I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but this Red Sox team is absolutely incredible. It’s been a one-of-a-kind season, and this club is succeeding in every area of the game. Their lineup has been successful all year, which has largely been a team effort. The rotation is led by a bonafide ace and has an amazing supporting cast behind him. The bullpen, despite the narrative that it’s a dumpster fire, has been a top five unit by just about every measure available. You don’t win 70 percent of your first 114 games without being well-balanced and limiting weaknesses. Amid all of the amazing things about this baseball team, however, the top two everyday players rise above every other strength as the most mind-blowing. I feel really bad for Andrew Benintendi this year, in fact, because his phenomenal, All-Star-caliber season is totally overshadowed by playing with two legitimate MVP candidates. It’s not fair, but it’s what happens when you play alongside two players having the type of years being had by Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
All these two have done this year is form not only the clear best pure hitting duo in all of baseball — I specify “pure hitting” because Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez sure have an argument for best overall duo in the game right now — but Betts and Martinez are in the conversation for best single-season hitting duo of all time. I grew up watching Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in the same lineup, and I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite like this. When Mookie Betts posted a 136 wRC+ in 2016, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to match that again. All he’s done this year is hit .341/.428/.653 for a 186 wRC+. That means he’s been 86 percent better than the league-average hitter. Martinez, meanwhile, could very well be a machine built specifically for hitting major-league pitching, and he’s having his best season to date. Right now he’s hitting .328/.394/.650 for a 177 wRC+. The worse half of this duo has been 77 percent better than a league-average hitter. That is bananas.
It’s hard to put into context just how good this duo is, so I’m going to do it in the simplest terms I can think of. I’m doing this largely because my research skills have fallen off a bit since college, but it’ll do the trick. Right now, these two sluggers rank second and third, respectively, among qualified hitters in wRC+. Ramirez and Ortiz never did that, and never even really came close. In fact, it’s incredibly rare. I was born in 1991, and since I graced (or cursed) this planet with my presence this has happened exactly once before. That was in 2004 when Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds also finished second and third, respectively, in wRC+. The only other time a team ever even came close was in 2005 when the Yankees had Alex Rodriguez lead the league in wRC+ and Jason Giambi finish fifth. Plenty of teams have had two good hitters, but we are seeing something special where both of this team’s stars are playing at their absolute peaks.
I think what makes this so special is that we are watching two very different styles succeed together and compliment each other perfectly. Betts hits at the very top of the lineup on a daily basis, and almost never strikes out. There are a lot of players who limit their strikeouts, even in today’s K-heavy game, but no one does it while also consistently squaring up the ball like Betts. He might have the fastest hands I’ve ever seen, and he uses that to generate absurd power despite a small stature. When the ball stays in the park, Betts also combines freak athleticism and Einstein-level baseball IQ to wreak havoc on the bases. Essentially, Betts will beat you in just about every way, and he’ll have a little smirk on his face the entire time he does it.
Martinez, meanwhile, is the more prototypical slugger whose incredibly power overshadows just how good of an overall hitter he is. It’s something we’ve been talking about since before he came to Boston, but he doesn’t just hit home runs. This isn’t prime Mark Trumbo we’re talking about. Martinez treats hitting like I was supposed to treat classes in college and can be seen studying his swing just about every chance he gets. He records all of his batting practice sessions and makes sure his mechanics are in tune on a daily basis. Martinez does hit for absurd power, but he also draws walks, strikes out less than you’d think and hits line drives all over the field. He’s a legitimate Triple Crown threat, and while the stats involved in the Triple Crown are outdated you can’t be a legitimate threat without being a legitimate star. Martinez is amazingly talented while also being the hardest working hitter this team has had since, well, probably since Manny Ramirez.
Betts and Martinez aren’t Ortiz and Manny. That duo was consistently great for the better part of a decade and they won two championships. The present-day duo has a long way to go to reach that stature. However, they are doing something that even Ortiz and Manny never did, and just the thought of that is mind-blowing. There are so many things about this Red Sox team to inspire awe, but nothing is close to the production from Betts and Martinez. I really don’t concern myself with awards debates because it’s so rare that you can actually change someone’s mind, but this year I’m all the way in on co-MVPs for Betts and Martinez. If you disagree, meet me at the playground after school.