Assessing Mookie Betts’ MVP Case

 

After winning the American League’s Player of the Month award in July, Mookie Betts is continuing to play at a torrid pace. In fact, it appears as if Betts is on track to win the same award again for the month of August. That’s something that’s only been done by three players in the AL since 2000, the last being when Josh Hamilton opened the 2012 season by winning the award in April and May.

If you look at Betts’ stats, he’s having a better August than July. Last month, the twenty-three year old hit .368 to go along with five home runs, fifteen RBI’s, and a 1.068 OPS. Those are outstanding figures, yet somehow he is on pace to eclipse all of those marks this month. He’s already surpassed his home run (7) and RBI (20) total from July and we still have about two weeks left in the month. He’ll also likely finish August with a higher batting average (he’s currently hitting .390) and OPS (currently at 1.267) as well.

More importantly, Betts has upped his level of performance over the past week, when the Sox have needed him most. After blowing two late leads against the Yankees to fall by as many as three games back in the AL East, the Red Sox rebounded with a sweep of Arizona and then a couple of much-needed wins over Cleveland and Baltimore–all with the help of their All-Star outfielder. Betts led the charge in a blowout win on Sunday over the Diamondbacks by smacking three home runs (that was his second three homer game of the season, by the way) and then drove in all five Red Sox runs in a 5-3 victory over the Orioles last night.

It begs the question: Could Betts win the AL MVP this year? Just by looking at his stats, it appears that he could. With over a month and a half remaining in the regular season, Betts is hitting .315 with 28 home runs and 89 RBI’s. Judging by how hot he has been since the All-Star break, he may not slow down anytime soon, either.

Moreover, Betts holds up well when we look at where he ranks among other AL position-players in many important statistical categories:

  • 2nd in batting average (.315)
  • 3rd in slugging percentage (.571)
  • t-7th in home runs (28)
  • 4th in RBI (89)
  • 6th in stolen bases (18)
  • 2nd in runs (93)
  • 8th in weighted runs created (141)- wRC+ explained here
  • 4th in base running, according to Fangraphs (6.5 runs)
  • 4th in Offensive Runs Above Average (33.2)
  • 13th in Defense, according to Fangraphs

However, what’s most telling is that Mookie has the fourth highest WAR in MLB. For someone as young as Betts to already be one of the game’s best players is excellent news for Red Sox fans. And yet, the fact that he is only  fourth is probably the biggest thing holding back his MVP case this year. In short, he has competition from a few other American League stars.

Who’s ahead of Betts? The usual suspects. Mike Trout, once again, leads baseball with a WAR of 6.9. He’s followed by reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson and Astros second basemen Jose Altuve, who are tied at 6.3 wins apiece. In addition to those three players, I suppose a case could also be made for Orioles infielder Manny Machado, who ranks comparably in many key categories as Betts, and David Ortiz, who doesn’t contribute anything defensively or on the basepaths but is arguably the best hitter in baseball.

How about we look at these six players side-by-side?

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As you can see, Trout leads in WAR, which is probably the most important statistic of all when evaluating who should win MVP. In addition, the 2014 MVP also leads in offensive runs above average (Off) and is tied with Altuve for the lead in weighted runs created. Furthermore, I didn’t include it in that chart above, but the Angels centerfielder also leads in Win Probability Added, which suggests that he’s been the most clutch player of the six as well.

But Trout’s case is complicated. Even though the stats point to him being the best player in baseball, is he necessarily the most valuable? After all, he plays on the worst team of the bunch.

I usually would have no problem giving an MVP or Cy Young award to a player on a bad team if they were the consensus best player in the league that year. Yet that’s not necessarily the case with Trout. The reality is that there is a legitimate MVP case for each of the five other players in that chart above. They’ve all been just as outstanding at the plate as Trout and, with the exception of Ortiz, have been terrific defensively as well. Plus, they all play on contending clubs.

So where does this leave Betts? Well, he’s certainly in the thick of the MVP race–that much is clear. Would he win the award if the season ended today, though? Probably not. Statistically, he’s just a notch  below Altuve and Donaldson. Moreover, I’m sure some voters would vote for Trout simply because he leads in many of the most important, all-encompassing categories like WAR, regardless of Los Angeles’ position in the standings.

With that said, there is still a lot to be decided over the next six weeks. If Betts can continue his blazing stretch of play and catapult the Red Sox to the top of the AL East while Trout and perhaps even Altuve’s teams miss the playoffs, his case will be hard to overlook.


Betts photo courtesy of Winslow Townsen/USA Today Sports

Posted by Mando

Co-Founder of Check Down Sports. Die-hard Boston sports fan: Patriots, Celtics, Bruins- in that order. I haven't been that interested in the Red Sox since they traded Manny. If you're a fan of Leslie Nielson movies and/or think Entourage is overrated, we'll get along.

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