The Case for Mookie Betts as American League MVP

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Let me preface this column by saying this: Mike Trout should be the MVP. He is the most talented, most consistent and simply the best player in the game. He repeatedly puts up the best numbers, he shows up to work every day with an infectious smile and hard-working mentality even though his team is terrible and he positively affects his team in all facets of the game.

But, for some reason, those attributes are not enough for the voters recently. No, they want a player whose team makes it to the playoffs. Never mind that the player might not be as good or as productive as Trout in a given season, even though Trout doesn't have near as much of a supporting cast or as much protection in the order.

Even though it is an absolute atrocity, that is how it is. Which is why, if the coveted award is going to go to someone not named Mike Trout, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is the most deserving.

Simply put, he is having a phenomenal season. Betts is slashing .312/.353/.539 with 30 home runs, 105 RBI, 109 runs scored and 23 stolen bases. He is the only player in the American League with at least 100 RBI and 100 runs scored, which is a testament to his dynamic blend of speed and power.

He started the season hitting in the leadoff spot in the order in front of sluggers like Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz. During that time, he hit a bevy of doubles and home runs and scored runs in bunches. Then he moved to third and then the cleanup spot, where he has continued to knock the cover off the ball while also driving up his RBI total.

Betts has used his 30 homers, 40 doubles and five triples to amass a league-leading 332 total bases. His ability to generate so much torque and power out of his 5-9, 180-pound frame is ridiculous. How many players in the majors possess the flexibility of Betts -- someone who could hit in any spot in the order?

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Maybe Mike Trout, but remember, he is obviously not very good or valuable since his team isn't in playoff contention.

"Mookie does it all; that's what's so impressive about him," Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. "He can go 0-for-3 with a walk, steal a base, score a run, throw a guy out in right field and make a diving play — and basically win you the game doing that."

Said Boston right-hander Clay Buchholz, "He's a special player. Every facet of his game is built to make a team better. He hits for average, hits for power, steals bases, plays really good outfield. That's how they calculate a five-tool player. That's Mookie Betts."

Betts, a full-time second baseman only a couple of seasons ago, leads all American Leaguers not named Trout in wins-above-replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs. A big part of his value has come from his defense, where it hasn't taken him long to establish himself as an elite defensive outfielder. He leads all MLB outfielders with 29 defensive runs saved and is fourth in baseball with an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 16.8.

Betts has found a home in right field after playing in the infield for most of his career.
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And, as Paul Swydan of FanGraphs pointed out earlier this month, when the Red Sox offense was struggling toward the end of July and at the beginning of August, Betts was at his best. During that stretch, when Boston averaged a mere 3.5 runs/game, Betts hit .344 with 166 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). In other words, he was 66 percent better than the average MLB hitter during that span.

In other words, when his team needed him most, Betts delivered. That is what the valuable part of the MVP award is all about. At least I think -- who knows what the voters are looking at these days.

As for Betts' competition, that's probably going to be Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldson. Both players have had terrific seasons, but Betts has been better. Altuve's batting average is what propels him into consideration, but Betts has hit for much more power, created more runs and been an infinitely better baserunner. Plus, barring a miracle, the Astros will not make the postseason.

Donaldson, meanwhile, is mired in an 0-for-23 slump as his Blue Jays are hanging on for their playoff lives. Last year's MVP has been excellent once again in 2016, but, like Altuve, Betts has been the superior player.

He has impacted his team in seemingly every way imaginable, his numbers are outstanding and he has been the best player on a playoff-caliber team.

If Mike Trout can't win, then Betts has certainly built up a resume good enough to be the 2016 AL MVP.