The Los Angeles Dodgers have provided a resounding answer to those who wondered what Major League Baseball contracts might look like under the new normal.
Desperate to win their first World Series title in 32 years after coming up short in seven straight postseasons, one of the majors’ wealthiest clubs operated as if it was business as usual when it signed Mookie Betts to a 12-year, $365 million contract last week.
The Dodgers had made a bold move in February by acquiring the four-time All-Star and 2018 American League MVP, who was entering the final year of his contract after failing to reach an agreement with the Boston Red Sox on an extension.
Betts’ massive long-term deal surpasses the value of Bryce Harper’s $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million megadeal with the New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole’s $324 million agreement with the Yanks and Manny Machado’s $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres. Only Mike Trout’s $426 million extension with the Los Angeles Angels is more lucrative among the most valuable contracts in baseball history.
But is Betts worth it? From the Dodgers’ perspective, he’ll be worth every penny if he helps lead the franchise to its first championship since 1988. From a data perspective, there’s likely no one in baseball better positioned to do so other than Trout.
In many ways, Los Angeles’ acquisition of Betts in the offseason was historic. The 27-year-old outfielder was the first position player to be traded after posting a Stats Perform WAR over 5 in four straight seasons with the same team since Ken Griffey Jr. was dealt from the Seattle Mariners to the Cincinnati Reds in February of 2000.
|Player||Years||WAR Year 1||WAR Year 2||WAR Year 3||WAR Year 4||New Team|
|Eddie Collins, Phi||1911-14||6.7||7.7||7.9||8.5||White Sox|
|Tris Speaker, Bos||1912-15||7.6||6.4||7.9||5.7||Indians|
|Jimmie Foxx, Phi||1932-35||9.3||9.4||7.6||7.9||Red Sox|
|Rickey Henderson, Oak||1981-84||6.6||6.0||7.2||6.4||Yankees|
|Tonny Phillips, Det||1991-94||5.6||5.3||5.1||5.4||Angels|
|Kenny Lofton, Cle||1993-96||8.0||8.1||5.3||6.2||Braves|
|Ken Griffey Jr. Sea||1996-99||7.3||7.4||6.5||5.6||Reds|
|Mookie Betts, Bos||2016-19||7.4||5.5||9.5||6.6||Dodgers|
He was also one of only four position players to be moved in the offseason despite having accumulated a Stats Perform WAR greater than 28 over the previous four seasons.
He joins some elite company in that respect, with Eddie Collins, Jimmie Foxx and Alex Rodriguez being the others. Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols left their teams via free agency.
|Player||Years||WAR Y1||WAR Y2||WAR Y3||WAR Y4||Total WAR||Y5 Age, Team|
|Eddie Collins, Phi||1911-14||6.7||7.7||7.9||8.5||30.8||28, White Sox|
|Jimmie Foxx, Phi||1932-35||9.3||9.4||7.6||7.9||34.2||28, Red Sox|
|Alex Rodriguez, Sea-Tex||2000-03||9.6||8.9||9.2||7.1||34.9||28, Yankees|
|Mookie Betts, Bos||2016-19||7.4||5.5||9.5||6.6||29.0||28, Dodgers|
Betts is a multi-tool star, having won three Silver Slugger Awards, four Gold Glove Awards and joining the 30-home run, 30-stolen bases club while also winning the AL batting title in 2018. The data also reveals that the right fielder was almost just as good last season as he was during that 2018 AL MVP campaign.
In 2019, Betts hit .295 with 29 home runs and 80 RBIs and finished in the 94th percentile among all batters who faced at least 2,000 pitches with a 157 Raw Value+ rating. He had posted only a slightly better 160 Raw Value+ rating while hitting .346 with 32 homers and 80 RBIs to help the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series.
Los Angeles looks like it has an offense to be reckoned with for at least the next few years with two of the game’s biggest stars locked up for the near future. In fact, the crosstown-rival Angels are the only other club with two players in the lineup who finished in the top 10 in RV+ in 2019 (see chart below).
Cody Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP, finished with the fourth-highest RV+ overall after hitting .305 with a career-high 47 home runs and 115 RBIs. He won a Gold Glove in the outfield while making a mere $605,000. With only two year-plus of service time, Bellinger is eligible for arbitration three more times and can’t become a free agent until after the 2023 season.
However, having a pair of recent MVPs hasn’t been a sure thing. Of the teams since 2000 that have had MVPs from the previous two seasons, the ’02 San Francisco Giants (Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent) lost in the World Series, the ’08 Phillies (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard) did win the title but the 2013 Detroit Tigers (Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander) lost in the ALCS.
|2019 Rank||Batter||2020 Team||2019 RV+|
|7||J.D. Martinez||Red Sox||158|
While he’s likely to hit NL pitching just as well despite a 3-for-20 (.150) start entering Monday, Betts’ overall production could see a dip because of where he now calls home.
According to our Park Factor metric, the seventh-year veteran is moving from the fourth easiest stadium (Fenway Park) to hit in – 11% better for a batter than the average MLB stadium – to the seventh most difficult place (Dodger Stadium) – 8% worse than the average park.
Still, the superstar is obviously an upgrade over Joc Pederson, who played 122 games in the outfield and 107 as the team’s leadoff batter last season. With the addition of Betts, Pederson has been limited to just eight at-bats through the team’s first four games.
But just how much of an upgrade is Betts?
Pederson, whose numbers were somewhat inflated because he faced mostly right-handed pitchers, placed in the 60th percentile in Raw Value+, 33rd percentile in Discipline+ and 43rd in Contact+ last season. Betts, on the other hand, was among the best in the game in each of those categories: 94th in Raw Value+, 88th in Discipline+ and 95th in Contact+.
Mookie’s metrics by season
Discipline+ measures a hitter’s ability to swing at strikes and lay off balls, and Contact+ rates a hitter’s ability to generate frequent contact. Both measure characteristics critical to a quality leadoff batter, a role that Betts has shared with Max Muncy through the first four games.
Dodgers leadoff hitters were 26th in baseball with a .243 batting average, 18th with a .331 on-base percentage and 22nd with 4.47 plate appearances per strikeout (PA/K) in 2019. Betts topped the majors among those with at least 100 starts from the leadoff spot from 2018-19 with a .318 batting average and a .411 on-base percentage. He also ranked third among those with 600 plate appearances in the leadoff spot over the past two seasons with 6.75 PA/K.
Betts also batted .322 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 46 games between 2018-19 while hitting out of the No. 2 hole, where he’s been slotted twice so far in 2020. Los Angeles batters were only marginally better there last season, ranking 23rd with a .252 average and 17th with a .340 OBP.
With one of baseball’s best players signed for the next 13 years, a Dodgers team that won 106 games in 2019 has made a historic series of moves that the iconic franchise hopes will lead to its seventh crown.
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Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Lucas Haupt