Four — count ’em, four! — legitimate MVP candidates are sharing the field this week at Fenway Park, which begs the question: Who among the quartet has the strongest case for hardware?
Surely, Red Sox fans are familiar with the work of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, who have been instrumental in Boston’s remarkable success this season. The Indians, who arrived Monday for a four-game series, have an MVP-caliber duo themselves, though, and that shouldn’t be overlooked as Cleveland continues to solidify itself as a legitimate World Series contender.
While the MVP conversation in Boston understandably centers around Betts and Martinez, the debate in Cleveland involves Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, with Ramirez in particular looking like a real threat to steal the crown from the Red Sox’s top-notch tandem.
Here’s how they all stack up in several notable categories as of Wednesday, per FanGraphs:
.340 AVG, .426 OBP, .645 SLG, 1.071 OPS
27 HRs, 64 RBIs, 101 R, 24 SB, 183 wRC+
53.9 Off, 4.7 Def, 5.5 BsR
.331 AVG, .401 OBP, .658 SLG, 1.059 OPS
38 HRs, 106 RBIs, 94 R, 5 SB, 179 wRC+
46.8 Off, -12.3 Def -2.3 BsR
.296 AVG, .409 OBP, .623 SLG, 1.032 OPS
37 HRs, 91 RBIs, 87 R, 28 SB, 171 wRC+
53.5 Off, 7.6 Def, 7.3 BsR
.289 AVG, .368 OBP, .543 SLG, .911 OPS
29 HRs, 76 RBIs, 103 R, 19 SB, 143 wRC+
30.1 Off, 14.1 Def, 0.4 BsR
First, let’s focus on Betts and Martinez — the two best players on the team with by far the best record in Major League Baseball — to figure out which Red Sox star has the better MVP case.
Martinez has given the Red Sox the middle-of-the-order presence they severely lacked last season without David Ortiz, who retired after the 2016 campaign. His impact has been evident both tangibly and intangibly, with Boston’s offense firing on all cylinders thanks in large to his addition.
But while Martinez has the edge in counting stats — namely home runs and RBIs — and boasts game-changing power that jumps off the screen, it’s important to note that Betts hasn’t had quite as many opportunities to drive in runs, a byproduct of Martinez batting third or fourth as Betts holds down the leadoff spot.
(Martinez has 246 plate appearances with men on base and 148 with runners in scoring position, while Betts has 158 plate appearances with men on base and 91 with runners in scoring position.)
Perhaps, then, we should give more weight to other offensive stats, like average, OPS and wRC+, in which case Betts compares very favorably to Martinez despite the latter’s superior power. And while Martinez’s defense and baserunning really shouldn’t be held against him because of his offensive impact, those areas absolutely should be taken into account when discussing Betts’ contributions.
Betts isn’t just a better defensive player than Martinez, who has served mostly as a designated hitter this season. He’s an elite defender — at an extremely difficult position (right field) at Fenway, no less.
And Betts isn’t just a better baserunner than Martinez. He’s an elite baserunner — factoring in both stolen bases and advanced metrics.
If we can agree Martinez’s numbers at the plate are only marginally better, at best, then Betts’ impact in the field and on the bases should be enough to catapult him to the top of the Red Sox MVP debate.
Now, let’s take things a step further. The Indians’ best MVP candidate is Ramirez, despite Lindor’s terrific production at shortstop. So, how does the Red Sox’s best MVP candidate stack up with him?
Well, Ramirez’s MVP case is very similar to Betts’ in that both players do everything well. Ramirez, like Betts, is an elite hitter, defender and baserunner. He even has an outside chance of putting together the fifth 40-homer, 40-steal season in MLB history, joining Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) as players who’ve accomplished the feat.
Betts has the inside track on the AL batting title along with a slightly better on-base percentage and slugging percentage, but Ramirez’s power numbers are on par with Martinez’s. Plus, Ramirez plays third base, which could sway some voters one way or the other based on whatever positional biases they might have.
If we take into account supporting casts, one could argue Ramirez carries more burden among Indians positional players than Betts does among Red Sox positional players. But one also could argue Cleveland has a slightly better pitching staff than Boston, namely because of its deep rotation, and that it’s therefore less important for the Indians’ offense to lead the charge on a nightly basis.
Ultimately, Boston’s record might be too much to ignore. The Red Sox are 88-39 after Tuesday’s 6-3 loss, which puts them 14 games ahead of the AL Central-leading Indians.
In another season without other viable MVP candidates, Ramirez might be the guy. But right now, Betts is the pick as the best player on the best team.
Stay tuned throughout September.
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