Just as September results finished off the Cubs in the race for the National League Central title, the month was tough on Javy Baez’s MVP chances.
And just as the Cubs weren’t bad in September with a 16-12 record before a one-game playoff loss to the Brewers, Baez wasn’t bad with a .791 OPS for the month.
It’s just that the Brewers and outfielder Christian Yelich were so much better.
Still, Baez and Yelich, along with the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado, were named the three finalists for the award, which will be announced Nov. 15
By the numbers, Yelich was the best position player in the NL with a 7.6 WAR at Fangraphs.com, more than a win better than Anthony Rendon (6.3) of the Nationals. Arenado (5.7), the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain (5.7) and Baez (5.3) were within a win of Rendon.
The overall NL fWAR leader was Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom at 8.8, but no pitcher on a sub-.500 team has won the MVP in either league.
Heading into September, Baez was a viable candidate in a tightly bunched race, but Yelich broke away from the pack as the Brewers went 20-7 from Sept. 1 through their 3-1 tiebreaker victory over the Cubs on Oct. 1.
In that month, Yelich hit .370 with a 1.313 OPS, 260 OPS+, 10 homers and 34 RBI. That closed a big gap as his 110 RBI finished only one behind Baez, the NL leader.
Weighing all offensive contributions, adjusting for ballparks and normalizing to league average, Yelich led the NL with a 166 wRC+, followed by the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo at 145. He also was strong in high-leverage situations. His 6.02 win probability added led the NL, with the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt next at 4.66.
Baez had a breakthrough year with an .884 OPS that dwarfed his previous high of .796 in 2017.
Baez tied the Reds’ Joey Votto for 11th in wRC+ at 131, was 12th with 3.9 baserunning runs and eighth with a 3.22 WPA. His 10 defensive runs saved break down into five at second base, three at shortstop and two at third.
It was a terrific all-around season for Baez, but Yelich was even better.
American League MVP
In the 2000s, there have been only eight fWAR seasons of 10 or better among position players. Four belong to Barry Bonds, two to Mike Trout and one to Alex Rodriguez.
The eighth was posted this season by the Red Sox’ Mookie Betts, this year’s major-league leader at 10.4 as he hit .346 with a 1.078 OPS and 32 home runs. Only the Angels’ Trout, at 9.8, was within two wins of him.
Trout led Betts 191-185 for the MLB lead in wRC+, but Betts had more value in the field, with 11.6 runs on Fangraphs’ defensive metric that includes a positional adjustment to 4.2 for Trout.
Trout has nine seasons of 9 WAR or better, and his 64.7 fWAR through age 27 is third in baseball history behind Ty Cobb (68.8) and Mickey Mantle (67.9). But for 2018, the leader is Betts, and he’s the MVP by the numbers.