The NLCS has the two best hitters in the National League: Christian Yelich and Max Muncy

The National League Championship Series is set, with the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers vying for the right to go to the World Series. Two players stand out on offense for these teams, including one you might not expect.

Christian Yelich and Max Muncy are the two best hitters in the National League.

Both were rescued from untenable situations. Muncy was on his way to journeyman status in Triple-A, and Yelich was with the Marlins, at least until Milwaukee pounced on Miami’s latest talent purge last winter.

Both have mastered cliches to describe their simplified approaches at the plate.

Yelich: “I think the biggest thing is just focusing on the day-to-day, your routine, not getting caught up in the future or the past and just being right there and focusing on what you have to do that day or that night to help your team win.”

Muncy: “Each day you start off 0 for 0. You’re not bringing things from the game before. It doesn’t matter if you had four hits or no hits. Each day is a fresh day and you have a new start.”

Yelich is the more well known name. He is the likely favorite to win the National League MVP, after hitting .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs, coming within one home run and one RBI of the National League’s first triple crown in 81 years.

He had one of the best finishing kicks of all-time in leading the Brewers to the best record in the National League. Since the MLB All-Star break the outfielder has been sublime, hitting .367/.449/.770 with 25 home runs in 65 games. I mean, a .770 slugging percentage!

“He’s a locked-in player. That’s not uncommon for great players,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Yelich. “I think the length of time that we’ve seen this is what’s been so amazing for us.”

A look at the National League leaderboard reveals that Muncy in some ways kept pace with Yelich offensively, at least on a per-plate appearance basis:

National League offense

Player PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS ISO wRC+
Player PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS ISO wRC+
Yelich 651 36 (t-3rd) .326 (1st) .402 (5th) .598 (1st) 1.000 (1st) .272 (4th) 166 (1st)
Muncy 481 35 (t-5th) .263 (46th) .391 (8th) .582 (2nd) .973 (2nd) .319 (1st) 162 (2nd)

Source: FanGraphs

Weighted runs created plus (wRC+) is a way to capture all the elements of offense, including baserunning, and assign values based on linear weights, the contribution of each event toward leading to runs, then adjusting for park and league averages. A 100 wRC+ is average, and the higher the better. Yelich’s NL-best 166 wRC+ means, roughly, that he was 66 percent better than the average NL hitter in 2018. Muncy wasn’t far behind at 162, in second place.

If wRC+ isn’t your bag, Muncy was also second in the NL in OPS and slugging percentage, third in walk rate (16.4 percent), sixth in on-base percentage (.391), and led the majors in isolated power (.319), better than even Mike Trout or major league home run leader Khris Davis.

“His ability to control the strike zone is off the charts,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner* said of Muncy. “He led the team in walks, and when you’re swinging at good pitches, your chances go up.”

*Turner is third in the NL, by the way, with a 154 wRC+. Not too shabby.

This is all with a minimum of 400 plate appearances. Muncy had 481 PA, a mere 24 shy of qualifying for the official leaderboard (the requirement is 3.1 PA per team game played). That’s because Muncy started the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City, after signing a minor league contract to return to the Dodgers and was a non-roster invitee to spring training. He wasn’t called up until April 17.

If one were to argue that Turner is a better hitter, I would not put up a fight. Turner hit .312/.406/.518 and once again is the rock steady driver in the heart of the Dodgers lineup. But Muncy has been fantastic in his own right, relatively low batting average (.263) be damned. After all, there are more aspects to offense than batting average.

“Understanding the value of not making an out, I think that he understands that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Muncy. “His ability to see the ball out of the hand is pretty special.”

Yelich was a four-year major league starter in Miami and regarded as one of the best young outfielders in the game. For Muncy, this year is much more of a surprise; he hit just .195/.290/.321 in 245 plate appearances in parts of two major league seasons (2015-16) in Oakland. Now he’s a regular in the postseason.

“This is what everyone dreams of doing, getting a big hit in a playoff game, and more importantly, just being in the playoffs,” Muncy said. “Not everyone gets a chance to do this, so this is why we play the game.”

Both Yelich and Muncy have continued to produce in October. Yelich was 3-for-4 and drove in a run in the Brewers’ NL Central tiebreaker win in Chicago, and Muncy homered in the Dodgers’ NL West tiebreaker win over Colorado.

Yelich homered in Game 1 of the NLDS and was mostly pitched around the rest of the series. He finished the NLDS 2-for-8 but was also walked six times for a cool .571 on-base percentage.

Muncy’s very essence was on display against the Braves, hitting a three-run home run and walking three times in Game 1 — per Stats LLC, Muncy is the first player ever with a home run and three walks in his postseason debut — and delivering a game-tying homer and walking in Game 3. Muncy walked six times in the series and had a .471 OBP.

“His DNA to be able to stay in the strike zone is pretty special, pretty unique,” Roberts said of Muncy. “So yeah, to see him in this moment, I’m not surprised.”

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