Mookie Betts couldn’t draw up a dream season much more perfect than this: a batting title, a 30/30 campaign, a World Series championship and now the American League MVP award.
The understated Boston Red Sox star hit .346 with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases. He won a Gold Glove in right field, led the majors in slugging percentage and the AL in extra-base hits, tied for the major league lead with 129 runs scored and outpointed the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout and Cleveland Indians’ Jose Ramirez to capture MVP honors.
“Yeah, it’s been a pretty good 2018,” Betts said on MLB Network.
The first MVP from the Red Sox since Dustin Pedroia in 2008, Betts tore out of the gate, a big reason the Red Sox jumped out to a 17-2 start. Through May 26, he was hitting .359 with 17 home runs and slugging .750, a stretch that included two three-homer games.
He then missed two weeks because of an abdominal strain, which puts his season into even more impressive context since he played only 136 games, the fewest for an MVP position player since Josh Hamilton played 133 in 2010.
Top WAR in Red Sox history
Mookie Betts’ 2018 season will go down as one of the greatest in Red Sox history. His 10.9 WAR is the highest for a position player since Barry Bonds had an 11.8 figure in 2002 and ranks tied for second among Red Sox players:
Carl Yastrzemski, 1967: 12.5
Mookie Betts, 2018: 10.9
Ted Williams, 1946: 10.9
Ted Williams, 1941: 10.6
Ted Williams, 1942: 10.6
Carl Yastrzemski, 1968: 10.5
The voting was near unanimous for Betts as he took 28 of the 30 first-place votes and was second on the remaining two ballots.
Several other AL players put up huge seasons, creating one of the deepest fields of MVP candidates ever. Five position players finished with at least 7.9 WAR, the first time that had happened in the AL since 1912. (The National League had six in 2004, five in 1964.)
Trout was one of those five, compiling 10.2 WAR while hitting .312 with 39 home runs and leading the majors with a .460 on-base percentage and 1.088 OPS. If the Angels had made the playoffs, the vote might have been closer, but with the team again finishing under .500, Trout finished second for the fourth time in his career to go with his two MVP awards.
Trout’s run of MVP finishes is historically impressive. His fourth-place finish last year — when he played 114 games — was his worst in his seven seasons. He joins Lou Gehrig (1931-37) and Yogi Berra (1950-56) as the only players with seven consecutive top-five finishes in MVP voting.
Ramirez finished third for the second year in a row. He was toe-to-toe with Betts and Trout through Aug. 14, when the Indians’ second baseman was hitting .305/.414/.640 with 36 home runs and 89 RBIs. But he hit just .166 with three home runs in his final 40 games and finished at 7.9 WAR. He did join Betts in the 30/30 club; they are the first players to reach that milestone since Trout and Ryan Braun in 2012.
J.D. Martinez, Betts’ Boston teammate, finished fourth — including one first-place vote from Dave Campbell of The Associated Press — after hitting .330 with 43 home runs and 130 RBIs and finishing with 6.4 WAR. He was chasing the Triple Crown into early September, before Betts pulled away in the batting race and Khris Davis powered past him in the home run race.
Still, there was a heated MVP debate in Boston all summer about Betts and Martinez, with the belief that Martinez’s presence in the Boston lineup helped make everyone better. Teammate David Price perhaps summed that up best when he said in September that “Mookie is the league’s MVP, but Martinez is Boston’s MVP.”
In the end, however, the voters rewarded Betts’ all-around brilliance. He also finished with a higher OBP and slugging percentage than Martinez, who, it should be noted, benefited from having Betts on base so often in front of him.
If there is any lingering doubt about Betts’ honor, consider that he hit .415/.506/.738 with 22 runs in 17 games against the Yankees. He played his best against the team the Red Sox had to beat for the division title.