LOS ANGELES -- The Red Sox and Brewers went into last offseason looking for a lineup boost. They came out of it with two of the most productive hitters in baseball.J.D. Martinez and Christian Yelich were prized pickups, and now they've both won MLB's most prestigious offensive prize. On Friday,
LOS ANGELES -- The Red Sox and Brewers went into last offseason looking for a lineup boost. They came out of it with two of the most productive hitters in baseball.
J.D. Martinez and Christian Yelich were prized pickups, and now they've both won MLB's most prestigious offensive prize. On Friday, Martinez and Yelich were announced as the American League and National League winners of the 2018 Hank Aaron Award. A formal presentation took place on the field before Game 3 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, with Aaron in attendance.
"J.D. and Christian are exciting to watch and are truly deserving of this award," Aaron said. "I congratulate them both on their great efforts and results this season."
• Past winners:AL | NL
Suffice it to say they met the hopes and expectations of their new clubs.
"I think that's something that's on your mind from the start," Yelich said. "You just want to contribute. And in my case, I came to a team that was a game away from the playoffs. My goal going in was to be the player that they traded for, nothing more, nothing less, and just contribute to what they already had going there. It was an unbelievable year, it was a lot of fun. And we came one game away from being in the World Series."
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With Martinez's team in the World Series, he accepted the award in the midst of preparing himself for the start in left field after injuring his right ankle in Game 1.
"From where I was five years ago [when he was released by the Astros] to today, it's really a blessing," Martinez said. "A lot of people helped me along the way. Just to get here today and sit in front of Hank. Growing up, [former catcher] Paul Casanova was my mentor, and he was a guy who really took me under his wing and made me fall in love with baseball. A lot of those stories that he told me were about Hank. So it's pretty cool to be on stage with him today."
Whereas the MVP Award is intended to take a player's total contributions to his team into account, the Aaron Award is all about the bats. So a designated hitter like Martinez is not dinged in the vote totals the way he might be in the MVP result, which will be revealed in November (with teammate Mookie Betts a good bet to bring home the hardware).
To say the Red Sox got their money's worth in the first year of a five-year, $110 million commitment to Martinez is an understatement. The 31-year-old slugger not only maintained the elite production that has defined the late breakout that began with the 2014 Tigers, he actually had his best statistical season. Martinez led the Majors in RBIs (130) and total bases (358) while finishing second in homers (43). His .330 average was nearly 40 points higher than his career norm, and his .402 on-base percentage was nearly 50 points higher.
Martinez has followed that rousing regular season with a productive postseason. He took a .333 average (13-for-39) with two homers, two doubles and 13 RBIs into Game 3. In fact, Martinez has a chance to become just the sixth player, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to lead the Majors in RBIs in both the regular season and postseason in the same year.
Yelich's Brewers team was not able to get past the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, but his arrival in a Jan. 25 trade with the Marlins was a big element of Milwaukee's rise to the top of the NL Central in 2018. With a .326 average, Yelich became the first player in Brewers franchise history to win a batting title, and he also led the NL in slugging percentage (.598), OPS (1.000), total bases (343) and weighted runs created plus (166). He also became just the fifth player to hit for the cycle twice in the same season and the first to do so against the same team (Reds).
"The biggest thing this year," he said, "was just having a little bit better understanding of what I do well as a player. And I think playing in that playoff race and having all those games mean something down the stretch definitely helped as well."
Yelich finished just two homers and one RBI shy of winning the first Triple Crown in the NL in 81 years. Aaron certainly took note of that.
"The thing that makes you proud is the fact that in Christian's year that he had, he came that close -- and when I say 'that close,' I mean really close -- to winning the Triple Crown," Aaron said. "That means something very special."
The selection process for the Hank Aaron Award, which was established in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, included a fan vote at MLB.com, as well as a special panel of Hall of Fame players (Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Murray and Robin Yount) personally selected by Aaron to join him in the balloting.
As part of Friday's awards ceremony, MLB also announced the renaming of the Elite Development Invitational after Aaron.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.