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Happy New Year to all! The last of 2018 has washed away and we’re officially on to 2019. With the New Year comes a perfect time to dive in to the 2019 Red Sox and the players who comprise the team. Let’s start off the series with reigning league MVP Mookie Betts. Betts had a season to remember last year and should continue his dominant play in 2019.
Betts was the best player in the league last season, posting an absurdly good .346/.438/.640 slash line with an accompanying 185 wRC+. Playing in 136 games, Betts also provided elite baserunning and defense throughout 2018. While a hip injury cost him a week or two midway through the season, Betts stayed healthy for the majority of the year.When looking at the underlying numbers, just about everything Mookie did was sustainable. His .368 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a little high, but everything else he did should carry over into 2019. He put more balls in the air than ever before (44.9%) and had the highest hard contact percentage of his career (44.5%). These are all signs that Mookie is doing the right thing when he makes contact, meaning his success wasn’t a fluke.
In future installments, this section will be about what a player needs to work on to improve from last year’s performance. However, in the case of Mookie Betts, there’s nothing to put here. Betts did literally everything one could ask out of a baseball player, and he did it at the highest level. He was baseball’s best hitter, won a Gold Glove, and won league MVP.
The biggest goal for Betts should be proving that 2018 wasn’t a career year. Betts has been one of the best players in baseball since 2016, but 2018 was easily his best season. While it’s natural to expect some minor regression (nobody can be that good consistently), Betts should remain in the 2019 MVP discussion for the entire season. As of this posting, he has to be considered the favorite.
Steamer Projections currently has Betts projected to finish 2019 with a .302/.385/.535 slash line and a 144 wRC+. This projection would give him the fourth-best wRC+ in the league, behind only Mike Trout, JD Martinez, and Bryce Harper. For those who don’t know, wRC+ is a statistic used to show how much better a hitter is than league average. Someone with a 100 wRC+ would be an average hitter, so Steamer projects Mookie Betts to be 44% better than a league-average batter.
Giving Mookie this projection is no insult, as he’s a significantly better fielder than all three aforementioned players. Because of this, Steamer projects Mookie to have the second-highest WAR in the league (7.2), behind only Mike Trout (9.3).
Call me crazy, but I believe Mookie will exceed these totals. Mookie was a 10-win player last year, and expecting him to drop three points is expecting way too much negative regression. Betts was an eight-win player back in 2016, and expecting him to be worse in 2019 than he was in 2016 seems odd.
His overall numbers could drop due to a natural regression from his .368 BABIP. However, he continues to make better and better contact as his career goes on. At age 26, Betts should continue to improve in this regard, or at least stay at this level. He may not reach 10 wins again (that sort of production is absurd), but he should be a eight- or nine-win player next year.
For the record, it’s looks like our Twitter followers agree with this sentiment.
Working on some 2019 predictions and Steamer Projections has Mookie Betts as the fourth-best hitter of 2019. Is that too high, too low, or just right?
— Red Sox Unfiltered (@bosoxunfiltered) December 28, 2018