Yelich's stats do the talking in NL MVP race

Brewers OF is 5th player to hit for cycle twice in one season

September 20th, 2018

NOTE: This is a version of a story that first ran on on Sept. 24. It has been updated to reflect final regular-season statistics and the trio of National League MVP Award finalists.
MILWAUKEE -- It sounds simple, selecting a winner of the Most Valuable Player Award. Often, it's not. For much of this year in the National League, before distanced himself from the rest of the field, it was particularly not.
For voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the first step was deciding which of the abundant criteria matter most. If power and defense were your leading criteria, Rockies slugger had a strong case. If you wanted the RBI leader, or an elite hitter who's also a fantastic and versatile defender on the infield, Cubs infielder looked very good. If you were open to a pitcher, Mets ace and NL Cy Young Award winner merited a look.
If you thought the best way to sort this out was wins above replacement -- the albeit imperfect metric that attempts to combine all of those stats into one -- Yelich topped the leaderboard for all of the available versions. Not your preferred advanced metric? In that case, there is weighted runs created plusweighted on-base average or park-adjusted OPS. Yelich, Yelich and Yelich.
Not ready for advanced metrics?
Batting average: Yelich.
On-base plus slugging: Yelich.
Slugging percentage: Yelich.
"He's doing special things," manager Craig Counsell said in mid-September. "This is what guys in this conversation do."
The conversation is down to three players. Arenado, Baez and Yelich were named finalists for the BBWAA's NL MVP Award, which will be handed out on Thursday on MLB Network.
National League stat leaders

The special thing in the context of Counsell's quote came on Sept. 17, when Yelich hit for the cycle against the Reds for the second time in less than three weeks. He became the fifth player in Major League history to hit for the cycle twice in one season, and the first to do it twice against the same team.
These players hit multiple cycles in their careers
And if you consider the cycle a mere novelty, consider that Yelich's came as he was putting together the best second half in the NL, a remarkable closing month that pushed Yelich from NL MVP contender to NL MVP frontrunner, and lifted the Brewers to their third division title in franchise history and the NL's best record. He led the league after the All-Star break in average, home runs, extra-base hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, fWAR, wOBA and wRC+.
"The most important thing for him is that we're winning ballgames, but for us, it's fun to watch what he's doing every single night," Mike Moustakas said in the middle of it. "We're lucky to have a front-row seat to it."
Yelich, a 26-year-old, laid-back Southern Californian, shied away from attention, even after it found him. Until the very end, after the Brewers secured the NL's top seed in the postseason with a 3-1 win over the Cubs in a Game 163 highlighted by Yelich's three hits, he had a hard time putting into words a second half in which he hit four more home runs (25) than he'd hit in any of his first five Major League seasons.

Moving from cavernous Marlins Park to Miller Park certainly helped, but that cannot explain all of it. Yelich said he has made no conscious changes to his swing in an effort to join baseball's fly-ball revolution, saying his improved power is the result of experience over his parts of five years with the Marlins before last offseason's trade to Milwaukee.
"Honestly, not really," said Yelich, when asked if he could articulate what his huge second half has meant to him. "It's hard to explain. It's one of those things where I haven't paid much attention to it, just because you're so focused on the day-to-day [process] of competing, focused on what you have to do to help the team win. We've been in a close race for the whole season, and every game has been big for us.

"It's something that, after the year is done, you might look back on it and appreciate it a little more. It's really hard to look at it while you're in the middle of it, if that makes sense."
Now, that time has come. It's down to Arenado, Baez and Yelich. Here's where they stand head-to-head in key categories, with NL ranks among batting title qualifiers in parentheses:
Fangraphs WAR
Yelich 7.6 (first)
Arenado 5.7 (third)
Baez 5.3 (fifth)
Baseball-Reference WAR
Yelich 7.6 (first)
Baez 6.3 (third)
Arenado 5.6 (tied for fifth)
Defensive WAR
Baez 1.7 (tied for fifth)
Arenado 0.7 (tied for 22nd)
Yelich -0.4 (tied for 42nd)
Baserunning runs above average
Yelich 5.8 (fifth)
Baez 3.9 (13th)
Arenado 0.0 (tied for 35th)
Yelich 166 (first)
Arenado 132 (10th)
Baez 131 (tied for 11th)
Yelich .422 (first)
Arenado .391 (second)
Baez .366 (15th)
Adjusted OPS (OPS+)
Yelich 164 (first)
Arenado 133 (tied for ninth)
Baez 126 (14th)
Yelich 1.000 (first)
Arenado .935 (second)
Baez .881 (12th)
Batting average
Yelich .326 (first)
Arenado .297 (10th)
Baez .290 (14th)
On-base percentage
Yelich .402 (third)
Arenado .374 (12th)
Baez .326 (46th)
Slugging percentage
Yelich .598 (first)
Arenado .561 (third)
Baez .554 (4th)
Home runs
Arenado 38 (first)
Yelich 36 (tied for third)
Baez 34 (tied for seventh)
Baez 111 (first)
Arenado, Yelich 110 (tied for second)
Stolen bases
Yelich 22 (ninth)
Baez 21 (10th)
Arenado 2 (tied for 50th)
"For Christian, what's cool this year is that he has taken his game to a new level," Counsell said. "He's been a player, a really good player, and he's taken it to the next level. As much as anything, it's a product of the sweet spot of some experience in the league lining up in the good spot. I think if you ask him, he'll say, 'I didn't have a good first half.'"
But Yelich was an NL All-Star.
"These guys compete against themselves, too," Counsell said.
Counsell was asked which statistics he favors in the NL MVP Award debate.
"Next," he said, playfully waving the question away. "I'm not into that. The guys everybody is talking about are the right guys. You guys vote for it, so you guys can figure it out."