Red Sox Mookie Betts winning Gold Glove first step to MVP?
Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts just won his first Gold Glove award for right field. Is this the appetizer to the main course of being the MVP?
Rawlings announced on ESPN that Betts was named the 2016 Gold Glove Award winner last night. Darren Hartwell of NESN stated that “it was a pretty remarkable defensive season for Betts — who also is an [American League] MVP finalist — considering he came up in Boston’s farm system as an infielder and played his first professional game as an outfielder in 2014.”
The 24-year-old, however, is no stranger to Red Sox Nation for showing off his glove.
In those first 37 games, Betts played 28 of them in center field and put on a highlight-reel performance seemingly every time. He caught flyballs that he had no business even coming near. That flash of brilliance equated to an extension in center field for another 130 starts in 2015, winning the position from a struggling Rusney Castillo. Only after Jackie Bradley Jr. was assessed to be more effective in center did the Red Sox move Betts to right field for 11 games to end the year.
In 2016, Betts was the sure bet in right field, playing 157 games in the same spot. His .997 fielding percentage was much higher than the league average of .986. That statistic has much to do with the player normally put in that role on other MLB teams: a strong bat and a strong arm to throw runners out, but not necessarily needing a ton of range. In Betts’ case, he was a strong bat, a strong arm, and he had range. He posted a 2.29 range factor per game, 2.34 per nine innings, when the league’s average range factors were 2.08 and 2.10, respectively.
What was even more impressive was Betts’ 14 assists and four double plays as a right fielder. Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox had 15 assists, but his three errors and lower fielding percentage brought down his ranking compared to Betts and his single error. It’s great to have an aggressive defender, but Betts was able to do it without almost any mistakes.
So, that’s quite the achievement for the young man from Tennessee; however, does this award for defense prelude the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award?
Betts was named a nominee for the award along with Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Houston Astros infielder Jose Altuve. Those men pose stiff competition for Betts, but the Red Sox star has a strong case in his favor.
Betts hit a slash line of .318/.363/.534, producing 31 home runs and 113 RBIs. Altuve’s batting average (.338) and on-base percentage (.396) may have been slightly higher than Betts, but he also got caught stealing bases more than Betts. Altuve was caught stealing 10 times in 40 attempts, while Betts was caught only four times in 30 attempts. Altuve’s 24 homers and 96 RBIs were below Betts’ totals, even though the Astros leader played in three more games.
Trout’s slash line of .315/.441/.550 was impressive, helping him produce 29 home runs and 100 RBIs, just short of Betts’ totals. Trout was caught stealing seven times in 37 attempts, showing a great amount of speed that matched Betts and Altuve. However, Trout’s hits, walks, and strikeouts were testament to teams worried about his power. Trout struck out 137 times, 57 more times than Betts and 67 more times than Altuve. The face of the Angels’ franchise may have also walked 116 times, but that clearly inflated his on-base percentage since he had only 173 hits, over 40 fewer hits than Betts and Altuve in about the same amount of games.
What might hurt Betts the most for the MVP award is that he was on the best offensive team in both major leagues in the regular season. The Red Sox put up 878 runs with a very potent lineup that included legendary hitter David Ortiz. The Astros (724 runs) were 15th and the Angels (717 runs) were 17th in the majors. In terms of team batting average, the Red Sox posted .282 for first place, while Houston hit a terrible .247 and the Angels hit a mere .260.
What brings Betts back into the conversation is how much he could do in the clutch. It’s the job of every MVP to help his team win when it matters most. Altuve hit .372 with runners in scoring position and .274 in late or close games. Trout hit .328 and .326, respectively. Betts kept up with both men, hitting .355 with runners in scoring position and .271 in the late or close frames of the ballgames.
The fact that Betts won the Gold Glove for his position while Altuve and Trout were not even nominated for their roles suggests that Betts may get the MVP award. Betts proved that his bat was good enough to not only hang with both men but that he could also produce more than them with the same amount of opportunities. He had as quick a bat as Altuve and as powerful a swing as Trout. Combine that with Betts’ glove work. Betts was as much a star on defense as on offense, something nobody else in the American League could say in 2016. If that doesn’t equate to a sure bet of winning the A.L. MVP then what does?
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