MLB Star Power Index: Brewers' Christian Yelich could be the first 50/30 man; Braves' Josh Donaldson could get paid
Here's who's been buzzing in MLB this week
Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- a weekly temperature reading that tells us which players are owning the baseball conversation right now. While one's presence on this list is often a positive, it's not necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you're capturing the baseball world's attention for one reason or another. The players listed are in no particular order. Thanks to Brad Botkin and our compadres over at CBS NBA for letting us borrow the concept.
In part, Christian Yelich makes this profoundly coveted fraternity because of . Oppressions as suffocating as the python's embrace!
Mostly, though, Yelich is here right now among us because of his on-field excellence. No, it says here he won't repeat as NL MVP, but he's still having a better season than he did in 2018, when he did win that hardware. Of particular note is Yelich's pairing of power with speed. His career-high 41 home runs gets the press quite understandably, but let's also make time for his career-high 25 stolen bases. On that point, please direct your attention to following tweet dated June 10:
Yep, earlier this season Yelich completed a 162-game stretch in which he topped 50 home runs and 30 stolen bases. As noted, that's never happened before. Larry Walker came perilously close in 1997, as you see above. Coming not quite as close but still within tantalizing range were Willie Mays in 1955 (51 HR, 24 SB) and Alex Rodriguez in 2007 (54 HR, 24 SB). Mostly we make a thing out of 30-30 and 40-40 seasons because of the tidy symmetry thereof, but having the power to pile up 50 circuit clouts while still being swift enough to steal 30 bags is even more impressive. In all, we've seen nine guys author 40-30 seasons and four get to 50-20, but 50-30 has remained as elusive as the chupacabra.
So will Yelich get there? With a month and change left in the regular season, he could be challenged on both fronts. Here are his relevant totals by month during the 2019 season:
|Month||Home runs||Stolen bases|
At this writing, Yelich needs nine more homers and six more steals to become the inaugural 50-30 bossman, but only once has he gotten nine or more home runs in a month. Just twice has he registered six or more steals in a month. August has been particularly unproductive for Yelich on these fronts, partly because of back problems. Said problems surely sapped his power early in the month, and they may have prompted him to take a more risk-averse approach on the bases. Roxane would hasten to remind us that going around nude also tends to clamp down on stolen base attempts.
And what sayeth the SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter)? Right now, it forecasts Yelich for eight more home runs and six more stolen bases. That would get him to 49 homers and 30 swipes, so like Walker in '97 he'd wind up one smash shy of history.
Now you're mad at the projection system, aren't you? Remember, the future is the fault of the past. Something like that.
Josh Donaldson has undergone a pretty nifty renaissance this season. No, he's not peak, MVP-grade Donaldson, but he's reversed the downward trajectory that limited him to a one-year contract this past winter. Check out his year-by-year :
- 2015: 151 (won AL MVP award)
- 2016: 153
- 2017: 148
- 2018: 119
- 2019: 126
So that's a nice bounceback. What's also encouraging is that Donaldson has also recouped value with the glove. Like his bat, Donaldson's once-elite fielding appeared to be in a state of decline, but this season he's flashed some of the best advanced defensive metrics of his career. That's perhaps owing to health. After dealing with shoulder and calf injuries in recent seasons, Donaldson in 2019 has played in 131 of his team's 135 games. That puts him in line to play in more than 150 games for the first time since 2016 (in 2017 and 2018, Donaldson played in a combined 165 games).
By any sensible standard, though, Donaldson has been worth comfortably more than his $23 million contract this season with more than a full month of regular season still to go. Without him the Braves' lead in the NL East is either a perilously small one or nonexistent. Donaldson, meantime, has positioned himself to fetch a multiyear contract this coming offseason. Yes, he turns 34 in December, but his rediscovered faculties at the plate, in the field, and on the health front prove that he's not yet in deep decline.
"Pshaw," you once said of Michael Brantley's hopes for a better tomorrow. "If he's productive again, then I'll adopt a two-syllable alias and yell at Christian Yelich on social media for being nude."
Well, you cackling moron, look at him now.
First, the backstory ... Back in 2016, a major shoulder injury limited Brantley to 11 unproductive games. The following year ankle problems cost him almost half a season, as he put up numbers well below his established norms. At that point, Brantley was on the wrong side of age 30, and he ability to stay healthy was very much left to question. He found something close to his level in 2018, but the Indians opted not to extend him a qualifying offer this past offseason. So Brantley landed in Houston on a two-year, $32 million pact, and as you see above he's thrived.
In 125 games this season, he's batted .332/.393/.536, and his 39 doubles rank fourth in MLB. He's also looked solid in the field en route to a current WAR of 5.0. With a strong September, Brantley could notch a career high in WAR (it's presently 6.7 in 2014). At his current clip, he's also probably going to crack the top 10 of the AL MVP balloting, and wouldn't that be notable given his earlier tribulations?
Michael Brantley? He awaits another hitter's-count offering to crush, and he also awaits your apology for doubting him. Roses and candies should suffice, along with a promise to do and be better in your estimations.
No stink of the defense of Harrison Bader, as you're surely aware. He remains a top-tier defensive center fielder, and that's important for the Cardinals who don't have another true center fielder in their mix. The problem, though, was that Bader wasn't hitting. At time of his demotion to Triple-A, he was slashing a paltry .195/.309/.339, which isn't adequate even if you're an elite glove at an up-the-middle position.
That Memphis exile, though, may have done Bader some good. Since his return from the minors on Aug. 20, Bader has put up a line of .321/.457/.571 with four extra-base hits in nine games and more walks than strikeouts. Mechanically, not much looks different with his swing, but he's done vastly better job of laying off sliders away (a major weakness prior to his demotion) and discerning off-speed stuff. The sample size is tiny, but Bader looks like a much more confident hitter since returning to St. Louis. This isn't to say he's fixed or has truly leveled up or anything like that -- it's way too soon for such declarations. He does, however, look like a different hitter when it comes to recognizing fastballs early in their journey plate-ward. That's potentially huge.
If Bader -- a.k.a., America's More Athletic Kid Brother -- has truly upgraded his plate skills, then that in tandem with his defensive excellence could make him a cornerstone for the Cardinals. For the time being, they'll settle for his improving their chances of hanging on in the NL Central.
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