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Is Mookie Betts the best player in baseball?


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I can already hear the groans and angst, but hear me out - it is at least worth considering. Inspired by Mookie's remarkable play tonight, I thought I'd investigate more closely.

Consider Betts and Trout's fWAR, in ranges from 2015 (Mookie's first full season) through 2020:

2015-20: Trout 46.8, Betts 38.4 +8.4 Trout, or +1.4 per season

2016-20: Trout 37.5, Betts 33.6 +3.9 Trout, or +0.8 per season

2017-20: Trout 27.8, Betts 25.4 +2.4 Trout, or +0.6 per season

2018-20: Trout 21.0, Betts 20.0 +1.0 Trout, or +0.3 per season

2019-20: Trout 11.2, Betts 9.6 +1.6 Trout, or +0.8 per season

2020: Betts 3.0, Trout 2.6 +0.4 Betts

The first thing to note is that the gap between them narrowed, with Trout only having a slight edge over the last three seasons. But then it widened again as Betts dropped a bit in 2019.

The Verdict: Trout is still the best player in baseball, although it is close - and seemingly getting closer. Even though Betts was slightly better in 2020, I don't think we can call him better than Trout...yet. The season was only 60 games, after all. But the gap has narrowed to the point that going forward, it might be very close over the next year or two.

Addendum: In every span except for 2019-20 and 2020, Trout and Betts were 1-2. In 2019-20 it is Trout and Rendon, with Betts 3rd. And of course in 2020, Betts was 3rd and Trout 8th.

I would also mention that, going forward, Trout and Betts will have competition from players like Bellinger, Yelich, Tatis, Acuna and Soto. 

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Ugh we need to get to the damn playoffs

The long answer is no.

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1 minute ago, Vlad27Trout27 said:

I would say it's close, but the edge goes to Trout. If this teams start winning, I would say that debates would also end. Just the Fact that we haven't been a good team, is the reason why these debates keep on popping up.

wrong

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14 minutes ago, JustATroutFan said:

Wait, I thought one year wonder Bellinger was better than Trout. My bad, fluke 2019 season. 2020, 60-game season. Throw the numbers out the window! Be quiet, @Angelsjunky! Trying to be nice right there. 

Well, to take this joking post somewhat seriously, one of the defining qualities of Trout that makes him so great is that while in some years a player rises and equals or surpasses him, he is consistently the bar against which all others are measured. Aside from this year and 2017, when he played only 114 games, he has finished 1st or 2nd in WAR in every year of his career: 2012-16, 2018-19. 

Betts stands apart from the pack in that he has slowly--but consistently--narrowed the gap. If that gap continues narrowing, he'll surpass Trout. Betts will probably have to be better than Trout for two years in a row for him to be the clear #1, and by that time we may be talking about others being in the mix.

 

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10 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

Well, to take this joking post somewhat seriously, one of the defining qualities of Trout that makes him so great is that while in some years a player rises and equals or surpasses him, he is consistently the bar against which all others are measured. Aside from this year and 2017, when he played only 114 games, he has finished 1st or 2nd in WAR in every year of his career: 2012-16, 2018-19. 

Betts stands apart from the pack in that he has slowly--but consistently--narrowed the gap. If that gap continues narrowing, he'll surpass Trout. Betts will probably have to be better than Trout for two years in a row for him to be the clear #1, and by that time we may be talking about others being in the mix.

 

You are a smart guy who knows baseball, @Angelsjunky but this is still not even a debate. Trout is, by far, the best player in all of the Major Leagues right now. He had to deal with having a child this season so his mind wasn't always into his job. Betts' second best OPS+ in a season is 135. That's not elite. Slash line in 2019, the season where he had a 135 OPS+, were inflated in the juiced baseball season. Betts has had one great season as a hitter, which came in 2018. 2018 was the same season in which the Red Sox had Cora running the show. And I don't like to hate on Cora because the guy is a smart baseball man but he's got some cheating allegations against him. So who knows how much did Betts really benefited from having Cora as his manager in 2018. 

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4 minutes ago, Chuckster70 said:

 

Joe Giglio sounds like an idiot. But certainly Trout's career numbers are significantly better, but my original post is about who is the best player right now and in the recent past. That's why I looked at various spans. If we ignore 2020, Trout is still the best player by any measure, and surpasses Betts or any other player in any span of multiple years, from 2012-20. But that could change, depending upon how the two perform in 2021-22. 

When all is said and done, both will be surefire Hall of Famers - Trout is already in, no matter what happens going forward, and Betts will probably a virtual lock once he plays a single game in 2023, his tenth season, when he'll be around 60 WAR, plus or minus a few. I think reasonable final career over/under WARs would be something like 120 for Trout, 80 for Betts. That would make Trout a top 10 player of all time, and Betts in the top 40. Meaning, I don't see a realistic scenario where Betts has a better career. But there might be a span of a few years in which Betts was considered the better player, or at least coeval. But we'll know more in a year or two.

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1 minute ago, JustATroutFan said:

You are a smart guy who knows baseball, @Angelsjunky but this is still not even a debate. Trout is, by far, the best player in all of the Major Leagues right now. He had to deal with having a child this season so his mind wasn't always into his job. Betts' second best OPS+ in a season is 135. That's not elite. Slash line in 2019, the season where he had a 135 OPS+, were inflated in the juiced baseball season. Betts has had one great season as a hitter, which came in 2018. 2018 was the same season in which the Red Sox had Cora running the show. And I don't like to hate on Cora because the guy is a smart baseball man but he's got some cheating allegations against him. So who knows how much did Betts really benefited from having Cora as his manager in 2018. 

So you're saying that the numbers cited in my original post are incorrect?

And note also that I'm saying PLAYER, not HITTER. Trout is a much better hitter, but Betts' superior defense closes the gap a bit. Thus the diminishing WAR gap. 

And of course I did say in the OP that Trout is still the best player in baseball. He'll probably continue to be the best player in baseball through at least next year. But the gap is closing, and it may be more debatable a year from now.

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2 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

So you're saying that the numbers cited in my original post are incorrect?

And note also that I'm saying PLAYER, not HITTER. Trout is a much better hitter, but Betts' superior defense closes the gap a bit. Thus the diminishing WAR gap. 

And of course I did say in the OP that Trout is still the best player in baseball. He'll probably continue to be the best player in baseball through at least next year. But the gap is closing, and it may be more debatable a year from now.

Defensive WAR is a crappy stat. It just nit picks when a player makes a bad defensive play and really penalizes a defender for one bad play. There's no way that Trout cost his team like 6 runs on defense this season. 

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11 minutes ago, JustATroutFan said:

Defensive WAR is a crappy stat. It just nit picks when a player makes a bad defensive play and really penalizes a defender for one bad play. There's no way that Trout cost his team like 6 runs on defense this season. 

Yet, still...Betts is a better defender by the eye-ball test and by just about any statistical measure.

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4 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

Yet, still...Betts is a better defender by the eye-ball test and by just about any statistical measure.

I couldn't care less who is the better defender between the two. I would rather be an elite hitter who plays very good defense than be a very good hitter who plays elite defense. There's never been anyone who has been an elite defender with no bat who has gotten a big deal. But there's been elite hitters who has no defense that has received big deals.  

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