Just who had the better MVP season for the Boston Red Sox? Mookie Betts or Carl Yastrzemski? Take a look back at a memorable 1967.
What type of statistical baseline do you need to start to decide a player’s place in history? I consider at least four years to give an insight into just how you expect a career to project, but there is always the issue of injury or sudden and inexplicable deterioration of talent. Just where does Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts rest at this juncture of his career?
After four and one-half seasons, I am willing to state that Betts is the best all-around – five-tool for scouting aficionados – player I have seen in a Red Sox uniform. Betts is just 26 years old and approaching his prime seasons with a list of statistical accomplishments. Three Gold Glove Awards, an MVP Award (it should be two), three All-Star selections and two Silver Slugger Awards.
Betts is simply the total package and if he remains healthy, just extrapolating his numbers forward he will be among the historic best for a ten-year time frame. And Betts was in 2018 the best in all of baseball and just may repeat that. So far Betts has demonstrated remarkable consistency and durability.
Carl Yastrzemski is in the Baseball Hall of Fame with a lengthy career that spanned twenty-three seasons and all with Boston. For the comparison of early career, the edge goes to Betts, but this is not about early career but a comparison of one remarkable season for both. For Betts, it was 2018 that culminated in a World Series championship and for Yastrzemski, it was1967 that resulted in a seven-game loss to the Cardinals in 1967.
When comparing the two seasons, the first notation should be baseball in 1967 versus baseball in 2018. There was no designated hitter and baseball was just two years away from the infamous “Year of the pitcher” and changes to get more offense into the game. In 1967, the American League slashed .236/.303/.351 with a 93 wRC+ compared to .249/.318/.415 and 99 wRC+ in 2018.
The second issue is games played. Betts appeared in 136 games and Yastrzemski 161 and that is reflected in plate appearances with 690 for Yaz and 614 for Betts. Then there is the lineup that both teams put on the field. The 1967 Red Sox had an excellent offense, but 2018 was superior. The 2018 Red Sox team that won 108 games compared to 92 for the Impossible Dream crew of 1967.
Few players have ever dominated a season as Yastrzemski did in 1967 with all facets of the game. If you were going to create a real-life Joe Hardy or Roy Hobbs it would have been Yastrzemski. Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown, slashed .326/.418/.622 (all led league), had a league-best 1.040 OPS, OPS+ 193, runs (112), and hits (189). Yastrzemski’s 11.1 fWAR (12.5 bWAR) was light years ahead of second place 7.6 fWAR of Brooks Robinson.
Foe Betts, the statistical leader board was rather slim compared to Yastrzemski with Mookie winning a batting title (.336) and leading the American League in runs (129). Betts posted a 10.4 fWAR (10.9 bWAR) that was slightly higher than the 9.8 fWAR by Mike Trout. The debate even existed that J.D. Martinez could be MVP. So Betts’ season was spectacular, but not compared to Yastrzemski, especially when you place in the historical context of what took place in the 1967 season.
The season came down to one memorable weekend as four teams vied for the pennant that last weekend. Minnesota came to Boston for a two-game set that would be a make-or-break for both teams. Boston won the first game 6-4 with Yaz getting four big RBI including a much-needed three-run shot in the seventh off lefty Jim Merritt.
The Sunday game was a must-win game and the Red Sox came away 5-3 with Yastrzemski going 4-for-4 with an RBI and great defensive play. Detroit lost later in the day and on to the World Series for the Red Sox. That two-game set was a microcosm of the entire season regarding Yastrzemski.
The playoff system did not exist in 1967 as the format was the winner goes to the World Series and again Yastrzemski did everything possible for the Red Sox raise a flag. Yastrzemski hit .400, hit three home runs, and had five RBI. For Betts, his playoffs heroics may come, but in 2018 he was part of a supporting cast to Jackie Bradley Jr.and Steve Pearce.
Despite the 1967 season, Yaz was not the unanimous MVP. Cesar Tovar slashed .267/.325/.365 for the Twins so maybe it was his power? Tovar slammed six home runs and had 47 RBI for the Twins. Maybe it was Tovar’s 2.1 fWAR? The excuse is found here.
As magnificent as Betts’ 2018 season was the one Yastrzemski put on the board was magical. When a great defensive play was needed, a bullet throw to cut a runner down, a clutch hit it seemed it all percolated around Yaz. Betts season was one for the books, but that season Yastrzemski wrote the book.