Christian Yelich or Javier Baez for National League MVP?

The talk around Major League Baseball over the last few days has centered around the National League MVP discussion, with Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers and Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs at the forefront of the discussion. The aforementioned players should be considered the favorites to take home the award, no matter what Odds Shark criminally says. And that’s what this article is about, yet for those who read this site regularly (thank you so much), this will be a little different than usual. While there will still be some analytics dripped in, this post will mostly consist of a rant that Ryen Russillo would be proud of, because frankly, I’m a little annoyed about this MVP discussion, and I think I deserve to speak my mind. So I’m just going to start typing and see where the keyboard leads me.

***Side note: Before Cardinals’ fans get all up on their perch and start tweeting me that Matt Carpenter should be involved in this discussion, let me just say that I wholeheartedly agree. He’s been more valuable than Baez, in my opinion.

But back to the Yelich vs. Baez debate. My frustration started with Dan Patrick.

On Tuesday, Dan Patrick of The Dan Patrick Show aired his usual “Play of the Day” segment, and for the first time in probably the show’s history, a Milwaukee Brewers’ play was featured. The play just so happened to be Yelich hitting for his second cycle of the season. That’s great! Finally, a small-market team getting some love and publicity on a national radio show. Ahhh, life is good. But then Patrick starts talking about Yelich and pronounces Yelich’s last name as “Yelick”. He does this not once, but twice. Now, I know Patrick isn’t that in-tune with baseball, because he still thinks pitcher wins and RBIs matter and are a good judge of skill, but he’s still a relatively smart guy when it comes to sports. He should, at the very least, know an MVP candidate’s name, even if the candidate plays a sport The Dan Patrick Show never touches on. But because Yelich plays for the Brewers and not the Cubs, Yankees or Red Sox, Patrick butchers the name because, in all honestly, he probably couldn’t pick Yelich out of a lineup. It’s sad, but true, kind of like my love life.

So that happened. And then this was tweeted:

Bleacher Nation is a popular Chicago Cubs blog that tweets to nearly 80,000 followers (follow him here, he needs more followers). The First Out At Third — you know, the thing you’re currently reading — is a Milwaukee Brewers blog that tweets to 560 followers. And yet, in this case, the popular guy is dead wrong. Raise your hand if you’re shocked. Let’s dissect Bleacher Nation’s tweet starting with the fact he (Bleacher Nation) thinks that Baez is an equal hitter to Yelich. *Insert laughing crying emoji*

Here’s a table that shows that is unequivocally untrue.

Avg OBP SlG OPS wOBA wRC+
Yelich .319 .385 .569 .954 .404 154
Baez .294 .329 .569 .897 .372 134

You see those numbers up there that are in bold? Those are the categories in which Yelich leads Baez, and it’s really not all that close either. Try again, Nation. Besides, do we really want to give the MVP to someone who has a .329 on-base percentage? Hell, I have a higher OBP than that.

Bleacher Nation also states that Baez plays incredible defense at multiple infield positions. It’s true that Baez plays solid defense at more than one position, but to color it incredible? I don’t think so. Baez has posted 5 defensive runs saved at shortstop, 2 DRS at second base and 2 DRS at shortstop this season. League average is zero for those new to the Defensive Run Statistic. Baez has good range and a strong arm, but the word “incredible” should be saved for those who deserve it, like Andrelton Simmons. Yelich, on the other hand, has won a Gold Glove in the past as an outfielder and is capable of manning multiple outfield positions. While his DRS numbers (3 DRS in right field) are down a smidge in 2018, he’s still considered a top-notch defender, and definitely not an inferior glovesman to Baez. Next argument, Nation.

Baez runs the bases as well as anyone in baseball, or so Bleacher Nation would have you believe. Let’s take a gander down the road of baserunning statistics! Buckle up, Cubs’ fans, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

If you go to FanGraphs and click on its baserunning statistic, you’ll see both Yelich and Baez on the first page of the leaderboard. But like the United States Olympic Men’s Hockey team in 1980, Yelich is the winner over Baez. (Yes, I did in fact compare Yelich to the gold-medal winning 1980 Olympic hockey team). Yelich has been worth 5.3 BsR — the 11th-highest total in MLB. Baez sits all the way down at 26th with a 3.8 BsR. To sum up like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, Baez is truthfully — I know it’s sometimes hard for Cubs’ fans to tell the truth — not one of the best baserunners in all of baseball. But Yelich sure is.

Now, I honestly didn’t mean to call out Bleacher Nation as much as I did, but I like dealing with facts when it comes to baseball talk. The facts speak for themselves, even though I just wrote them down for you all in case you didn’t hear them the first time.

You can probably tell by now that I’m a Brewers’ fan, and that of course I’m going to side with Yelich over Baez. While the former is true, readers of this site should know I’m not a biased fan. Go through my archives. Look at my most recent article in which I called out Brewers general manager David Stearns. While I’m not biased, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to side with the Brewers from time to time, which is why I have no qualms saying Yelich should be the National League MVP, and there’s one more argument I have to bolster my case.

