The Boston Red Sox are on a historic run and a significant catalyst is Mookie Betts. A look back comparing Betts to Willie Mays of 1954.
Is Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts the best player in baseball? I can certainly make a case that would hold up under intense examination, but also could apply the same to Mike Trout and reigning Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve. What Betts is unequivocally marching to be is the MVP.
Betts was robbed of the MVP honor in 2016 when voters apparently forgot that the award is not presented to the best player, but the MVP. Trout captured the MVP despite playing on a team that did nothing of merit. With or without Trout the Angels were a pedestrian team.
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In a recent email exchange, a fellow baseballphile made the preposterous comment that Betts is Willie Mays of 1954. Was this just outrageous hyperbole from a slanted view of a denizen of Red Sox Nation? Just the idea of such a comparison is baseball heresy. Then I actually started to do what I rarely do and thought it out.
Is Betts a five-tool player? Well, folks, that is answered nightly as Betts wins games with his glove, his bat, his arm, and his speed. Mays was an electrifying player who starred when the spotlight was on. Far too many players of extreme talent shimmy into the dark like cockroaches when the big stage spotlight is on. Betts creates storylines almost nightly from dramatic grand slams to hitting for the cycle. But for me, the best Betts are the throws and catches.
In 1954, Mays became MVP leading the Giants into the World Series against the heavily favored Cleveland Indians who had won 111 games. The Indians had a deep lineup and quite possibly the best rotation since the dawn of Doubleday. The Giants won in four straight with the forever highlight being Mays’ catch off the bat of Vic Wertz.
The Mays of 1954 was two years younger than Betts and had a remarkable 10.3 fWAR. Mays also won his only batting title (.345) and it seems that Betts may also win a batting title. Mays 1.078 OPS and Betts is certainly on track to match that, but May’s 41 home runs and 110 RBI are a challenge. Especially RBI when you hit leadoff and miss injury related games.
An item of interest with Mays circa 1954 is 66/57 or a 1.16 BB/K compared to Betts’ current 0.90 BB/K. Mays career total is 0.96 BB/K or almost one walk per strikeout and that is indeed a rare occurrence in 1954 and even more so in 2018. In 1954, the BB/K for MLB was 0.88 and today it is 0.38. When you put the ball in play you have opportunity and Betts creates opportunity.
The Big Stage mentioned earlier has not shone as well offensively on Mays and Betts as one would expect. For Betts, it is a shutout with zero home runs and RBI in 29 plate appearances and Mays just a lone home run and 10 RBI in 99 PAs. But, as referenced, with a five-tool player it goes beyond one facet of the game.
Betts is not Mays – yet. Maybe Betts in ten years will have the year to year credentials that could make a worthy career comparison, but even for a jingoist Red Sox fan that is an extraordinary extrapolation. I will just sit back and enjoy the effervescent Betts march to an MVP Award.