Reimer: Mookie Betts has edge over J.D. Martinez in epic MVP race

Alex Reimer
August 11, 2018 - 10:00 am
Mookie Betts grand slam Blue Jays Red Sox

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

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The best race to watch for the rest of the Red Sox season includes two of their own. With 82 wins and a nine-game lead over the Yankees with 45 contests left to play, the AL East is all but officially over. At this point, it’s all about setting up the playoff rotation, and fretting over the bridge to Craig Kimbrel.

As WEEI’s John Tomase put it following the Red Sox’ 19-12 win over the woeful Orioles Friday, it makes you wonder why some teams even bother. Boston exploded for 14 runs in the 6th-8th innings, with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez predictably leading the way. Betts, fresh off hitting for the cycle in Toronto, went 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBI. Martinez went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI, giving him 101 on the season. Right now, Martinez leads the league in home runs and RBI. Betts, however, has a 20-point lead in batting average –– he’s hitting .352, whereas Martinez is at .332.

On a nightly basis, Betts and Martinez are duking it out for MVP honors. This is the most competitive race that will involve the Red Sox until the calendar flips to October. And while Martinez is the biggest difference between last year and this season, Betts is the most valuable player in the league.

Both players have enjoyed their share of big hits, but Betts owns two of the most iconic blasts of this magical Red Sox season. On July 12, Betts swatted a grand slam after a 13-pitch at-bat against J.A. Happ, tripping over himself as he headed towards first base. Two weeks later, Betts blasted a walk-off home run against the Twins at Fenway Park, punctuating the show with an epic bat flip.

Betts narrowly leads Martinez in slugging percentage, besting his teammate by 19 points (.675 to .656). In terms of offensive performance, they’re nearly a wash, with RBI representing the greatest difference between them. Betts has knocked in 62 runners, well off Martinez’s pace. 

Of course, that can be explained by where they hit in the lineup. As we know, leadoff hitters have far fewer RBI opportunities than boppers in the middle of the order.

The crux of the Betts-Martinez debate comes down to which player offers more on defense and the base paths. It isn’t close. Betts is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, leading all right fielders in UZR (8.9). That means he’s saved the Red Sox roughly nine runs with his glove.

Martinez, meanwhile, plays DH 62 percent of the time. His performance in right field was more than 20 points below league average over the previous two seasons. 

Due to the completeness of Betts’ game, he leads all players in WAR (7.7), per Fangraphs. Martinez is at 4.8. That means Betts is worth almost three more wins than Martinez.

This isn’t a knock on Martinez. He’s the best big-money free agent signing the Red Sox have made since Manny Ramirez, and his presence has transformed the lineup. There’s a strong argument to be made that Martinez is the most valuable player on the Red Sox. 

But when it comes to the entire league, Betts is the guy. He’s the more complete player, and for one season, may knock Mike Trout off the mantle as the game’s best. 

Manny and Ortiz may have provided more fireworks. They certainly have more flamboyant personalities. But in terms of impact, it’s hard to beat the Betts-Martinez combo. This is their team, and they’re terrorizing the American League while the Red Sox pad their win total.