Looking at a Red Sox world without right fielder Mookie Betts
By Rick McNair
Is Mookie Betts irreplaceable to the Boston Red Sox? Looking at the offense, the loss of Betts could be absorbed but defensively is far different.
A world without Mookie Betts may soon be a reality for the denizens of Red Sox Nation to come to grips with. Just what will the loss be offensively and defensively? Is there a determining factor that can give some insight?
One is Bryce Harper who signed a forever contract to play with the Phillies until 2031. Just how that affected the Washington Nationals is demonstrated in that the Nats are in the World Series and the Phillies canned their manager.
Harper is no Betts, from my perspective, but is a five-tool player who in 2018 produced 103 runs and 100 RBI for the Nationals with a 3.4 fWAR. A Nationals team that was sixth in the National League in 2018 in offense producing 771 runs. The impact in 2019? The Nationals finished third in offense and second with 824 runs.
There is also a local connection that gives pause for concern and that is the last season of David Ortiz in 2016. Ortiz led the American League with 127 RBI in his farewell season and the team led the AL in runs with 836. Without Ortiz in 2017 that figured dropped to 735 and created a welcome mat for J.D. Martinez.
Now we switch to a more positive example and that is the departure of Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar had 105 RBI and 120 runs in 2003 for a Red Sox team that accounted for a baseball best 961 runs. Garciaparra was shipped out in 2004 early going and the team didn’t miss a beat scoring 949 runs.
Is there enough in the offensive tank to compensate for the loss of Betts? Boston bagged 901 runs in 2019 up from the 879 runs in 2018, but the patient zero was pitching for 2019. The lineup has a litany of solid contributors with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Martinez, and even Christian Vazquez, but where will they find those league-leading 135 runs Betts will take with him? They won’t. But they will – hopefully – not need them.
Many things must slide into place for the Red Sox offense to continue to churn away. Is Michael Chavis the real deal? Will Bogaerts and Devers continue to post 2019 numbers? Is Martinez staying? Can Andrew Benintendi finally bring his game to the next level? And my current favorite – is Dustin Pedroia a Lourdes type miracle? Who will replace Betts?
What it comes down to in this is the Red Sox have always managed to hit. Rare is the season where they suddenly become the 1906 “Hitless Wonders” of Chicago White Sox fame. The Red Sox will find a replacement for Betts that will contribute, but most certainly not like Betts. The big concern – especially if the Red Sox also peddle Jackie Bradley Jr. – is the defense.
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Betts is now collecting Gold Gloves and deservedly so. In 2019, Betts had 15 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a 12.6 UZR, per FanGraphs. Toss in that half his games are at the notoriously difficult right field at Fenway Park and that magnifies his defensive loss. Martinez played 213 innings with a -3 DRS and 0.9 UZR and maybe less of a liability in left and thus move Benintendi to right. Both better hit.
The free-agent list offers possibilities as does any Betts trade, but a look at that list will make any Red Sox fan somewhat despondent. Too expensive, too old, too slow, and too many with possible options to remove them from the list. And Pawtucket (AAA)? Nothing.
If the Red Sox rotation can reinvent themselves for 2020 and loss of offense will be compensated by the improved pitching, but that defense! Betts’ defensive loss will only be noticed in crucial moments with a catch that would be money in the bank with Betts. And that arm? How many first to third become first to second with Betts in right?
Betts is truly something special with his combination of offense and defense especially defensively. No one is close to Betts on the defensive side in either league and that difference is not a shade but almost a canyon. Betts goes the hurt may not be the offensive lineup but the defensive.