First off, I suppose it would be impolite to not mention that the MLB Draft is currently underway. With its 40 rounds and over 1,200 players, it will eventually end (I suppose). If making normal predictions in baseball is hard, trying to figure out what's going to happen with a bunch of high school and college players is a fool's errand. Even the best and brightest baseball minds among us are frequently and terribly wrong.
So, yeah, I'm not doing anything here except for saying that the draft is, in fact, actually happening right now. Some of these players will play in the majors at some point, but most will not, and the latter category will receive relative pittances in exchange for chasing a dream and filling in as teammates of and opposition for the chosen few who do eventually make it to a payday. I (clearly) have opinions on the labor issues involved here, but that is another topic for another day. Instead, let us move on to something more relevant to the 2018 season: the ridiculous season that the Red Sox' Mookie Betts has been enjoying.
If it seems a bit rude to be writing this article while Betts is currently on the DL with a left abdominal strain, I apologize. Now that Betts is swinging off a tee and possibly returning in a couple of days, it seems as good a time as any.
Boston currently has the best record in baseball (42-19, .689 W%). They've got the second biggest run differential (96), behind only the Astros (116), and that's clearly due to the fact that the Astros' rotation is really just a bunch of cyborgs controlled by Skynet. The Red Sox are scoring 5.34 runs per game while only allowing 3.77 and, when you do that sort of thing, good tidings will follow. But we're here today to talk about the Red Sox biggest contributor, rather than the team as a whole.
In terms of contributing to the Red Sox' record, Betts has played in nine less games than fWAR runner-up Andrew Benintendi (2.3) and has nearly twice the fWAR currency (4.2) to show for it (and he's well ahead of Chris Sale's 2.2, if including pitchers is your thing). Whether your preferred flavor of WAR tastes like Fangraphs or Baseball Reference, Betts is near the top of the overall leaderboard in third place behind only Mike Trout and Jose Ramirez. Considering that Betts has played in ten less games than Ramirez, and 14 less than Trout, just how good Betts has been should be even more obvious. If we divvy up the WAR on a by-PA-basis, Betts has actually been the best player in MLB this season.
He currently leads MLB BA (.359), SLG (.750), OPS (1.187), OPS+ (208), wRC+ (212) and wOBA (.488), He would currently be in possession of the triple crown, were in not for coming in second in OBP behind Trout. Betts also leads MLB in runs (52), which might be (appropriately) frowned on by the those of the sabermetric persuasion, but is still pretty impressive when you consider the lesser number of PAs he's had compared to the other folks in the mix at the top of the leaderboard.
While we're on the subject of situational hitting, this is where things get even crazier. When you take a look at how Betts has hit in certain counts, you'll see that Betts is hitting .351/.400/.838 in an 0-2 count. That slashline would slot in nicely among the best seasons of all time, and he's doing it in the worst possible count. It may only be 40 ABs, but it's still absolutely incredible.
So what to make of Betts' rather historic start to 2018? While his .340 BABIP is a bit high, it's not that high, at least when you consider that he ran a .310 BABIP in 2015 and a .322 in 2016, his first two full seasons. While his last season (.268 BABIP) might have been "disappointing," he still put up 5.4 fWAR and was the most valuable player in Boston. But the BABIP isn't the only thing going on here.
Betts is currently walking (11.3%) as much as he strikes out (11.7%) and he did that last year, too (10.8 BB% vs. 11.1 K%). The only player pulling the ball more than Betts (52.8%) is Ramirez (55.3%), and he's doing that while he's avoiding ground balls (31.7 GB%) and absolutely launching balls (46.0% hard-hit rate). If you combine a lack of strikeouts and groundouts with a bunch of hard-hit, pulled balls, you're going to end up with especially positive stats in MLB's current offensive environment, and that's exactly what we've been witnessing so far this season.
Betts has been one of the best baserunners in baseball over the last two-plus seasons, behind only Billy Hamilton. He's been one of the best defenders in baseball over the same span (while eclipsing those ahead of him in terms of hitting prowess). This season, however, he's also become the best hitter in baseball, and it certainly merits a bit of appreciation, even if we anxiously await his return to Boston's lineup.
To be fair, the Red Sox have been just fine without Betts. They've won five of their last seven since Betts has been sidelined, with the two losses coming in a split-series against the Astros and their (mostly) unstoppable rotation. This writer's fingers are most assuredly crossed at the moment for a prompt and healthy return from Betts. He's been putting up numbers that could make the "best player in baseball" conversation more interesting, and a little competition is good for the sport, or so I hear.