Carleton: Mookie Betts and the god of WAR

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on May 17, 2018:

Has Mookie Betts surpassed Mike Trout as the Best Player in Baseball™? A week or so ago, this was the question du jour, at least among those folks who were sympathetic to Betts’ case (which is to say Red Sox fans). The response from the acronymati was a fairly quick dismissal of Betts’ case. Sure, Mookie is a talented lad, and perhaps there’s no shame in coming in behind a generational talent like Trout, but Betts would have to settle for (at best) a second-place trophy?

Why? Because the God of WAR said so. The general form of the #TeamTrout counter-argument was that someone got out the WAR chart from the past few years, circled a few numbers, and called it a day. Now, before we worship and bow down at the altar of WAR, I think it’s worth asking whether WAR might be underselling Betts a little bit. And the reason why comes down to one sentence: Mookie Betts is a reasonably competent center fielder. He’s a reasonably competent center fielder who has been playing right field for the Red Sox. And that has consequences WAR doesn’t quite know how to handle.

We know the Red Sox believe Betts is a competent center fielder, because in 2014 and 2015 they played him there on a regular basis, and when regular center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went on the shelf, the Red Sox have moved Mookie back to the middle. But in 2016 and 2017, the Red Sox, having JBJ on the roster, had the luxury of moving Betts to right field, and he played there exclusively. And so, for the purposes of WAR, Betts became a right fielder and was compared to other right fielders.

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Originally published: May 17, 2018. Last Updated: May 17, 2018.