The American League MVP runner-up is still making an impression on baseball analysts across the country.
ESPN insider Buster Olney continued his annual tradition of ranking the top-10 players in the game at each position. What should come as no surprise to Red Sox fans, Mookie Betts earned the honor of being named the top right fielder in baseball – not last year’s winner and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper. It should be noted that Olney and his team of evaluators are fully confident in Harper’s ability to regain his form, but there was simply no way to deny that Mookie Betts was better last season.
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The best player in baseball not named Mike Trout, Betts put together an unbelievable all-around season in 2016 en route to finishing second behind the Angels’ center fielder in MVP voting. Betts’ 9.6 WAR was the third highest total of the past decade, behind only 2012 (10.8 WAR) and 2016 (10.6 WAR) seasons posted by Trout.
He batted .318/.363/.534, hit 31 home runs, drove in 113 runs, crossed the plate 122 times himself, and led the league in at bats and total bases for good measure. A product of his 26 steals in 30 attempts, Betts also beat Trout in UBR (Ultimate Base Running) and BsR (Base Running) as measured by FanGraphs. Perhaps his greatest honor of the campaign, Betts was named the Best Defensive Player in Baseball by Wilson in addition to earning the Gold Glove at his position. The second baseman turned outfielder accounted for 32 defensive runs saved, 10 more than any other player in the MLB.
From ESPN’s Stats & Information department, Mookie is well on his way to a historic career at just 23 years of age:
Betts had 9.6 WAR in 2016 in his age-23 season. The only Red Sox player with more WAR in an age-23 season or younger was Ted Williams, who had 10.6 in 1941 in his age-22 season and 10.6 in 1942 at age 23. The only position players overall with higher WAR in age-23 or younger seasons were Williams, Trout, Harper, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Cal Ripken and Rogers Hornsby.
As for Bryce Harper, his 2016 season started out just as his 2015 season had ended. Through 19 games, he was hitting .328 with 9 home runs and 24 RBIs. Then, after a series with the Cubs in which Harper was walked 7 times in 3 games, everything fell apart for the then 23-year-old as he finished the season hitting .243 with 24 home runs, 86 runs batted in and an OPS+ of 116. That a 16 percent better than league average season was considered a disappointment shows how high the level of expectation is when discussing Harper, both internally and externally.
Harper is the far more seasoned player, after debuting at 19-years of age and playing in the bigs for the past 5 seasons. But Betts has made his case as the best in the league at his position. With 8.03 WAR per 162 games compared to Harper’s 5.03 per 162, it’s only a matter of time until Mookie Betts earns an MVP of his own.
Baseball Reference‘s measurement of Wins Above Replacement was used during the writing of this article.