Why Mookie Betts is an MVP candidate

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is set to retire at the end of the season. With Big Papi having a monster season at age 40, it’s easy to lose track of how well the rest of the Sox’s team is performing, especially 23-year-old outfielder, Mookie Betts.

Betts, the American League Player of the Month for July, is not only one of the Red Sox’s best players. He’s arguably one of the best players in baseball.

During the month of July, Betts put up MVP caliber numbers. In 23 games, Betts posted a slash line of .368/.415/.653. He also led the American League in doubles, extra-base hits, and total bases. During those 23 games, Betts recorded 106 plate appearances, in those appearances, Betts only struck out eleven times. A 10.3% clip.

Betts wasn’t just one of the most productive hitters in the AL during the month of July, he was also equally as dominate defensively. Betts recorded 11 defensive runs saved (DRS) in July, easily the most in the majors. Byron Buxton of the Twins ranked second with just eight runs saved.

Betts entered the month with four defensive runs saved all season. He finished it with 15, tied for third best in the majors and the most of any right fielder.

This year’s American League Most Valuable Player race might be one of the closest in recent memory. With three perennial All-Stars in the mix, Betts could easily sneak into contention.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros: 5.8 WAR (106 G) 3rd in AL
FanGraphs Steamer 2016 Projections: .345/.408/.536 (.944 OPS), 24 HR, 217 H, 39 2B, 111 R, 90 RBI, 36 SB, 69 SO

Altuve has been nothing short of spectacular for the ‘Stros. Barring any unforeseen push by Xander Bogaerts, Altuve should win the AL batting title with ease. The Astros are in the wildcard race mostly due to the fact that Altuve has been a stud. He’s putting up monster numbers. He ranks third in AL in wins above replacement (5.8) and looks as if he could reach 220 hits. There’s nothing else to say.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays: 5.9 WAR (105 G) 2nd in AL
FanGraphs Streamer 2016 Projections: .291/.395/.555 (.950 OPS), 38 HR, 172 H, 36 2B, 122 R, 106 RBI, 121 SO

Donaldson is following up his 2015 MVP season with practically identical numbers. Last year he ranked second in the AL in wins above replacement (8.7) and raked in league leading 123 RBIs. This season hasn’t been much different. He won’t lead the league in RBIs, but there’s a good chance he’ll led the AL in runs and compete for the home run crown. Right now, the Blue Jays are rolling, and if they can push pass Baltimore and Boston to win the AL East, there’s a good chance Donaldson is a back-to-back MVP.

Mike Trout, CF, Angles: 6.3 WAR (106 G) 1st in AL
FanGraphs Streamer 2016 Projections: .313/.425/.558 (.983 OPS), 31 HR, 178 H, 37 2B, 120 R, 103 RBI, 130 SO

If Trout finishes the season as expected, 2016 will mark his fourth consecutive season with at least 20 homers, 30 doubles, and 100 runs. Since 2012, Trout hasn’t finished worse than second in AL MVP voting. But remember, voting fatigue is a real thing. With the reining MVP, in Donaldson, and the perennial contender, in Trout, in this year’s race, there’s a strong possibility voters will turn to a new face. The Angels’ record doesn’t help Trout’s case either. At 49–58, nine game under .500, Los Angeles sits 12.5 games back of first place in the AL West. And while Trout is doing everything he can, the last MVP to win the award and miss the playoffs was Albert Pujols all the way back in 2008.

Leadoff hitters rarely win MVP awards. It’s hard enough to just put up the pure numbers, but in the eyes of the voters you have to prove your value. Only four players ever have won MVPs out of the leadoff spot: Ichiro, Henderson, Rollins, and Versalles. Good company. Betts is hitting .305 with a .345 OBP and .540 slugging mark. He currently has 22 homers, a career high, and is on pace for 34 this year. Only three players (Soriano (39), Barry Bonds, Brady Anderson) have hit more from the leadoff spot in one year.

Bett’s 17 stolen bases (in 18 attempts) projects him for around 30 stolen bases for the season, suggesting a shot at becoming the 39th player ever to post a 30/30 season. He has 84 runs, on pace for around 130 — which could be the most by any player since Curtis Granderson crossed the plate 136 times in 2011.

As we stand right now, Mookie is easily one of the the best hitters in baseball. Since May 5th, Betts’ has been the second best hitter in the league behind only first basemen Joey Votto:

If Betts wants to compete for AL MVP, the Sox are going to need to make a serious playoff push. A hundred and eight games into the season, Boston sits three games back of first place in the AL East. They’re on the outside looking in.

Even though Betts might seem inexperienced, especially in the outfield; he has shown no fear or hesitation when put in uncomfortable situations. When he’s behind 0–2 in the count, Betts is hitting .291 with an on-base percentage of .325, not including his weighted on-base average of .329.

Betts has also shown no uncertainty during his transition from second base to right field. Betts is as close to a lockdown right fielder as you can find, averaging 15 runs saved above average (DRS) to lead all right fielders. He’s most likely a lock for his first career Gold Glove.

In reality, the 2016 American League Most Valuable Player award will most likely end up in the hands of Josh Donaldson or Jose Altuve. But Betts as proven to be a top three outfielder in this league. Not only does he leadoff and set the table for one of the most powerful offenses in the league, he also navigates one of the toughest right fields in all of baseball. The month of July was no fluke. Fans better be ready to hear Mookie Betts’ name a lot more in these next couple months.