The All-Star indignation in Boston has largely focused on Xander Bogaerts these last couple weeks. After all, both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference have him pegged as the most valuable shortstop in the American League this season. Jose Iglesias and Brad Miller are the only two who match up to him with the bat, and while nobody will claim that even the much-improved Bogaerts is a match for Iglesias defensively, Xander has been playing a pretty meticulous shortstop in 2015 and, much as any good hitter can outproduce Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout for a few months, Xander has arguably outfielded Jose Iglesias in these first few months.
But just because the argument is easier to make for Xander doesn't mean he's the biggest snub on the team. That honor belongs to the man all of six days his junior: Mookie Betts.
The argument for Mookie is harder. It's harder because there isn't the same positional scarcity making him quite such a standout in his field. While center is a similarly valuable position, the fact is that the American League has Mike Trout and--this year, at least--Lorenzo Cain out there making it awfully hard for anyone else to shine, much less a 22-year-old playing in his first full season.
And the thing is, Mookie doesn't shine. At least not in the way those two do. As much as he's hit .364/.400/.645 over the last month, but he had that rough patch after the first week of the season that drags his totals down to a more mundane .277/.328/.464. League offense being what it is these days, that's still good for a 117 OPS+, but it's not exactly the sort of batting line that screams All-Star.
But of course, the bat is just one aspect of baseball. And Mookie Betts is good at all of them to the point where he's actually climbed into the ranks of the elite. That's what our own Joon Lee noticed today:
Almost quietly, Mookie Betts has climbed into the Top-10 position players in WAR in MLB. #RedSox pic.twitter.com/edHhalNzpJ— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) July 15, 2015
Typically, when something like this pops up, the criticism is that using half-season samples of defensive metrics to calculate value is a sketchy proposition, and that's true enough. Xander Bogaerts' defensive numbers would seem a clear case of this were it not for the support the eye test provides, and while Mookie certainly looks like a strong center fielder, the eye test does little more than support or call into question a general positive or negative evaluation of a player. We might think one player is better than another, but it's hard to quantify Betts as being, say, the seventh most valuable defender in all of baseball (as B-Ref does) or a full win better with the glove than Bryce Harper (ditto). The fact that the metrics would tell you they can't be relied on to provide that level of precision over just one season does indeed make it hard to make any definitive statements about Betts as a top-10 player based heavily on defense.
Good thing, then, that he's also top-20 in baseball by the more exacting offensive side of WAR.
Bogaerts ranked 33rd in trade value by Fangraphs
Xander Bogaerts is Boston's first representative on Fangraphs' rankings of the most valuable trade commodities in baseball.
The exact place is 18th in all of baseball, and 11th in the American League. That might sound crazy looking at that decidedly good-not-great batting line, but there's also more to offense than what's contained in just the traditional triple slash. There's positional adjustments made to account for the fact that Betts plays in center field, regardless of how well or poorly he does it--after all, lineup spots are a commodity, and traditionally have different offensive expectations given the how easy it is to find a player who can field but not hit (say, Jackie Bradley Jr.) or hit but not field (Hanley Ramirez). Betts provides a good bat in a position that is not expected to have one, while leaving the easier positions open to facilitate the presence of players like Hanley.
There's also what comes after reaching safely: baserunning. The most obvious example of this is stolen bases, but aside from players like Billy Hamilton, the reality is that there's more value involved in going first-to-third, scoring from second on a hit, etc. given the many, many times those pop up over the course of the year compared to the 30-odd stolen base attempts most decent base stealers will accrue.
And then there's stuff like this:
Sure, Betts can steal a base. Sometimes more than one. But it's the accumulation of the little edges throughout the season that leaves him the fourth most valuable baserunner in baseball, trailing only Kevin Pillar, Justin Upton, and of course, the aforementioned Billy Hamilton, who actually laps the field, much as he might do in an actual race.
Seriously, lets just take a minute in the midst of the Mookie stuff to acknowledge that Billy Hamilton is awesome:
We now return you to your regularly scheduled Mookie.
Really, it's not fair to call Mookie Betts simpky an accumulation of above-average parts. The bat is the only thing that deserves to be spoken about in such reserved terms, and even that is shooting skyward over this past month. He's no Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, but the numbers we're talking about here aren't trying to claim he is. He's probably not even quite the top-10 position player that they do claim, but he's knocking on that door, and if his bat keeps playing even close to the way it has over the past month, nobody will think twice about including him in the conversation.
And if a player pushing top-10 isn't an All-Star, then who is?