Mookie Betts will not win the American League Most Valuable Player Award this year, but he is quietly, steadily proving every bit the value to the Boston Red Sox he was one year ago.
Betts, a former Overton High School star, is currently leading the major leagues in runs scored, the most underrated statistic in baseball. He has scored 115 runs this year to lead both leagues, just ahead of Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr., who has 104, and Red Sox teammate Rafael Devers, who has scored 103 runs in a breakout season.
Betts scored 129 runs last year, tying him with Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor with the most in baseball.
Strong arguments could be made that Devers, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and designated hitter J.D. Martinez are having bigger years this season for the Red Sox than Betts is. That impression can be drawn by pointing to Betts’ lower batting average this season of .285, not exactly the .346 average he put up a year ago in winning the MVP Award.
Betts hit 32 home runs last season and has 21 so far this season, so last year’s total is still within reach. The same goes for RBIs. Betts has driven in 65 runs this year, which is not far from the 80 he drove in last season.
So why is runs scored such an underrated statistic? Because it shows a number of attributes, like getting on base, hitting the baseball, being a steady presence in the offense, running the bases well, stealing bases, getting yourself in scoring position, not getting thrown out. For a teammate to get an RBI, it takes a runner on base. Betts is consistent and dependable.
All of which is to say that for all of the disappointment in Boston this season over the lackluster performance of the Red Sox, Betts has proved every bit as instrumental in the Red Sox’ success offensively as he has always been. And it’s all relative, of course, since the Red Sox’ 67-59 record looks more woeful than it really is, only because the New York Yankees are running away with the division at 83-43, and Tampa Bay is still at a very respectable 73-52 for second place in the AL East.
Betts may be going under the radar of recognition because the Red Sox are not dominating as they did a year ago, but his performance will definitely stand out this off-season, as trade rumors will arise, and certainly at the end of next season, when Betts will become a free agent.
Betts stands to make $30 million a year when he becomes a free agent. The question will become whether the Red Sox want to keep him for a full season next year or go ahead and test the trade market while they can still get a nice return before Betts potentially says bye-bye at the end of the 2020 season.
He shows all the signs of going for the big free-agent money. And that has nothing to do with the Red Sox. Alex Speier, a beat writer on the Red Sox who has written the book “Homegrown” about the making of the current batch of Boston players, explained to the podcast “Red Sox Beat” recently that Betts has always been savvy about money.
Speier notes that Betts has had good relationships with the Boston front office from the time the team drafted him out of high school in Nashville. According to Speier, the team was offering him $350,000, but Betts let them know he deserved more or he was headed to the University of Tennessee on a scholarship. The Boston brass, according to Speier, got wise and signed Betts for $750,000, and they have reaped the benefits of that investment quite well.
When the string of contract extensions hit baseball early this year, Betts was certainly part of the chatter, but he didn’t bite for the immediate trend. He played it cool, and it looks as though he can completely be in the driver’s seat on salary in the free agent market. If it were only about relationships, it’s easy to see how Betts could remain with the Red Sox. But he has keen business sense and might very well test that free-agent market, which is precisely why there could be trade talk about Betts at the end of this season.
Another product of the Middle Tennessee prep ranks, David Price, who played at Blackman High School before going to Vanderbilt, warned early this season that there could be a lot of trade talk for the underperforming club. Trades haven’t happened quite the way Price warned they might, but the season has clearly not been the success Boston expected this year.
It could put Betts in the same situation as a Yasiel Puig was under when the Dodgers traded him in the off-season to Cincinnati, which opted to trade Puig to Cleveland just before the deadline in July. Puig will be a free agent at the end of this season.
Betts has more than an MVP trophy to show for his value. He has a steady track record of numbers to show anyone who’s interested. The name of the game is to score more runs than the other team. Betts continues to score more runs than other players. He should score in whatever market he finds himself.