After winning both the National League (NL) Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger Award for his play in 2020, Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts is a finalist for the NL Most Valuable Player award (MVP).
Let’s take a look at Betts' case for being named NL MVP.
In 2020, Betts' 3.0 wins above replacement (WAR) ranked second in the NL. WAR is a statistic that measures how many wins a player was worth compared to a theoretical replacement-level player.
Additionally, Betts added significant value to the Dodgers when it mattered most, his 2.46 win probability added (WPA) ranking third in the NL. Since WPA credits a player based on how much their play affects the team’s odds of winning and is cumulative over the course of a season, it’s clear that Betts' play increased the Dodgers' odds of winning.
Plus, Betts was clutch in key run-scoring opportunities. He posted a 237 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and a 295 wRC+ with runners in scoring position and with two outs and runners on base, respectively. Both ranked second among all players with at least 30 plate appearances in such situations.
wRC+ captures a hitter’s overall contribution compared to a league average of 100 across all situations, so Betts performed 137% above league average with runners in scoring position and 195% above league average with two outs and runners on base.
In the postseason, Betts showed his value in crucial situations, making elite defensive plays and key baserunning decisions to help the Dodgers win the World Series. Though postseason play is not factored into the MVP discussion, his performance in the playoffs show why he’s considered among the game’s elite.
Betts is one of the few players who excels in all five skills (known as “tools”) that are important in baseball: hitting, power, running, fielding and throwing. With his skillset, he has the unique ability to impact every facet of the game.
On offense, Betts shows a remarkable combination of hitting ability and power. In 2020, his 87.8% contact rate and 95.6% in-zone contact rate both ranked first among NL qualified hitters.
He was also tied for third in the NL with 16 home runs, showing his ability to not only make contact at a high percentage, but also to hit powerfully.
Betts showed off his contact-power combination on August 14, when he hit three home runs against the San Diego Padres. That marked the sixth three-homer game of his career, tying him with former outfielder Sammy Sosa and former first baseman Johnny Mize for the most three-homer games in baseball history.
Not only was Betts an asset in the batter’s box, but he also aided the Dodgers' offense on the basepaths. He ranked in the 87th percentile in sprint speed, and his average sprint speed of 28.3 feet per second was his highest since 2015. In 2020, Betts ranked fourth in the NL with 3.3 baserunning runs (BsR), which indicates a player’s overall value on the basepaths compared to a league average of zero.
In particular, Betts ranked fourth in the NL in both ultimate base runs (UBR) and weighted stolen base runs (wSB), both of which are used to calculate BsR. UBR credits players for the run expectancy of advancing an extra base compared to the league average frequency of a runner taking that base in the same situation, while wSB estimates the number of runs a player contributes to his team above or below average based on the ratio of successful and failed steal attempts.
Betts' speed not only helped him on the basepaths, but it also aided him on defense. In 2020, he ranked second in the NL with 11 defensive runs saved (DRS) and was tied for fourth among all outfielders with six outs above average (OAA). DRS measures a player’s defensive contributions in terms of runs, where ten runs is approximately equivalent to one win, while OAA measures how many outs a player saved based on a batted ball’s catch probability.
Betts was particularly effective on plays to his right, closing the right-center field gap with his speed like he did here. Even when Betts took an inefficient route to the ball, his athleticism often allowed him to recover in time to make the out. For example, on this play Betts recovered from a poor jump on a hard hit line drive, leaping high in the air to still make the out.
Betts also made an impact with his throwing arm. In 2020, he ranked eighth among NL outfielders in outfield arm runs (ARM), which estimates the number of runs an outfielder saves with his arm by preventing runners from advancing. Betts can make jaw-dropping plays with his arm like he did here, throwing the ball 305 feet from the right field corner to third base on the fly.
In 2020, Betts became the Dodgers' primary leadoff hitter where he quickly emerged as the team’s catalyst. Though hardly quantifiable, there is little doubt that Betts' charismatic personality and energy helped fuel the Dodgers' potent offense.
“He’s kind of the straw that stirs us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Betts following Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. “You can just see when Mookie gets on base our team just kind of follows.”
Not only is Betts a dynamic force on offense, but the energy he provides on defense can create momentum for the Dodgers.
“It’s not always on the offensive side that you get the spark. A big play like that in a big moment changes everything for you,” Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager said in reference to one of Betts' catches. “You go into the dugout with some energy, you scratch some runs and the whole thing changes.”
Betts' ability to combine energy, poise and leadership makes him uniquely valuable to the Dodgers. The radiant joy and charisma that he exhibits on the field are matched by his communication skills that bring the team together.
“Mookie is about people,”Roberts said after winning the World Series. “He’s about talking to people, his teammates, the coaches, bringing everybody together…Mookie is a superstar player who’s present in every single conversation. That says a lot about his character.”
Though character will likely not factor into the MVP discussion, Betts' intangible qualities doubtlessly benefitted the Dodgers in 2020.
The MVP winners will be announced Thursday, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m.