On Tuesday, Milwaukee Brewers star outfielder Christian Yelich was ruled out for the remainder of the season after fracturing his kneecap in a game against the Miami Marlins. The injury occurred when Yelich fouled off an Elieser Hernandez pitch during the first inning. Yelich is scheduled to return to Milwaukee and meet with team doctors on Wednesday, after which he’ll undergo more testing in order to determine whether surgery is required.

Yelich’s injury has widespread ramifications as it pertains to the rest of the season, of course — be it with regards to the Brewers’ playoff hopes, or his own chances of becoming the first repeat National League Most Valuable Player Award winner since Albert Pujols accomplished the feat in 2008-09. We’ve addressed the former elsewhere, so now let’s explore the latter.

Truthfully, Yelich already seemed to be the underdog in the NL MVP race. He’d homered 44 times and had swiped 30 bases (on 32 attempts) with a 178 OPS+, but, except for the steals, those numbers were by and large comparable to the ones posted by Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger: 44 home runs and a 172 OPS+. Bellinger, however, had two notable advantages: 1) playing on a superior team and 2) offering more defensive versatility. 

Even if you discount the first part — Bellinger playing on a better team — by noting that the MVP voting body has become more analytically inclined, he should still find himself receiving the nod over Yelich. Take a look at how the two stack up per the three versions of Wins Above Replacement — those found on Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs:

Yelich

6.6

7.1

7.7

Bellinger

7.6

8.3

7.2

Advantage

Bellinger (1.0)

Bellinger (1.2)

Yelich (0.5)

Bellinger’s lead is such by BP and B-R’s versions that he almost certainly would have retained it no matter what happened over the next fortnight. 

To be certain, there’s no way of knowing what Yelich would have done over the rest of the season (there’s also no way of knowing how Bellinger will perform the rest of the way). Perhaps he would’ve mimicked last year, when he homered eight times and posted a 1.524 OPS in Milwaukee’s final 18 games. But that dynamic has the potential to be overstated when it comes to the MVP race. 

After all, Yelich’s injury is season-ending at a time when the schedule holds just 18 more games. If Yelich missed the same amount of time back in mid-May, would anyone consider his absence the deciding factor? Probably not.

Obviously everyone should be sad and disappointed that Yelich was injured — he’s a brilliant player who was having another fantastic season — but the odds were against him dethroning Bellinger no matter what. As such, the Yelich injury may not impact the NL MVP race — at least not as much as some may presume.


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