In the American League MVP race, one undersized dynamo is now being hotly pursued by another undersized dynamo.

The latter is Mookie Betts, who you’ve probably noticed in your news feed recently. It’s well and good he singled and made a goofy catch in the Boston Red Sox‘s 3-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on Monday. But that’s not as cool as what Betts did in Sunday’s 16-2 drubbing of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In that one, Betts went yard not once, not twice, but thrice. As proof, I submit these moving pictures:

That was Betts’ second three-homer game of 2016. Among Red Sox hitters, only he and Ted Williams have trodden that ground. Good company. Betts also became the first Red Sox player to collect three homers and eight RBI in a game since Bill Mueller in 2003. Less good company, but still cool.

“I mean, I was just swinging at good pitches and was finally able to just swing the bat right,” Betts said afterward, via Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “The last couple of days, I hadn’t been swinging it right and hadn’t been swinging at good pitches. I had just been late. So today I came in early and got back in that little groove.”

Betts can be as modest as he wants, but his numbers entitle him to as much arrogance as he wants. Through 114 games, he’s batting .313 with a .914 OPS, 26 home runs and 18 stolen bases. To boot, there’s no ignoring the 23-year-old’s defense in right field. Defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating both place him as an elite defender. He’s right up there with Jason Heyward and Adam Eaton.

In a related story, this is why Googling “Mookie Betts MVP” will return a large number of recent posts.

Betts indeed deserves his place in that conversation. If his surface-level statistics aren’t evidence enough, there’s always the go-to statistic in modern MVP discussions: wins above replacement.

Entering play Monday, and FanGraphs agreed on the American League’s top four players in that department: 

Of course, WAR is merely a guideline for which players should be considered for MVP. If it was as simple as giving the award to the dude with the highest WAR, Mike Trout would be on track for his fifth-straight AL MVP. 

There are other things at work in MVP discussions. The award gravitates toward players with big offensive numbers, especially if they’re in service to winning teams. If said player is the glue that holds said winning team together, even better.

This is why, as R.J. Anderson argued at, Jose Altuve is the man to beat for the AL MVP today. He’s hitting an AL-best (and patently absurd) .362. He also leads in on-base percentage (.427) and hits (167). Further, he has a career-high 19 homers to go with 26 steals on the side. Without all this, a mediocre 61-57 Houston Astros team would be downright bad.

We’re not here to take anything away from Altuve. If the season did end today, his award would be well-earned. Maybe he’s no Mike Trout, but he bears all the usual features of an MVP. More power to him.

But if anyone can loom large enough down the stretch to overtake the 5’6″ Altuve, why not the 5’9″ Betts?

There’s a pretty good case to be made for Betts now, after all. His excellent production has been in service of a 65-52 Red Sox team that, though only a tad better than the Astros, is on track to emerge from a brutal AL East race with a ticket to the postseason. 

And while Betts has been helping the cause all season, he’s now flat-out leading the charge. Not counting Monday, he’s a .374 hitter with a 1.113 OPS and 10 home runs in 35 games since July 1. He’s been as hot as anyone. That includes Altuve, who’s hit .373 with a .991 OPS since July 1.

This is nothing Betts hasn’t done before. It’s reminiscent of last season, when a slow start gave way to a red-hot finish around mid-June. But this time, Betts’ hot hitting comes with a slightly different flavor.

As Brooks Baseball shows, these were his power zones before July:

Betts, a right-handed hitter, was mostly dangerous against middle-in pitches. That’s to be expected. He’s not the kind of hitter who can reach out and poke balls over the fence to right field. His M.O. was to use his lightning-quick wrists to turn on pitches and blast them to left field. If a pitcher kept the ball away, he was generally safe from Betts’ power.

But since July, Betts’ power zones look like this:

Suddenly, that outer part of the plate doesn’t look like much of a safe space. As he demonstrated by pulling one of Zack Greinke’s breaking balls over the Green Monster on Sunday, Betts is suddenly capable of reaching out and punishing pitches away from him. It’s a new trick, and it hasn’t robbed him of his tried-and-true trick of punishing inside pitches.

With this taken care of, you now have to dive pretty deep to find flaws in Betts’ game. Maybe he can’t stay this hot, but him staying some level of hot for the rest of the season is in the cards.

For the Red Sox, that could be the difference between finishing their run to October and falling short. They didn’t need Betts to carry the load in the first half. Literally everyone was hitting then. It’s been a different story in the second half. The Red Sox’s offense has been less dominant, in large part because mainstays like David Ortiz, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have gone cool.

Due to Trout’s general existence and Altuve’s seemingly endless supply of hits, there’s a good chance Betts won’t finish 2016 as the American League’s best player. But if he stays hot and boosts the Red Sox into the postseason, it’ll be hard to argue he’s not the American League’s most valuable player.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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