According to FanGraphs’ WAR, Yelich has been the most valuable player in the National League this season with 6.1 WAR. Lorenzo Cain — Yelich’s teammate — is second on the leaderboard, with Baez tied with Anthony Rendon at 5.3 WAR for third place. WAR isn’t the end-all and be-all statistic, but it’s pretty damn telling, and it’s telling us that Yelich deserves the MVP.

And here’s the final killshot: Without Javier Baez, the Chicago Cubs would still be a playoff team. Without Christian Yelich, the Brewers wouldn’t even be sniffing a Wild Card berth.

You’re right, Bleacher Nation, this isn’t a difficult MVP decision.

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20 thoughts on “Christian Yelich or Javier Baez for National League MVP?

  1. Bob W

    This is obviously a very simplistic answer, but I say whoever wins the division, their guy gets the MVP. When players are roughly equal – and to me that’s the case because of the intangibles Baez brings- then you go with the “most valuable” part of the equation. And while one player never makes THAT much of a difference in baseball (unlike a QB in football or a basketball player for ex), that “value” is belied by the division title. Again, admittedly simple but until they rename the award “Best Player” you can’t ignore the value component in my mind.

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    1. Thomas B Jowers

      Baez has had to imo carry a bigger load this season with Bryant missing so much time, the slow start by Rizzo being asked to play multiple positions and helping lead the Cubs to the best record in the NL and their 4th straight 90+ win season. He’s done a lot for a guy that before this season would be mentioned 5th or 6th after guys like Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber, Lester, and so on but with Yelich the Brewers expected big things with him when the trade happened. He was noted to be a big piece that the Brew Crew was missing and he has come through bigger than expected. But overall I have to give the MVP to Baez.

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  2. Bob W

    By the way, by stating that Cain had the 2nd best WAR, you kind of defeat your own argument that the Brewers wouldnt be in contention w/o Yelich.

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  3. Tomas Checkosky

    I am a die-hard Cubs fan, sorry brewcrew – we’re winning the division – but I 100% agree that, this year, Yelich is the better player.

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  4. Bryan

    Baez is the MVP. As you could probably tell by now, I’m a Cubs fan, but I’m not a biased fan. I’m just going to go for the guy on my team. (Thick sarcasm)

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    1. Anonymous

      you are right, WAR isn’t even close there. Three pitchers are having historically good seasons while the top few hitters are far behind. It depends on how much this is an award about the rest of the team or not.

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  5. Andrew

    You say you aren’t biased but you obviously were pretty biased with the stats you referenced? You neglect to mention stats like Home Runs, RBI’s, Stolen Bases. I know Yelich isn’t far behind in those categories but Baez is not far behind the categories you referenced, either. To say that Baez does not provide incredible defense is blasphemy. His defensive WAR is 1.5 which is 18th in the MLB. I would say that is elite. Especially considering the Gold Glover, Yelich, has a defensive war of -0.5 (like 175th?). Besides that you can move him anywhere on the diamond and he immediately becomes your best fielder there. Do you know how easy that makes life on a Manager, or how much better it makes the Cubs? It is a very close race and I think Yelich is very deserving, but I have to give an edge to Baez. The Cubs endured a 2 month slump from Rizzo, 2 months of no Bryant, 1 month without Heyward, and a lot of other injuries solely because of Baez. Saying that the cubs are a playoff team without him, this year, is false, especially in this division. If Baez doesn’t have the year he had we wouldn’t make the playoffs. I don’t think anyone will dispute that. In the end I think it will come down to the division winner anyways.

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  6. Wiley Smith

    If you swapped Baez and Yelich, their OPS would probably swap too, due to hitting environment in Mil. Let’s not get crazy. Yelich is very good, but not this good. MVP race: Baez, Yelich and then Carpenter.

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    1. Anonymous

      you realize that’s the job of park adjusted stats right? Baez has 130 OPS+ and Yelich has 156 OPS+, you need to find another argument, because that one isn’t even close.

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  7. Anonymous

    If Baez wins the award, he will join the likes of Tejada, Rollins, Andre Dawson, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, and Terry Pendleton as the least deserving position player MVPs. All of those award winners were outperformed tremendously by more deserving candidates. Look it up!

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    1. Anonymous

      You forgot Ryan Braun. Matt Kemp was clearly the better player the year Braun won the MVP. Of course it was later revealed Braun had been juicing that year, so the case for Kemp is even stronger. Braun is one of the least deserving MVPs ever.

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  8. Anonymous

    Yelich has a -0.5 defensive WAR and Baez has a +1.5 defensive WAR, according to Baseball Reference. On offense, Yelich is better. On defense, Baez is better.

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  9. A O

    If Baez wins MVP it will be with the weakest offensive stats of any MVP winner of the last 10 years. The only winner whose numbers come close to as poor are another Cub, Kris Bryant, 2016. Bryant should have lost the award to 3 other people that year, but of course the Cubs get special treatment. That bodes well for Baez.

    Anyone really looking at the numbers knows this is not a close race. Baez’s numbers are closer to Rizzo’s than to Yelich’s. And if the Cubs really want to put their best guy up against a Brewer to beat, they should look at the third-ranked Brewer, Aguilar. That’s a much closer comparison.

    Check the stats.

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