The National League MVP debate seems to be a two horse race between Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger.
With their offensive numbers being so similar, the latter of the two has an edge in an unexpected place. Yelich has the advantage in offensive WAR, which he ranks second in baseball with a 5.9 mark. Bellinger ranks third at 5.4. However, Bellinger ranks sixth in defensive WAR at 1.7. Yelich has a -0.3 dWAR and the two can be compared as apples and apples, playing the same position.
The fascinating thing is that Bellinger had just a 0.2 defensive WAR in 294 games between 2017 and ’18. Most of the spike has come with opportunity. The 2019 season is the first that Bellinger has played more games as an outfielder than a first baseman, otherwise limiting his true talent. In 2017, he played just 46 of his 132 games in the outfield, and last season, it was 81 of 162. In 2019, that number has jumped to 105 of his 115 games. With this jump, Bellinger is on his way to a gold glove.
His arm has always been strong, but his 10 outfield assists lead the game in right field. This ranks him second in the game among outfielders in general. Bellinger had three total in the outfield during the last two seasons. He has also committed just two errors this year, after committing five in 2017 and four last season. In 2019, Bellinger is good for 19 defensive runs saved above average while in the outfield, according to Baseball Reference.
While Bellinger was more athletic than most first basemen when he was playing the position, he was wasting his true potential defensively, as displayed in 2019. Bellinger was so athletic that he was good enough to pump in fastballs in the 80s as a pitcher in high school. He uses the athleticism more than outright speed, but still accomplishes what needs to be done for a corner outfielder.
In all of the offensive metrics, the top three horses are Yelich, Bellinger, and Mike Trout. While Trout has no competition in his league, Bellinger and Yelich will be battling it out over the last month and a half of the season.
While it is his elite offensive numbers that put Bellinger into the MVP race, it is his defensive numbers that should ultimately push him past Yelich this time around and win him the award.