Despite winning the division in 2017, the Red Sox season last year never seemed destined to make any sort of real playoff push. Facing the eventual World Series champions in the first round is never ideal, but there was always something missing. After David Ortiz’ retirement in 2016, the Boston offense slipped in the power department, posting a .407 SLG which was 5th worst in baseball. In fact, it was their worst mark as a franchise since 1982, a season in which only 3 position players posted 2.0 fWAR or better. Down years from players didn’t help, but it was clear the Red Sox needed to fill this void from the outside.
The Red Sox got their man in J.D. Martinez in late February for a 5 year, $110M deal. Although other sluggers carried higher profiles, Martinez had been as impactful with his bat as Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper from 2014-2017, so the Red Sox understood who they were working with, and the team has immediately felt his impact. Through July 24th, JDM is hitting .323/.387/.644 with a league leading 31 HR. He also leads the league in RBI, which, analytically, mean basically nothing about Martinez and what he has contributed, but speaks to the level in which the guys in front of him are getting on base. The loudest of which is Mookie Betts.
After one of those aforementioned down years from Betts in 2017, he is back to his 2016, MVP-runner-up form, and looks to be in the thick of the MVP race once again this season. He’s hitting a remarkable .351/.437/.668 with 24 HR and 18 SB. The wRC+ for Betts and Matinez are 194 and 174, respectively, and form half of the top 4 marks in baseball along with Mike Trout and Jose Ramirez. In order to find the last time two teammates each finished out the year with 500 PA and a 174 or higher wRC+ on the season, you’d have to go back to 1989 (Giants’ Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell). Before that, pre-WWII.
In an interview about a month back with the Boston Globe, ex-Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez praised the duo as the best in baseball:
“While [Giancarlo] Stanton and Aaron Judge get a lot of attention, the Red Sox have the best 1-2 punch in baseball in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. If you asked the insiders in the game, they would put Mookie in the top three players in the game and that’s a hell of a compliment for a guy who goes under the radar. And the reason he goes under the radar is because he’s a consummate professional. He does everything really well and he gets better every year and he does it with class, elegance, and stealth. J.D. is becoming the top slugger in our game, a combination of power and run production and contact. He’s also a very good hitter.”
ARod, as divisive of a career as he led, is an incredible baseball mind; his time as an analyst on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball has cemented that. He was onto something regarding Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez too.
Not only are they the best 1-2 punch in baseball [this season], they’re on pace to be the best 1-2 punch ever.
Below is a table that resulted from a quick analysis of all post-WWII seasons between teammates and their wRC+, one of the best stats we have to measure offensive production. This includes baserunning, but does not include defensive contributions (or not, in Martinez’ case). Each player’s individual wRC+ was weighted by their total plate appearances (or projected PA, in Mook/JD’s case) to calculate their combined wRC+. Alas, right there in the top 3, is Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
The first thing that catches your eye, I’m sure, is that there are a lot of seasons with Barry Bonds, which comes as no surprise. In fact, Bonds’ 2002 season in which he reached base at a .582 clip and posted a nearly .800 SLG makes the list 3 times, twice with essentially league average offensive producers in Benito Santiago and David Bell. Nonetheless, Mookie Betts and J.D.Martinez are right there, plopped right in the middle of Bonds and his teammates with a combined 184 wRC+. Depending on how you feel about Bonds, you may even go as far as saying the Mookie/JDM combination is even more impressive, not carried by one man, but a true tandem of two of the league’s best offensive players. For the sake of inclusion, and, ultimately, because I think it is a more fun list overall, here is the same list without a juiced up Barry Bonds and his band of underwhelming teammates:
Without Bonds, Mookie and J.D. sit right there on top. Of course, as I said before, this is obviously a projection based on today’s statistics over the course of the remainder of the season, which does not factor in any sort of regression and will most likely end up inaccurate. Only one hitter in the past 15 years has posted a wRC+ higher than Mookie Betts current 194 mark and that was Bryce Harper in his 2015 MVP campaign, so we can expect some regression from him. With that, it’s probably safe to project the duo to land somewhere in the middle of the second table as opposed to right on top.
However, no matter which way you spin it, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are having one of the greatest offensive seasons from a pair of teammates in the history of the sport. The Red Sox have made a plethora of offseason moves in recent years that haven’t been good ones, players like David Price, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rusney Castillo to name a few. In fact, the last free agent the Red Sox signed that could be considered a real success was international signing Yoan Moncada, who the Sox ultimately paid $63M just to be trade bait for current staff ace Chris Sale, only seeing 20 PA with the team. One thing has made itself very clear, though. The investment into J.D. Martinez and his contributions to an offense looks like one that the Red Sox will be very satisfied with for some time as he forms a potentially historic tandem with Mookie Betts.
Running the same analysis, it turns out that Betts/Martinez along with Andrew Benintendi is on pace to be the best trio of teammates offensively ever, including various Barry Bonds teams. Here are the first few results for historic trifectas as well:
This offense is something else.