The Nationals started at the end of last season
An interesting implication of this: Soto is now reporting a position
This created a dilemma for panelists attending the MLB Network’s “Top 10 Players Right Now” series on Wednesday evening, which aired the final episode. “The Shredder” determined by his cold calculations that Betts is the right outfield player No. 1 for 2021. However, some of the panelists, including Sarah Langs and Mike Petriello from MLB.com, disagreed.
This has been a subject that deserves further debate, although there is clearly no wrong answer. So MLB.com convened a round table of reporters to discuss who should be the top government.
Andrew Simon (@ AndrewSimonMLB, Moderator): Mike and Sarah – You both competed in the Top 10 Right Now series and ultimately selected Soto over Betts as your # 1 rightfielder. Did you agonize over this call? Go back and forth? Or was it clear?
Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello, MLB.com analyst): I feel like I should have tortured myself about it, but … didn’t I? Actually, we should probably start with this: You’re both amazing. I assume they will both be in Cooperstown one day. (Also Ronald Acuña Jr.) I really don’t want any of this to be “I don’t think Betts is great” because my god the man is great. He is clearly superior in defense and in bases. But I can also say “Juan Soto is Ted Williams” with a straight face, so there is this.
Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports, MLB.com reporter): I tortured myself, but more about the idea of putting Betts in second place than who actually was number 1. The moment I thought about it I was pretty sure I was going to make Soto number 1, but over the idea of Mookie Betts # 1 2 was stressful. He’s such a great all around player, both of them are likely future Hall of Famers and if we could have a tie it might be, but I couldn’t get the best batsman into the game – Juan Soto – anywhere but first at his position. I just didn’t want to think that Mookie Betts wasn’t great. He is!
David Adler (@_dadler, MLB.com reporter): If Juan Soto is Ted Williams, Mookie Betts is Willie Mays. Give me Willie Mays Betts.
Simon: David – You didn’t make an official list of the top 10 right outfield players, but if you did would you pick Mookie first? Just call?
Eagle: Not a simple phone call. Because like Mike and Sarah, I think Soto is the best batsman on the planet right now. (I hope Mike Trout will forgive me). But Betts is also one of the best hitters in the world. And he’s the best defensive right field player in the world. And he’s a basic electric runner. He’s a complete gamer in a way that Soto isn’t. I don’t think Soto hits that much better than Betts that Mookie is a much more complete player.
Soto is the best batsman. Betts is the best real outfield player.
Petriello: I like to think of Betts as a man whose numbers don’t capture all of the things he does – like the argument people like to make for Yadier Molina – except that the numbers love him too. And I can’t really argue with most of what David says, unless I don’t think Soto is a good or a good hitter. I think he has a real chance of going down in history as one of the best who ever lived. At that age, he’s already made one of the best starts in the history of the game. You don’t come there by accident.
Simon: Let’s look at what the statistics say. Even if you put aside 2018, when Mookie had its best MVP winning season and Soto didn’t make his Majors debut until May, Betts has had the sweeping edge over the past two years based on FanGraphs’ WAR (though Soto is) the superior hitter thanks to park-adapted wRC +)
Soto: 156 wRC +, 7.3 fWAR
Betts: 138 wRC +, 9.6 fWAR
Along: That’s very fair to the defense, and I definitely disagree. Honestly, when we make these lists (or at least when I do), sometimes the defense has to be discounted (Marcell Ozuna as the left fielder # 4, with Soto slipping off the position, for example). I know when I get close to that, I’m looking at the player – however I look at them – and the position is basically just the context / list they’re on. If it were best “for the right field” or something, I’d probably have to put Betts first. But the offensive gap from Soto to Betts is there and it really stood out.
Eagle: It’s weird because if you told me to pick a batsman to play with the World Series on the line, I’d take Soto. He’s one of the toughest bats I’ve ever seen. Basically, the pitcher never hits him. But if you told me to pick a player to win me over to the World Series, I’d take Betts. Because of how he’s changing the game in every way – even beyond numbers, as Mike said.
Funny too, because both teams have just won the World Series (Soto in 2019, Betts in 20).
