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado placed third.
Yelich, wearing a Los Angeles Fire Department cap, celebrated with family and friends, including Brewers teammate Ryan Braun, at his home in the L.A. suburb of Westlake Village, Calif., which has been rocked by a mass shooting and devastating wild fires in recent days.
"It was awesome to share it with close friends and family and people who've had a huge impact in my life," Yelich said. "I told them it was as much about them as me. Nice to see some smiles after tough week for a lot of people out here.
"It's really hard to put into words what this means. You never dream of ever winning an award like this. It's been amazing."
In Betts' fourth full season, the 26-year-old Silver Slugger led the Majors with a .346 batting average, 129 runs and a .640 slugging percentage, along with 47 doubles, 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
He led all Major Leaguers with a 10.4 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs.com; Trout finished second at 9.8. Baseball-Reference calculated Betts' WAR at 10.9, the highest for a position player since Barry Bonds' 11.8 in 2002.
"Just how the whole year played out," Betts said, "a lot of things went right. With J.D. [Martinez] and AC [manager Alex Cora] coming over, they gave me a new perspective and helped me take care of business. I learned so much. Everyone could see the home runs and all that. The things you didn't see was what made the year so special."
Betts is the only player to win the batting title in the same season in which he also had at least 30 homers and 30 stolen bases. He's the first Red Sox player to lead the Majors in both batting average and slugging since Williams did it in 1957. He reached base at least four times in 20 games, tops in the bigs.
Defensively, the three-time Gold Glove Award winner had five outfield assists and tied for fourth among all players with 20 defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs.com.
Betts recalled finishing second to Trout in the 2016 AL MVP voting, saying, "I really wanted to win then. You never know if you'll ever make it back. It's been everything I imagined and more."
As for the AL runner-up, Trout finished second for the fourth time in his career as he continued to construct a Hall of Fame resume and put his name prominently into baseball's "Best Ever" discussion.
Trout was the AL MVP in 2014 and '16, giving him a seven-season run in which he finished lower than second -- fourth in 2017 when he missed six weeks with a left thumb injury -- just once.
According to Baseball-Reference, Trout's career Wins Above Replacement is 64.3, higher than a string of Hall of Famers, including Dave Winfield (64.2) and Harmon Killebrew (60.4). He turned 27 in August.
In his first season in Milwaukee, Yelich broke away from the competition with a closing kick that included a .367 batting average and a .444 on-base percentage since July 8. Yelich is the Brewers' second NL MVP Award winner, joining Braun, who won in 2011. Milwaukee has had two AL MVP Award winners before it joined the NL in 1998, with Rollie Fingers (1981) and Robin Yount (1982, '89) earning the honors.
In that stretch of 74 games, he had 25 home runs, 22 doubles and a 1.171 OPS. Meanwhile, the Brewers were 48-33 over the final three months of the season and ended the regular season with a seven-game win streak that got them into a first-place tie with the Cubs in the NL Central at 95-67. The Brewers then went on to Wrigley Field and won a one-game tiebreaker for the division title.
"It's an incredible feeling, something you never expect," he said. "Playing Little League, it's hard enough to make it to the Major Leagues. To win the MVP is kind of mind-boggling."
:: NL Most Valuable Player voting totals ::
Yelich's .770 slugging percentage after the All-Star break was baseball's best in 14 years and 145 points better than the next closest hitter, NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves.
"I definitely exceeded my own expectations," Yelich said. "We came into All-Star Game in a tough spot [with a six-game losing streak]. I think the four days to enjoy the game, enjoy the experience, kind of helped me get a reset. It was a magical second half for me and for the team. I think a lot of it was the change of scenery, the environment, Milwaukee. Down the stretch, every game matters. It brings out the best in you."
Yelich was the Brewers' first batting champion and flirted with being the NL's first Triple Crown winner in 81 years. He finished tied for third with 36 home runs (Arenado had 38) and tied for second with 110 RBIs (Baez had 111).
Brewers general manager David Stearns obtained Yelich from the Marlins for four prospects last January. Looking back, Yelich said so many things changed in such a short period of time that he had trouble getting his mind around all of it.
"My situation ended up working out fantastic," he said. "I couldn't have asked for more. I'm thankful it all worked out. You get traded you never really know how it's going to work out. Luckily for me, it all turned out amazing."