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Bryce Who? How One Underrated All-Star Compares to the National League’s First-Half MVPs

By: Andy Cooper

At the MLB All-Star break, it’s starting to become clear which of the early season standouts are here to stay.

STATS takes a look at those hitters who have substantially outperformed their competitors over the first half by using our unique advanced analytics and heat maps. There are three in particular who have risen to the top of the National League in just about every category, though one of them is bit more surprising than the others.

Christian Yelich of the Brewers and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers have had outstanding starts and have received the recognition they deserve. Anthony Rendon, on the other hand, has been hitting at a level that should be making Nationals fans say, “Bryce who?”

Rendon, however, did not even get elected to be a starter in his first All-Star Game – a distinction that, by all hitting measures, he has earned.

In order to demonstrate the outstanding performances these three are putting on, we’re using STATS Advanced Heat Maps and our four critical categories of hitting evaluators: Discipline+, Contact+, BIP+ and RVAA+.

  • Discipline+ evaluates a hitter’s ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone, independent of contact rate.
  • Contact+ measures how often a batter makes contact on quality pitches in comparison to league averages.
  • BIP+ shows the quality of each ball put in play, factoring in elements such as defensive shifts and running speed of hitters, compared to league averages.
  • RVAA+ (expected run value above average) assesses the effectiveness of each at-bat, factoring all the statistics previously mentioned, as well the pitch value of each pitch.

STATS Advanced Heat Maps can provide a visual representation of hitting success. Our heat maps are one of a kind because they don’t just place a value on balls in play, they evaluate every pitch that a hitter faces – including those in which the batter has the discipline to lay off.

Pitches are valued based on location and pitch type, then the hitter’s ability to handle that pitch is evaluated against the league average on a similar pitch. If the batter’s performance exceeds league averages, they are assigned a higher grade (indicated by the shade of red) or a lower grade (indicated by the shade of blue).

Note: Every heat map is shown from the pitcher’s perspective, not the catcher’s.

Yelich is tearing up the league, placing him in the NL MVP conversation once again. The most impressive aspect of Yelich’s heat map is that he really has no weakness in the strike zone. He’s even smoking pitchers who paint the corners and execute their pitches.

While his ability to hit everything in the zone is impressive, Yelich’s discipline and contact ratings are less than stellar. Yelich currently has a Discipline+ score of 103, only three percent above league average, while his Contact+ rating is 98, meaning he is capitalizing on quality pitches at below-average levels. These ratings are similar to that of the Rays’ Austin Meadows, which might come as a shock to many analysts and fans.

Despite this, Yelich is still performing well in both the balls in play and run value above average categories. He owns a BIP+ rating of 185, placing him fifth among all qualified hitters. This explains his impressive RVAA+ of 161(4thin MLB), as even though his contact and discipline are down, when Yelich gets his bat on the ball, he makes it count.

Even though Yelich is underperforming in two key categories, his ability to make the most out of his hits makes him invaluable to the Brewers.

Bellinger, another early favorite for the MVP award, is having a breakout year, surpassing last season’s performance in just about every statistical category, per STATS PASS.

He’s currently ranked third in RVAA, sitting behind Rendon and Mike Trout. While his discipline and contact ratings are quite similar to Yelich’s, 104 and 100 respectively, Bellinger is absolutely crushing the BIP+ category with a rating of 195, ranking him third in qualified hitters with 300 or more plate appearances.

Bellinger’s heat map demonstrates these statistics. While the sweet-swinging lefty is struggling with outside pitches, it is clear that when he is getting his pitch, he isn’t missing it. Below is an example of what happens when you feed Bellinger an inside pitch:

Belinger’s ability to demolish the baseball when he makes contact is what has led to him having an RVAA+ of 178, the third-highest in the majors behind only Trout and our next featured hitter, Rendon.

When Rendon finished fifth in the All-Star vote for NL third basemen, we at STATS were bewildered. Rendon is demanding respect from the rest of the league with his performance. He’s even arguably outperformed Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson – the leading NL vote-getters at third base.

As we can see in his heat map, Rendon is doing a couple of things extremely well. He’s pounding anything in the lower 75 percent of the strike zone and is having great success on pitches slightly outside the zone (with the exception of up and in).

In the video below, he shows the ability to turn on a fastball that’s running inside. His discipline on all of these pitches, as well as his consistency in making contact when he decides to swing, surpasses even that of Yelich and Bellinger.

While Rendon’s heat map is impressive, the advanced analytics show he could be an early season MVP candidate. At the break, Rendon leads the majors in two of our most important statistical categories, BIP+ and RVAA+ with ratings of 200 and 195, respectively. He’s also performing better than both Yelich and Bellinger in Contact+ (108) and Discipline+ (116).

While he doesn’t have as many home runs as the previously mentioned players, Rendon’s value to the surging Nationals cannot be replicated as he continues to be one of the top under-the-radar players in the majors.