Simon: Law. Last year’s postseason was the perfect example. Betts had his moments on the plate, but wasn’t necessarily at the top of the game in that sense. But The stuff he’s made on the bases (on grounders from third place) and out on the field (great catches, including robberies) is something not many other players can do. You can’t make too much of a few games, of course, but that seemed to get the Mookie argument straight to the point. He’s a baseball genius in every way.
Eagle: Yes, they did it their own way – Soto kept beating Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole’s home runs; Betts did this great aggressive baserunning game to score from third place, robbing home runs and hitting a little too.
Along: And that is the performance in the postseason and especially in the World Series that triggered the “Trout vs. Betts” convo.
Petriello: Right, that’s really all a matter of taste. Do you want the very good batsman who is also good at everything? Or do you want the 22-year-old and on the right track to do things with the bat that no one has done before? You really can’t be wrong. I just prefer the guy who just turned 22 and posted a .490 OBP last year. And I know that’s a little example thing, and I don’t really expect him to put up a .490 OBP over a full year … unless maybe I do? Nothing he does would surprise me.
Eagle: If there is one thing that makes me a metaphorical “heart for eyes” emoji, it is Juan Soto’s striking line
Simon: As mentioned, Soto has a wRC + of 156 for the last two seasons. Dampfer projects him with 158 in 2021 and ZiPS with 154, both second in MLB after Trout. Projection systems are, of course, inherently conservative. Do all of these numbers take over?
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Petriello: Great over. Give me a 170.
Eagle: I’ll do that in a second
Along: The ZiPS projection for Soto has its number 1 as Ted Williams, as Mike suggested above. I will gladly take over.
Simon: Both systems, by the way, essentially tied Betts and Soto in WAR (within one or two tenths of a profit). So it’s fair to call this a mistake
Along: This is remarkable to me because it means that Soto’s offense fills the defensive gap between them as all of the factors go into WAR.
Eagle: What I find interesting, however, is how does Soto translate into the correct field? Will he score in WAR because his defense isn’t holding up well there? Reading the ball in the left field is not the same as reading the right field. Soto doesn’t seem like a great defensive outfielder – I know his numbers were good in 2019 and bad in 2020, but he’s definitely not a highlight like Mookie. And you need a better arm in the right. Mookie definitely has the bigger arm.
I know that when making these lists you have to guess, but the question is still who the best real outfield player is and I have a lot fewer questions about one of those real outfielders.
Petriello: However, he has a fair amount of right-field experience with minors. Like in 2018 when he showed up, he mostly played directly with the Minors. I think he’s a better defender than 2020, although it’s clearly not at Mookie’s level there.
Along: Since his first off-season in the big league (’18 to ’19), he has also spoken out in favor of wanting to work on his defense. If anything, I would imagine there would be some level of comfort in getting back to your position until he got to the Nats and Bryce Harper filled the position.
But yeah, definitely not in Mookie’s defensive season.
Simon: That’s an interesting dynamic for me. I know we talked about the Ted Williams competition, but the youngest player Soto really reminds me of is a young Albert Pujols, with the way he absolutely controls bats and hits every playing field in every location
One thing about Pujols, however, is that he was a surprisingly good base runner and defensive player for the first half of his career. And versatile. It will be fun to see if Soto gets rounder over the next few years
Petriello: I know we’re only talking about 2021 here, but I also consider Soto’s skills to be the guy who should age extremely gracefully. I mean, he’s so young that “an aging Soto” is like 2034, but other than serious injuries, I see no reason why he isn’t doing what he just did for the next decade and a half.
Eagle: He is an absolute hit. Only elite in every aspect of hitting. He will forever be a great batsman.
Along: And he’s been so good since he arrived. I remember analysts raving about his record discipline in his third week with the majors. The starting point was already so high in terms of its ability.
Eagle: He also does the Soto Shuffle. Bonus points for record discipline + loot.
Petriello: I think the only way I can say is this: Mookie Betts is so amazing, amazing, amazingly good that it’s almost impossible to think about how good it would have to be to be above him. And yet: Juan Soto.
Along: I love that phrase, Mike, because that’s what I’m talking about here. These players are just both like that incredible and the fact that we can both see at the same time is just amazing – for us, for the sport, for everyone.
Eagle: Or could you say how incredibly good does it have to be to be a better baseball player than the best batsman in the world? And yet: Mookie Betts.
Petriello: Always the opponent, David.