We’re squarely in the first phase of baseball’s offseason. The Cubs won the World Series, but that happened like two weeks and one country-altering election ago, so it feels like ancient history. Mid-November is time predict who will win various awards, dole out those awards, and have really strong takes about the recipients of those awards. And start thinking about who will be on the move and who will stay put.
We are in the prime time of predictions, as evidenced by our ongoing Offseason Oracle series here at BP Boston. For the most part, we can assume a lot of these predictions will be wrong. That’s just how it goes. On the Red Sox front, there is a predictably sizable amount of speculation over the team’s aggressiveness, both in the trade market and free agency.
Among the candidates for major awards, of course, are Mookie Betts and Rick Porcello. We know now that Porcello was able to walk away with his award, but what about Mookie? Let’s dive in on the diminutive outfielder.
We know that Mookie is one of three AL finalists for MVP, along with Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. Betts has already taken home a Silver Slugger to go with a Gold Glove and approximately 58 other miscellaneous awards I didn’t know to exist. As the best AL player to play in the postseason, Betts has a very solid chance to win the award. Bob Nightengale at USA Today wrote this feature advocating for Mookie to win, and Bleacher Report published a long profile on the young outfielder as well. The trouble with the MVP award in the American League, as has been the case for a number of years, is that Mike Trout plays like Mickey Mantle, and does so for a bad team.
Trout, objectively and statistically, was better at baseball in 2016 than was Betts. Baseball Prospectus’ WARP pegged Mookie as about a seven-win player this season, to Trout’s 8.7. The Angels outfielder posted a .355 TAv, outpacing Betts’ .296. Trout had a major-league-best wRC+ of 171, and trailed only David Ortiz with a .991 OPS.
All of this is not to say that Mookie Betts should not win; I sincerely hope he does, and I happen to hold the analytically sacrilegious belief that players on teams that suck shouldn’t win MVP. The last thing I want to do is re-litigate the impossibly annoying debate of what the word “valuable” really means.
In the context of Betts as an MVP candidate, Alex Speier of the Globe wrote a piece Tuesday about what an extension for Betts would look like, and the merits to signing one with years of team control still remaining on his contract. Speier hazards the guess, with the input of league executives at the GM meetings in Arizona, that a deal could be in the ballpark of $150 million over seven or eight years. One easy comparison is the deal Trout got in 2014, worth $144 million over six years. I firmly lie in the it’s-not-my-money camp regarding early extensions: I’d be heartbroken to see Betts (or, for that matter, Xander Bogaerts) in another uniform if a deal can’t be worked out before free agency.
While not entirely related to awards and contracts, reading about the terrific start to Mookie’s career reminded me of the hype and excitement that followed Betts into Spring Training in 2015. Remember that? Shane Victorino compared him to Andrew McCutchen, and Ortiz was even more effusive in his praise, saying “he’s better than McCutchen at that time in McCutchen’s career. Go and double-check that.”
As an optimist and a Sox fan, I was excited but remained skeptical. Coming into 2015, Cutch had been a top-three finisher for NL MVP in three consecutive years. We were really comparing Mookie to that guy? Already? It turned out they were correct.
In McCutchen’s first four seasons at the big-league level, he totaled 18.8 bWAR. In more than 200 fewer games and with almost 1000 fewer plate appearances than McCutchen’s four campaigns, Betts has amassed 17.6 bWAR in just two-and-a-half seasons.
In McCutchen’s MVP season of 2013, he slashed .317/.404/.508 while belting 21 homers, driving in 84 and swiping 27 bags. Mookie’s line this season was .318/.363/.534 with 31 home runs, 113 RBIs and 26 steals. Mookie’s bWAR in 2016 was 9.6, while McCutchen’s in 2013 was 8.1.
Mookie Betts, at age 23, was better in 2016 than Andrew McCutchen has ever been.
Hopefully this provides some perspective regardless of who wins MVP later this week. Mookie Betts is an incredible baseball player, and in all likelihood will continue to be for a long time.
Porcello, stacked up against Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander, was a finalist for AL Cy Young, and we found out lat night that he did indeed earn the honor. Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post correctly predicted that Porcello will win the award, but argued that Verlander was most deserving. He argues that Verlander was more dominant, leading the league in both strikeouts and strikeouts per nine, than was Porcello, despite Porcello’s league-leading 22 wins. It almost seems too obvious to point out that – here, I’ll do it in all caps – PITCHING WINS ARE NOT AN EFFECTIVE STATISTIC. A case could be made that Porcello deserved to win the award anyway, thanks in large part to his majestic 5.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio. What also worked in his favor, largely unfairly, is the fact that Boston made the postseason while Detroit did not.
Stan Grossfeld in the Globe wrote about the personal development of Michael Kopech. After a rough stretch that included a 50-game ban for a forbidden stimulant and then broke a bone in his pitching hand in an altercation with a teammate in March of 2016. Upon returning, Kopech torched the competition at Lowell and High-A Salem, posting a 4-1 record and 2.08 ERA and was named the Carolina League Player of the Month in August. You can read me fawn over Kopech’s fastball, performance and magnificent hair here.
Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports that the Red Sox haven’t made the signing of Edwin Encarnacion a top priority, and argues that they might want to rethink the strategy. However, because Encarnacion declined the $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Jays, any other team that signs the slugger would have to forfeit their first-round pick next year. For the Sox, that would mean the 26th overall selection.
Photo by Winslow Towson/USA Today Sports Images