Best Betts: Analyzing the 2018 AL MVP with STATS Advanced Metrics

By: Michael Rankin | November 15, 2018

Mookie Betts was the best player in Major League Baseball in 2018. The 26-year-old outfielder was an All-Star and earned a Gold Glove for the third-consecutive season, while notching his second Silver Slugger in three years.

In short: It’s no surprise Betts won the AL MVP.

Betts’ production aided the Boston Red Sox to a franchise-best 108 wins and the organization’s fourth World Series championship in 15 seasons. Using STATS’ unique advanced metrics, a deeper look into Betts’ 2018 sheds light on the depths of his value.

First, let’s begin with Betts’ standard metrics.

Despite missing 26 games, Betts compiled 180 hits, good for fifth in the AL. He led all of MLB in batting average (.346), slugging percentage (.640) and runs scored (129). His .438 on-base percentage ranked second behind Mike Trout. Betts also managed multi-hit performances in 40 percent of the games he played.

Members of the BBWAA who casted their MVP vote for Betts are justified simply by referencing the numbers above. However, as advanced analytics continue to shape the modern game, STATS’ analysis evolves as well. We noted toward the end of the regular season why Betts was heading for this award through a new metric called Count-Adjusted OPS. This time, using metrics such as Contact+, Discipline+, BIP+, RVAA, Defense and STATS WAR (sWAR), we’ll show why Betts’ 2018 stands alone as the most productive among qualifiers.

STATS’ focus on Discipline+, Contact+ and Ball in Play Quality (BIP+) narrows down a batter’s ability to successfully swing at the correct pitches, make contact on those swings and produce a high quality of contact. Betts’ 106 Contact+ rating means he made six percent more contact than the average hitter, which ranked him in the top 25 percent of players with a minimum of 500 plate appearances.

Betts’ 118 Discipline+ rating ranked him in the top-15 among qualifiers of the category, meaning he was one of the best at laying off pitches outside the strike zone, while also making efficient contact on swings taken. On top of Betts’ above-average contact and advanced discipline, the AL MVP produced the fifth-best BIP+, or quality of ball in play, at 60 percent better than average.

Those numbers gave the slender right fielder some impressive power numbers (32 home runs, 47 doubles) along with 81 walks compared to 91 strikeouts.

To put Betts’ success at the plate in perspective: the National League’s Silver Slugger in right field, Nick Markakis, managed a 105 Discipline+. Markakis made 10 percent more contact than the average hitter, which was four percent better than Betts. However, Atlanta’s corner outfielder chased more pitches out of the strike zone, while also swinging and missing at a greater rate, ranking him 56th in Discipline+.

STATS generated heat map: Mookie Betts                                                         STATS generated heat map: Nick Markakis

Taking it a step further, STATS’ Run Value Above Average metric, or RVAA, combines Contact+, Discipline+ and BIP+ to create an alternative look at the most productive offensive players in baseball. RVAA is calculated on a pitch-by-pitch basis and ultimately becomes cumulative.

With 0 representing the average player, Betts’ RVAA stood at a league-best 72.3, which was roughly 25 percent better than the next player in that category, Trout.

STATS has also created the ability to study the value of RVAA per plate appearance. This is known as RVAA+. RVAA+, in a broad sense, is a look at the value a hitter brings per plate appearance in terms of contact, discipline and ball-in-play quality. RVAA+ determined Betts was the most productive hitter per at-bat in MLB.

With 100 representing league-average RVAA+, the AL MVP totaled a league-best 198. Trout was second in the category, scoring a 182 RVAA+.

Betts passed the eye test in 2018 as the best player in the game, and the deep data that STATS collects was able to justify Betts’ title as MVP.

And we haven’t even mentioned his defensive value.

Using a combination of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) from Fangraphs, STATS’ defensive metric assigns a value to all defenders, adjusted by position, with 0 representing the average. Betts’ 15.4 rating ranked him as the best right fielder in baseball, and the third-best defensive outfielder overall.

All of that data is considered in sWAR, STATS’ Wins Above Replacement metric. Based on the value of RVAA and Defense, Betts earned an sWAR of 11.0, which was 2.5 points better than runner-up Trout.

Batter PA RVAA xRVAA+ Contact+ Discipline+ BIP+ DEF sWAR
Mookie Betts 612 72.3 198 106 118 160 15.4 11.0
Mike Trout 585 58.1 182 104 124 166 6.3 8.5
Francisco Lindor 739 31.2 135 107 96 118 18.5 7.5
Anthony Rendon 594 47.6 166 108 119 137 1.4 7.0
Matt Carpenter 666 46.0 157 97 110 150 -2.2 6.7

(Betts’ data compared to subsequent sWAR leaders, provided by STATS LLC)

Betts’ speed doesn’t hurt either, as his 30 stolen bases and 129 runs scored suggests he understands how to run the bases as well.

This was a special season for the Red Sox right fielder, who is one of only a few true five-tool players in MLB. Betts is the best player in the game today. STATS data has been proving this all season, and now the BBWAA is on board, too.