Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (July 11, 2018 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)
The Boston Red Sox have the best record in baseball by a considerable margin, reaching 82 wins before any other team in baseball reached 75. While the entire team is filled with strong, All-Star caliber players, this offense has been led by Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Both players are in contention for the MVP award, and it’s hard to imagine a season this great happening without either player. However, this begs the question – who is more valuable, Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez?
Who is Team MVP, Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez?
Before we start, let’s just acknowledge that Red Sox Nation is incredibly lucky to be having this conversation. If the season ended today, there’s a very real chance that Mookie and JD finish first and second in the MVP voting. At the very worst, both player would finish in the top four (the Indians Jose Ramirez and the Angels Mike Trout are also having phenomenal seasons).
Quite frankly, this isn’t an easy call to make. The Red Sox Unfiltered Twitter page ran a poll, and the results were as expected. Mookie won the vote, but only by a small margin.
Genuine question: Who is the team MVP?
— Red Sox Unfiltered (@bosoxunfiltered) August 8, 2018
Traditionally, the dream baseball player is supposed to excel at being a five-tool player. If a guy can hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw well, and field well, that’s basically everything you want in a ballplayer. In today’s day and age, the power aspect is easily the most important tool. However, it’s still important to be able to do the others. Let’s take a look at each one of those tools and see who holds the advantage.
Hitting for Power
This is actually a lot closer than one might think. While both players are fantastic power hitters, most people assume Martinez is the clearly superior power hitter. Don’t be mistaken, Martinez is an absolutely phenomenal power hitter. As of August 11th, Martinez had 35 home runs, 101 RBI’s, a .656 slugging percentage, and a 178 wRC+.
That said, Mookie comes close to matching just about all of those numbers. Mookie currently has 27 home runs, 62 RBI’s, a .675 slugging percentage and a 194 wRC+. The only area in which Mookie notably trails is RBI’s, which is natural since Mookie normally hits leadoff.
Despite the close numbers, the nod here goes to Martinez. Even though they have essentially the same slugging percentage, Martinez has eight more homers than Mookie. At the end of the day, that’s what hitting for power is all about. Martinez gets this nod, but by a smaller margin than one might think.
Hitting for Average
Once again, these two are among the best in the league at hitting for average. Martinez currently owns a .332 batting average, while Mookie leads the league with a .352 average. However, a lot of luck goes into batting average. Let’s look at the underlying numbers to see who truly is better at making consistent contact.
The underlying numbers show Mookie is clearly superior to JD in this regard. JD’s batting average is inflated by an unsustainably-high .377 BABIP, so he’s not quite the contact hitter his batting average suggests. By comparison, Mookie’s BABIP is .360, a full 17 points lower than JD’s. BABIP typically isn’t affected by the type of contact made, it’s based primarily on luck. So far this year, JD has been getting luckier than Mookie, and his average is still 20 points lower.
Additionally, Martinez strikes out more than Betts. JD currently strikes out 23.6% of the time he goes to the plate, while Mookie strikes out just 13.5% of the time. Obviously, it’s easier to hit for average when you put the ball in play. Mookie does that better than Martinez, and he’s without question better than Martinez at hitting for average.
Running the Bases/Fielding/Throwing
There’s no point giving too much of a nuanced analysis of these three, as it’s clear Mookie is vastly superior to Martinez at each of these aspects of the game. Martinez isn’t exactly known for his speed on the bases, while Mookie is one of the best at getting the extra base.
Additionally, Martinez is a subpar defender, and cannot play center field. Mookie, on the other hand, is a gold glove right fielder and would be one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball were it not for Jackie Bradley occupying the position. All three categories go to Mookie.
So Who’s More Valuable?
In summary, Mookie is better than J.D. at four of the five tools, but JD is better at the most important one. These players are very close in value, but Mookie is the slightly more valuable guy. J.D.’s slightly better power numbers just do not offset Mookie’s notably better all-around game.
None of this is to suggest J.D. Martinez is an overrated player. He’s absolutely fantastic, and if the season ended today, he would probably finish second or third in the MVP. Mookie, on the other hand, would finish in first. The Red Sox most valuable player is also the league’s most valuable player.
No matter how you slice it, the Red Sox are lucky to have these two. The Red Sox have 81 wins, and it’s only August 8th. This remarkable season would not be possible without either player. As the postseason arrives, look for these two to lead Boston into a deep playoff run.