LOS ANGELES — Christian Yelich hit .326 with 36 home runs and 110 RBIs, leading the National League in batting average and slugging percentage. J.D. Martinez hit .330 with 43 home runs and 130 RBIs, leading the majors in RBIs and total bases.
Both seasons would fit in perfectly with the best seasons of Hank Aaron’s career, so it’s fitting the two All-Stars and MVP candidates are the 2018 winners of the Hank Aaron Award for best hitter in each league.
Just don’t tell Aaron that Yelich and Martinez both struck out more than 100 times this season. Aaron reminded everyone in a news conference at Dodger Stadium that he never struck out 100 times in a season. To be fair, he also joked that he told Willie Mays that with all these pitchers throwing 100 mph they’d be playing in Class D if they were active today.
On the 20th anniversary of the first Hank Aaron Award in 1999, Yelich became the second Brewers player to win, joining Prince Fielder, the 2007 winner. Martinez is the fourth Red Sox player to win along with Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis. Ramirez and Ortiz are two-time winners.
Both Yelich and Martinez were offseason additions to their teams, Yelich coming over from the Marlins in a trade and Martinez signing with the Red Sox as a free agent. Yelich said it wasn’t necessarily easy moving to a new club when its expectations were high for big numbers.
“I think that’s something that’s on your mind from the start,” he said. “You just want to contribute. And in my case, I came to a team that was a game away from the playoffs. My goal going in was to be the player that they traded for — nothing more, nothing less — and just contribute to what they already had going there. It was an unbelievable year, it was a lot of fun. And we came one game away from being in the World Series.”
Yelich was even more than the Brewers could have hoped, as he’s also the likely NL MVP, thanks in large part to a monster second half in which he hit .367/.449/.770 with 25 home runs and 67 RBIs in 64 games. His September was one for the ages, as he hit .370, slugged .804 and drove in 34 runs as the Brewers won the NL Central after beating the Cubs in a tiebreaker.
Yelich also just missed a Triple Crown, finishing tied for third in home runs (just two behind Nolan Arenado) and tied for second in RBIs (one behind Javier Baez). Martinez also had a shot at the Triple Crown heading into the final month, before teammate Mookie Betts pulled ahead of him in the American League batting race and Khris Davis of the A’s got hot and won the home run crown 48 to 43.
While Yelich is likely to end up with more hardware in November, Martinez has his sights set on the World Series trophy. He moved from DH to left field for Game 3 and said a sprained ankle he suffered in Game 1 is good enough to play on.
“The trainers put me through a little bit of a workout testing it out,” he said. “And it’s something that obviously it’s a little discomforting, but I’m comfortable with playing.”