One thing I’ve learned from doing this job over the years is that it’s a hell of a lot easier to write about a bad team than it is a good team, and just to talk about negatives as opposed to positives. That’s probably always been obvious to many, but I’m a big dumb idiot. Anyway, there are only so many ways to say someone or something is really good. There’s just not much more thought required. It’s not the only reason for the attitude that’s become so prevalent in the Boston media market, but it’s certainly part of it. No matter how you slice it, it’s unfortunate because there’s always more time we should be spending appreciating the great parts of this season. So, today, let’s appreciate Mookie Betts, easily the best part of this Red Sox season.
For all of the great parts of this Red Sox team — and you don’t win 107+ games without plenty of greatness — Betts is a clear cut above the rest. He’s the clear favorite to win the American League MVP this year, likely becoming the first Red Sox player to win the award since Dustin Pedroia took it home in 2008. There are other great competitors, but they either came on too late (Alex Bregman), cooled off just a bit down the stretch (Jose Ramirez, J.D. Martinez) or suffer from playing on a bad team as well as from voter fatigue (Mike Trout). Plus, Mookie Betts has been at worst just as good as each of them. It’s not just a likely MVP season for Betts, though. As if that’s not impressive enough, he’s on track to take home the prestigious award with one of the best seasons of all time.
I don’t throw that around lightly, but it’s exactly what Betts is doing. I’m not the biggest fan of WAR — that’s a different discussion for a different day — but it is surely the best catch-all statistic out there. As a short-hand for looking at how great a season is, it works. Betts has been incredible by each of the two major WAR metrics from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs. For what it’s worth he’s been worth a “measly” 8.9 wins by Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, who seem to severely underrate his defense.
Anyway, by fWAR, he’s been worth 10.1 wins this season already. That’s actually only a slight 0.4-win lead over Trout, because Trout is also stupidly good at baseball, but it’s historically great. In the entire history of baseball, this is only the 52nd season in which a player has been worth at least ten wins according to Fangraphs, and only the seventh time in Red Sox history. By bWAR, Betts has been even more impressive with 10.8 wins to his name. That puts him at the 22nd-best season of all-time, according to Baseball-Reference, and with a big final two games of the year and he can crack the top twenty. If he got to 11 bWAR, which isn’t impossible, it would be the second-best season in franchise history.
Speaking of which, as someone who is not as in tune with baseball history as he probably should be, what really made me realize just what kind of season Betts is having is comparing it to other recent Red Sox greats. For example, on the year, he has posted a wRC+ of 185. For as great as David Ortiz was, the legend never came within single digits of that mark. Manny Ramirez, meanwhile, was the last person to put up a season like this, tying that 185 mark in 2002. If Betts can get above 185, it would be the best offensive season since Yaz in 1967. Remember, this doesn’t even include the infinite value he provides in the field and on the bases compared to Betts and Ortiz.
In fact, there was a time I thought I would never see a Red Sox position player have a better season than the one Jacoby Ellsbury had in 2011. That was the year he was robbed of an MVP (I will never stop being mad about this one), with 32 homers, 39 stolen bases, elite defense in center field and a .321/.376/.552 line at the plate. That season was bananas. This year, Betts has a wRC+ that is a whopping 35 points higher and he’s been worth 0.7 more wins according to Fangraphs and 2.5 more wins according to Baseball-Reference. I would argue B-Ref’s gap is closer to being correct, as Fangraphs places too much value in Ellsbury playing center field and Betts playing right field. At least, they do in this writer’s opinion. Anyway, Betts has been significantly better than Ellsbury that season, and that just blows my mind.
So, yeah. Betts has been amazing this year. What’s even better is that he is still only 25, and the sky is the limit for his future. Trout is still the standard by which every player is measured, but Betts is closer than I ever would have imagined him being. Moving forward, he has the talent to keep putting up seasons like this, or at least something close. The point here, though, is that Betts can (and likely will be) incredible for a long time, but there’s also a very good chance this is going to be the best year of his career. Chances are, we’ll be talking about his 2018 for a long, long time, so take the time to appreciate it while it still lasts.