Is NL MVP already down to a 2-star race?

Yelich-Bellinger could be battle for the ages

April 30th, 2019

To understand what’s happening with Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich, let’s not overthink things. We are witnessing history, and as explanations go, that’s the best we’re likely to come up with.

Both these guys are in a zone that only the great ones understand, and years from now when this April is a speck in the rearview mirrors of their entire careers, they’ll probably have no explanation for the magic. Both players already have 14 homers, which ties Albert Pujols (2006) and Alex Rodriguez ('07) for the most ever hit before May 1.

And they are more than just homers. Bellinger is slashing .434/.508/.906 (1.414 OPS), while Yelich is at .353/.460/.804 (1.264 OPS) entering the final day of April.

According to research by’s Sarah Langs, here are the 10 best March/Aprils ranked by OPS (minimum 75 PAs). Players with an asterisk went on to win league Most Valuable Player honors.

1. Barry Bonds, 2004: 1.828*
2. Larry Walker, 1997: 1.449*
3. Barry Bonds, 1993: 1.442*
4. Ron Cey, 1977: 1.433
5. Barry Bonds, 2002: 1.428*
6. Tony Perez, 1970: 1.428
7. Albert Pujols, 2006: 1.423
8. Jason Giambi, 2006: 1.407
9. Matt Kemp, 2012: 1.383
10. Ellis Burks, 1994: 1.359

Bellinger’s 1.414 OPS would be No. 8 overall. Meanwhile, Yelich would place 33rd, and his month may be over. He was not in the lineup Monday after leaving Sunday’s game with a sore back, but the hope is that the injury is just precautionary.

What does this mean long term? Well, it could mean the start of an MVP race for the ages. Of those top 10 March/April OPS numbers, four were the beginning of MVP seasons, three by one player: Bonds in 1993, 2002 and '04. Walker was the National League MVP in '97.

Two others got close: Pujols was second in NL MVP voting in 2006, Perez third in 1970. Every player on that top 10 list received MVP votes except for Kemp ('12) and Burks ('94), both of whom had their seasons cut short by injuries.

Digging deeper, this is just the sixth time we’ve had two players begin seasons with an OPS of 1.250 or better (minimum 75 plate appearances) before May 1, and more often than not it was a sign of big things to come, even if it didn’t always end up with hardware.

2017: Eric Thames, Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, Ryan Zimmerman. (None finished in the top five of MVP voting.)

2004: Bonds, Adam Dunn. (Bonds was the NL MVP; Dunn was tied for 28th in the NL.)

2000: Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Edmonds. (Edmonds was fourth in NL MVP voting, Guerrero sixth, Sheffield tied for ninth.)

1997: David Justice, Mark McGwire, Walker. (Walker was the NL MVP; Justice was fifth in American League MVP voting. McGwire was traded from Oakland to St. Louis in July and still finished 16th in NL MVP voting despite playing just 51 games with the Cardinals. He finished the year with 58 homers, 24 of them in the NL.)

1970: Rico Carty, Perez. (Perez was third in NL MVP voting, Carty 10th.)

As we imagine where Bellinger and Yelich could end up (maybe 70 homers?), perhaps a better way to do it is to simply enjoy the ride they’re taking us on and appreciate every single at-bat. One of the things we love about this sport is that the storylines are played out every single day for seven months.

And the randomness of it. This season began with Yelich coming off a breakout season, one that a lot of folks weren’t sure he would be able to match.

In 2018, he led the NL in batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.598) and OPS (1.000). Regression? This season, his batting average has increased by 27 points, his slugging by 206 points and his OPS by 264 points.

Bellinger has been even better. Through play on Monday, he's leading the NL in almost everything, including home runs, hits, runs, batting average and OPS. Oh, and there’s his on-base percentage, which is sitting at -- wait for it -- .508.

He’d had such a tough time with left-handed pitching in 2018 (.226 batting average) that it wasn’t even clear if he’d be an everyday player on a Dodgers team that prides itself on its depth and platoon strategies.

In 2018, his OPS was .880 against right-handed pitching, .681 against lefties. This season, his OPS against right-handed pitching is insane (1.538) and merely great (1.150) against lefties.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked the other day -- for about the dozenth time -- if he’d ever seen a player put together the kind of month Bellinger is having.

“For this period of time, I can’t recall. I haven’t seen this.”

Not many others have either.