Why Mookie Betts Should Run Away With the NL MVP

Mookie Betts is off to an astounding start this season. He's on his way to an MVP and we break down why the award is practically already his.

Mookie Betts hitter power rankings
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers bats in the fifth inning during the game between the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Monday, April 15, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The sporting world loves to make grand proclamations about the entirety of the 2024 season after watching a little more than 10% of the games that will transpire this season.

Though there’s no shortage of hot takes from fans and even some journalists, one thing looks more certain than any other: Mookie Betts should easily win the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

With 141 games remaining on the schedule for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a multitude of things can alter such an outcome coming to fruition. But Betts is at a point already where he’ll control his own destiny for securing the honors.

Were he to take home the NL MVP Award in 2024, he’d become only the second player in history after Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to win an MVP in both leagues.

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Here are three areas that make it all the more convincing why Betts is the man to beat.

Mr. Natural

Betts is gifted in every activity he’s ever attempted. From bowling a perfect game in sanctioned events to dunking a basketball at 5-foot-9, there’s a long list of ungodly gifts and abilities he possesses. That list was legendary even before he turned 18.

The 31-year-old is off to the best start of any hitter through the first three weeks of the season. Both versions of WAR have Betts more than a half-a-win over the next best player in the Senior Circuit. In many cases, he’s more than doubled the value of other top 10 players. 

Betts leads his league with a 1.137 OPS, a figure that bests his career-high season of 1.078 with Boston in 2018. That year he was named American League MVP.

His three stolen bases so far put him on pace for 23, a total that would top every year since ‘18 when he swiped 30. His walk-rate is up and strikeouts are down. And his Baseball Savant page is absolutely pegged with dark red bars up to 99th percentile in many batting categories, eerily reminiscent of his last MVP campaign.

The numbers jump off the page in every context. He’s batting .500 (5-for-10) with two outs and runners in scoring position. His five-hit performance on Tuesday night was the first in the league this season. Six home runs, including homers in four-straight (longest of his career), out of the leadoff spot puts him in a tie for second-most in the entire NL. 

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Were he to play every game and continue his torrid start throughout all 162 games, his 2.1 bWAR would translate to a 16.2 bWAR campaign, highest in the history of the sport. (The FanGraphs version would have him in a virtual tie with Babe Ruth’s 14.7 in 1923.)

We also know he posts every season. Since he became a regular in 2015, his 1,234 games played is 12th-most in MLB. Betts has never played a full 162-game season. He won’t need to either. But the more he’s on the field and in the lineup, the further he’ll be able to run away with the top honors.

The Competition

In the AL, there’s no less than 11 players valued at 1.0 fWAR. In the NL, only four players are off to such an outstanding start, further underlining Betts’ immense lead at this point in the season. 

The best challenge may come from his teammate Shohei Ohtani. While the Japanese phenom will not benefit from the value he brings as a pitcher due to offseason elbow surgery, Ohtani will also suffer as a designated hitter. There has been some discussion about him playing the outfield later in the season — something that is less likely to happen if Betts is permanently stationed in right field — but such flexibility will be quite minimal. The history of DH-only types suggests Ohtani will have to wait until 2024 to truly be atop the MVP conversation again.

Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. has been good, but not otherworldly. Bryce Harper, winner in 2021, hasn’t hit his stride either. Many of the hitters on hot starts — Arizona’s Ketel Marte, Atlanta’s Orlando Arcía and Marcell Ozuna, Cincinnati’s Spencer Steer and Elly De La Cruz — have never shown to be world-beaters for a full season and will need nothing short of a first-place finish in their division to get 1st-Place Vote consideration.

Betts doesn’t have to worry about overcoming a losing team, something that will impact several serious candidates. We haven’t witnessed an NL MVP from a losing team since Giancarlo Stanton with the Miami Marlins in 2017. It was 20 years before that when Andre Dawson won for the 76-win Chicago Cubs. (Oddly enough, it’s happened four times in the American League since 2016 with a player from the Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout in 2016 and 2019 and Ohtani in 2021 and 2023.)

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Two candidates who could surprise should everything continue to go their way are Fernando Tatis Jr. and William Contreras. If Tatis can continue to eclipse Manny Machado in San Diego and lead the Padres back to the postseason, it will be interesting to see how voters will scrutinize his candidacy following the year-long suspension in 2022 for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

For Contreras, he’s been tremendous with the bat in addition to receiving a pitching staff that is without Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff. Milwaukee also lost manager Craig Counsell following postseason appearances in five of six seasons. Should the Brewers win the NL Central with Contreras as the face of their success, he could be the first catcher to garner such MVP attention since Buster Posey of the Giants won in 2012.

Vida Blue won both the Cy Young Award and MVP in 1971 and since then we’ve seen only six pitchers in the last 52 years take home the circular plaque. The rash of elbow injuries to notable arms like Spencer Strider and Eury Pérez actually increases the odds of some hurler running away with the pitching prize and getting more MVP consideration because of that. However, the odds are still long on such an occurrence.

Pre-Destined Details

What elevates Betts in the conversation about an award containing the word “valuable” has been his ability to play a premium defensive position like shortstop — mostly full-time this season — despite not having done so since high school.

For an outfielder with six Gold Glove Awards to move onto the dirt shows a high level of commitment to his team, especially given his stature as an 11-year big leaguer who is set to make about $424.5 million over the course of his career. Not every player in his Cooperstown-bound cleats would make such a radical change. 

So far, the defensive metrics have been relatively favorable. Even if they end up suggesting he is below-average at shortstop, that will still be considered incredibly beneficial for a team that could finish with the best regular season record. 

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To take over at shortstop, he both fills a massive void for a club that hasn’t found a feasible option at the position since Corey Seager and Trea Turner left in free agency and also creates room in the outfield for another potent bat in the lineup. To receive such noteworthy notice of this move from second base to shortstop soon after spring training begins only adds to the selflessness and athleticism with which Betts possesses.

His reward: Ohtani hits behind him in the lineup.

In some instances, one player’s MVP résumé will take a hit when another credible option is also with their club. But time and time again, elite seasons have been rewarded by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with the top honors despite the presence of a talented teammate.

Acuña finished first in 2023 even after Matt Olson slugged 54 home runs and finished fourth. The 2022 voting was even more indicative as St. Louis Cardinals’ perennial All-Star Nolan Arenado placed third while teammate Paul Goldschmidt won the award. 

Were Betts named NL MVP, he’d become the sixth player to win multiple MVP Awards with more than one franchise, joining the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Barry Bonds, Álex Rodríguez and Bryce Harper.

It remains to be seen if L.A. has the team of destiny in 2024. If they do, it’ll start with Betts being destined to take home NL MVP after his incredible start.

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