National League MVP Betting Guide: Bank On Christian Yelich
We're less than two weeks away from Opening Day of a 60-game MLB season. In other words, time's running out to get your pre-season bets in.
A 60-game season has a number of huge implications, not the least of which is the potential for fantastic value bets. Over at FanDuel Sportsbook, the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award race appears to be wide open.
Leading in odds are the two 2018 MVPs, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts (+600) and the Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich (+650). Following those two are the Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. (+700), 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger (+800), and the Washington Nationals' Juan Soto (+900).
Given that all it would take is two hot months for a hitter to take home the hardware, which players present the best value bets for the award? Let's take a look.
Given that just 1 of the last 16 winners has been a pitcher, this piece will focus solely on hitters.
A look back at the last 10 MVPs can give us a pretty good idea of what type of metrics we can expect from the 2020 winner. Overall production is irrelevant here due to the shortened season.
The first item to note is that just 2 of the last 10 winners -- Kris Bryant in 2016 and Giancarlo Stanton in 2017 -- had an xBA below .290. Both of those two were in the bottom four of this group in five of the seven categories.
Additionally, of the 10 winners, nine had an expected slugging percentage (xSLG) of at least .548 and a strikeout rate at or below 22%, seven had an expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) above .400 and a barrel rate of 12.9% or better, and six had an expected on-base percentage (xOBP) higher than .400.
Betting on players who reached or came close to those thresholds in 2019 wouldn't be a bad start. So let's take a look at the hitters that fit the bill.
(These picks will be ranked based on who best fits the thresholds, rather than the odds)
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers (+650)
It's hard to overstate just how good Yelich has been over the last two seasons.
After leading the NL in batting average, slugging percentage (SLG), on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), and total bases in 2018, Yelich led the league in average, on-base percentage (OBP), SLG, and OPS in 2019.
While Yelich's 2018 xBA led all MVP winners since 2015, his 2019 xBA would've ranked third. Last year's xSLG and barrel rate each would've ranked third as well, both well ahead of his 2018 campaign. The 28-year-old's xwOBA and xOBP were also higher than what he posted two seasons ago, and would've ranked fifth among the winners.
According to Statcast, Yelich was tearing the cover off the ball last year. His average exit velocity (EV) of 93.1 ranked ahead of any of the MVP winners of the last five years.
What can Yelich do in a 60-game stretch? Well, through the first 60 contests last year, he raked off 25 homers, 54 runs batted in (RBI), 14 stolen bases, and 39 walks to 45 strikeouts, all while slashing .346/.449/.760. For context, that's a 162-game pace of 68 dingers, 146 RBI, and 38 steals. Sheesh.
6.5/1 are pretty friendly odds for a guy who likely would've won his second consecutive MVP had he not broken his knee cap last year.
Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers (+600)
There's a reason these two are the favorites to win the award. Like Yelich, Betts has been on an absolute tear since 2018.
Though Betts saw his real-life batting average drop from .346 in 2018 to .295 in 2019, his xBA only dropped by .003. The same can be said for his xOBP. That's an indication that he could experience some positive regression in those departments in 2020.
Betts' xSLG, xwOBA, and barrel rates all sustained larger drops, and it's not unfair to question whether the switch from Fenway Park (ninth-best for hitters last year) to Dodger Stadium (seventh-toughest) makes a bounceback more unlikely.
It is worth noting that over his final 60 games of 2019, Betts posted 16 dongs, 39 RBI, and 57 runs while slashing .325/.391/.602. Those types of numbers could very well earn him the award in 2020.
Juan Soto, Washington Nationals (+900)
Soto's continued growth makes him one of the more intriguing picks for the award. As a 20-year-old last year, Soto posted 34 bombs, 110 RBI, 108 bases on balls (third in the NL), and 110 runs. He slashed .282/.401/.548. Again, he was 20.
Soto's xSLG, xwOBA, xOBP, barrel rate, and strikeout rate were all well within the thresholds that past MVPs posted in the years they won. His xBA was not far and indicates that he could be headed for positive regression in 2020.
In his last 60 regular-season games of 2019, Soto mashed 17 taters while driving in 48. He also posted more walks (50) than strikeouts (46) during that stretch.
The youngster might not win a batting title any time soon, but he could bring home an MVP trophy.
Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves (+6000)
After getting traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna had two up-and-down seasons there before subsequently signing a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. The change of scenery could be all Ozuna needs.
Per MLB Statcast, Ozuna's 2019 expected metrics were far better than his actual production. As opposed to his real-life .241 batting average, his xBA was .288, good for top-20 in the NL. His .548 xSLG and .370 xOBP were both far better than what he actually posted.
Yes, this is obviously a longshot, but at 60/1, there's very little to lose by placing a small wager on the 29-year-old.
Cody Bellinger (+800): Bellinger's 2019 campaign was one for the ages, but the way he ended it is cause for concern. Over his final 60 games, he slashed just .257/.366/.524 while posting 13 homers and driving in 38. That won't cut it.
Freddie Freeman (+2000): Freeman puts up fantastic numbers each season, though he always seems a notch below the top contenders. I'd love to bet him at a better price than 20/1.
Bryce Harper (+1300): Harper caught fire to end the 2019 season, posting 15 dingers, 40 RBI, and 9 steals over his final 43 games. It's not enough to make me interested in his 13/1 odds, but we know he's more than capable.
Ronald Acuna Jr. (+700): Acuna Jr. is another player I'd love to wager on if his odds were just a bit more enticing. He'll need to up his OBP and cut down on his K rate in order to bring home the trophy.