Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is on track to be historically great
He’s barely old enough to rent a car, but Mookie Betts is already halfway to a Hall of Fame career. If history is any indication, he’s just getting started.
Mookie Betts has only played about four and one-third seasons of big league baseball with the Boston Red Sox. In that short stretch, however, he has accomplished more than most players could even dream of.
He has already made three All-Star appearances and has won three Gold Glove awards, two Silver Slugger awards, a World Series Championship, and – once voting commences – almost certainly an MVP award.
But this laundry list of awards barely does Betts justice. Let’s take a look at how Mookie compared to other accomplished young stars throughout baseball history. First, we are going to examine the group of players whose first five seasons occurred after WWII. I used this breaking point for two reasons: 1) FanGraphs will only let you export files up to a certain size and taking the first five seasons of every position player ever is a massive request and 2) this is about the time that baseball began the process of integration and as such the level of competition from this point on was higher throughout the league.
It is also worth noting that while compiling this data I used figures that were rounded by FanGraphs and as such the rate stats below are subject to rounding errors on the third significant digit.
Here are the top-30 performers in their first five seasons by fWAR.
|First Five Seasons|
|17||Ken Griffey Jr.||734||3113||2747||132||424||453||77||0.303||0.375||0.520||0.388||141||28.1|
|19||Cal Ripken Jr.||668||2855||2583||108||431||391||7||0.290||0.350||0.488||0.370||131||27.9|
Going by fWAR, Mookie ranks eighth on this list! He’s sandwiched directly between Barry Bonds and Mickey Mantle which I think we would all agree is some pretty good company. Everyone above Betts – and most of the players listed below him – is either a slam-dunk HOFer or future HOFer (or would be for lack of PEDs).
This is all in spite of the fact that Mookie played in only 52 games during his rookie campaign. When adjusted to fWAR per Game, Mookie ranks fifth among the same cohorts. And then there’s the fact that Mookie didn’t even play the outfield until 2014 and still managed to place 1st in UZR, 2nd in Def, and 2nd in DRS among outfielders in baseball since taking over full time in 2015.
But even this analysis doesn’t do him full justice. Many of the players on the list above reached their high fWAR marks by accumulating five merely great seasons without having any truly transcendent ones. The players who had multiple banner years went on to have even more impressive careers than the rest of the field. Mookie has now accumulated more than eight fWAR in two different seasons. The list of players who have accomplished the same feat by the end of their age-25 season is presented below and it is a short list:
|Name||# of 8+ fWAR Seasons through age-25||Career fWAR|
|Mike Trout||5||64.7 (active)|
|Mookie Betts||2||30.5 (active)|
First off, wow! That list is an absolute Who’s Who of baseball history. The usual soft line for Hall of Fame consideration is about 60 fWAR. The average career fWAR of non-active players on this list is 113.8! Most of these players essentially had two Hall of Fame careers. The only retired players with less than 80 fWAR are Joe Jackson – who was banned from baseball at the age of 32 and was on pace to soar past that mark – and Benny Kauff, who was the only player on this list to actually fall off of a cliff.
Adding another constraint may make this data to granular, but if we also require that the players above had a season of at least ten fWAR by the same age then the list of players shortens to just twelve as shown below:
|Name||# of 8+ fWAR Seasons through age-25||Highest fWAR through age-25||Career fWAR|
|Mookie Betts||2||10.4||30.5 (active)|
|Mike Trout||5||10.1||64.7 (active)|
Take away the active players and you could throw that list in a different order and convince me that this is a legitimate attempt at ranking the top-10 position players in baseball history. That Betts can even be mentioned in the same breathe as the guys above is absolutely extraordinary.
We could look at a billion different metrics and I’m sure Mookie would rate well in all of them, but the moral of the story is that Mookie is sure as hell looking like an all-time great through this point in his career. He will be a Red Sox for at least two more seasons and we should count each day we get to watch the young superstar take his place in right field as a blessing. He is the greatest player I have ever seen don a Red Sox uniform and although I am only 20-years-old, I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.