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Travis Shaw, Christian Yelich listed as dark horse MVP candidates by MLB.com

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Shaw was Milwaukee’s best player last year and Yelich was a big addition this winter.

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Brewers narrowly missed the playoffs in 2017 and are hoping to reverse their fortunes in 2018 after what’s been a franchise-altering offseason. The team’s pitching staff was its greatest strength last year but at this point it looks like the offense will be the main driver of the 2018 club’s success. While there should be strong contributors up and down Milwaukee’s starting lineup, two players in particular stand out in the eyes of MLB.com columnist Richard Justice: new trade acquisition Christian Yelich and Travis Shaw, the team’s best player last season.

Over the weekend, Justice released his list of 10 players that he considers as dark horse candidates for a Most Valuable Player award in 2018. Twins’ center fielder Byron Buxton sits atop the list, followed by Milwaukee’s new outfielder Yelich at #2. Andrelton Simmons of the Angels, Tommy Pham of the Cardinals, and Alex Bregman of Houston round out the top five. Joey Gallo, Rhys Hoskins, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and finally Travis Shaw fill out the rest of the group in that order.

Here’s what Justice had to say about Yelich:

Yelich was already a very, very good player. Now he’s going to a really good team and a great baseball environment. Can a player have two breakout seasons?

The 26 year old outfielder has been a highly productive big leaguer since debuting with Miami back in 2013. In parts of five seasons he’s slashed .290/.369/.432 with 59 home runs and 72 steals (121 wRC+) and according to Fangraphs, he’s racked up 17.2 wins above replacement. A move to the more hitter-friendly confines of Miller Park should help boost the left-handed hitter’s already impressive offensive production; Steamer projects him for a .296/.382/.493 slash with 24 homers and 12 stolen bases in 2018.

If Yelich has any questions about how his new home ball park can improve his numbers at the plate, the first person he should ask is his new teammate Travis Shaw. After coming to Milwaukee from Boston, Shaw’s outstanding 2017 campaign put him on Justice’s radar:

Shaw was one of the best acquisitions Brewers general manager David Stearns made with a 34-double, 31-home run, 60-walk season. Yelich and Lorenzo Cain are impact acquisitions this offseason, but Shaw is one of the cornerstones on which Milwaukee is built.

After his career got off to a nondescript start in parts of two seasons with the Red Sox, Shaw became an anchor in Milwaukee’s lineup during 2017. He eventually settled into the cleanup spot and as Justice mentioned, he slugged 31 dingers to go along with a .273/.349/.513 slash (119 wRC+). Shaw also swiped 10 bags and played steady defense at third base, which helped him earn 3.4 fWAR over the course of the season.

For what it’s worth, though, Steamer hasn’t bought in to Shaw’s breakout from last season and believes significant regression is in order in 2018. The computer algorithms have him pegged for only a .250/.324/.457 slash with 26 home runs, which would translate to roughly league-average offensive production in the eyes of Steamer. Manager Craig Counsell and his Milwaukee Brewers will have to be hoping for Shaw to more closely match his 2017 production during the coming season, otherwise sneaking their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2011 figures to become quite a bit more difficult.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs