Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one singular question — sometimes specific, other times more general — for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go alphabetically one by one straight down the roster, and you can catch up with the series here. Today, we cover Mookie Betts.
The Question: Is this the last time I’ll write about Mookie Betts while he is a member of the Red Sox?
So, yeah. This is not ideal. I suppose the problem with running through a roster in alphabetical order is that sometimes said roster’s best player both has a letter towards the beginning of the alphabet and is also on the trade block. Such is the case with Mookie Betts. He is, of course, the subject of trade rumors, which are progressing to the point where I’m not sure if this post will ever see the light of day. It is entirely possible I am writing this for myself.
I did think about skipping Betts here and saving him for the end or something. In the few years I’ve been running this series, this is a unique situation. Ultimately, I didn’t like that idea. Betts gets a final non-trade (sort of) post, and more importantly for me, I want to write about Mookie Betts the player one more time. Like I said, there’s a decent chance I’m writing this only for myself and no one will even read it, so why not cater it towards the only guaranteed audience, right?
I started writing about baseball in 2011 — hell of a year to start, eh? — and while I was writing for approximately four people on a good day at the time, the level at which I followed baseball and the Red Sox specifically increased exponentially that year and has stayed at that level or increased every year since. Betts is, by far, the best player I’ve been able to watch over those nine seasons. It’s absurd how not close it is. It’s also a little perfect, as he was drafted the year I started writing, and I’ve at least marginally been able to follow his career with a level of extra attention, which is not the case for most players. To not only watch a truly great player in every sense of the word develop from start until, well, not finish but wherever he is now, but for that to happen out of nowhere... It’s been pretty neat. I will not sit here and lie to you. And, so, I’m going to write a little bit about how amazing Betts is and call it a season preview.
I’m not the biggest fan of WAR, particularly to the extent it’s sometimes treated as gospel rather than a guide, and moreover when people compare players within a couple tenths of a win, but the larger the sample the more meaningful it gets just given the nature of defensive metrics. Betts is a WAR god. Since the start of 2014, Betts has been worth 37.2 wins above replacement by FanGraphs’ measure, an average of 6.2 per season. That’s second in all of baseball, with only Mike Trout ahead of him. Betts also played in all of 52 games in that 2014 season. He’s received MVP votes in each of his five full seasons, has made four All-Star Games, has won four Gold Gloves, has won three Silver Sluggers, won an MVP, finished second another time and has finished in the top eight in each of the last four years. He won a World Series.
By Baseball-Reference WAR, only 21 players have been worth more through their age-26 season. Of them, only Trout, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Even more impressive, the only players who have been worth more wins by Baseball-Reference’s measure in their first six seasons are: Ted Williams, Trout, Pujols, Jackie Robinson, Wade Boggs and Joe DiMaggio. Again, Betts played in only 52 major-league games in one of those seasons.
The reason Betts is so good by these all-encompassing metrics is, well, he’s good at everything. Offensively, Betts has been at least very good in all but one of his seasons and crazypants elite in one. He barely ever strikes out, he walks a bunch, he always hits the ball hard and he hits dingers. There aren’t many sweeter things to watch a person do in the batters box than watching Mookie Betts turn on a fastball and send it to the moon.
Defensively, he is all-world. It’s weird to say that about a right fielder, but Betts is only a right fielder because Jackie Bradley Jr. exists. Betts has the athleticism to cover all of Fenway’s enormous right field, the instincts to get perfect reads and run perfect routes almost every time and the flair to make great plays all-timers. Oh, and he also has one of the best arms in the game. I mean...
So he can hit and he can field at thrilling levels, and that’s not even the most enjoyable part of the Mookie Betts on-field experience, at least in this writer’s opinion. That would be his baserunning. This one is a little harder to explain. I could tell you he stole 25+ bases three years in a row before dropping off to 16 last year. I could tell you that only Billy Hamilton added more value with his legs since 2014 than Betts, according to FanGraphs measure. But to understand Betts’ running is to watch and see him take the risks no one else even sees, much less attempts. And he almost always makes it. This is just one example of it, and here it is to win a game.
So, yeah. That’s all I got. There’s also the personality and the charisma and the smile and all of that, and that stuff matters. But the play on the field is just *chef’s kiss.* It’s 2020 and we can watch all of the baseball we want, so I will still see Mookie Betts play baseball no matter what. But it probably won’t be every night and it probably won’t be for my favorite team. That’s a bummer. Anyway, that’s my season preview that may never see the light of day. If it did, I hope you weren’t too annoyed by the lack of previewing seasons.