By Alex Speier- The Boston Globe Staff
For Mookie Betts, a remarkable 2018 of on- and off-field feats culminated in entirely expected and entirely fitting fashion, with the Red Sox right fielder being named the Most Valuable Player in the American League on Thursday night.
Two years after Betts finished as the runner-up to Mike Trout for the award, he won handily, claiming 28 of 30 first-place votes and two second-place votes for a total of 410 points. Trout, who received one first-place vote, finished a distant second with 265 points.
“Obviously, I really wanted to win [in 2016]. Just being in that spot, you don’t ever know if you’re going to make it back,” Betts said in a conference call. “[Winning the MVP has] been everything I imagined and more. [But] I think the most important thing is that World Series. That’s what kind of sticks in my head first and foremost about the season.”
The award backs what members of the Red Sox and the larger baseball industry observed repeatedly during the season: No one did more to help his team than Betts, whose performance ranks not only as one of the best of his career but as one of the top seasons in Red Sox franchise history. He became the first AL player to win MVP, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger awards in the same year he won the World Series.
“It’s one of the best [seasons] I’ve seen. It’s just all parts of the game – the way he plays the outfield, the way he throws, the way he runs the bases, and that’s not even mentioning his hitting,” said teammate Dustin Pedroia, the 2008 AL MVP. “I’ve played with some great players. I don’t think I’ve seen a season with an all-around game like that. He’s always been elite, but he’s gone to another level.”
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Betts proved among the best in the majors in virtually every facet of the game. He led the big leagues with a .346 average and .640 slugging percentage, hitting 32 homers, stealing 30 bases (in 36 attempts), and posting a .438 OBP. He became the second player in Red Sox history to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same year, and the first 30/30 player in big league history to win a batting title.
On top of his steady offensive contributions, Betts once again delivered game-changing defense, mostly in right field. He won his third straight Gold Glove Award, and the two most popular public defensive metrics suggested that Betts made an enormous mark in the outfield, as he was credited with 20 Defensive Runs Saved (tied for fifth most in the majors) by Sports Info Solutions and 15.3 runs saved by Fangraphs (second most in the majors) relative to an average defensive right fielder.
“He’s the best right fielder I’ve ever seen defensively,” former Orioles manager Buck Showalter said late in the season. “I don’t think people fully realize the impact he has on [the Red Sox] in right field in [Fenway].”
His performance as a five-tool player landed Betts in rare historical company. Fangraphs pegged his season as having been worth 10.4 Wins Above Replacement, the highest mark by any player since 2004; Baseball-Reference.com credited Betts with 10.9 WAR, best for any player since 2002.
In other years, runners-up Trout of the Angels (who hit .312/.460/.628 with 39 homers, 24 steals) and Jose Ramirez of Cleveland (third place with a .270/.387/.552 line with 39 homers and 34 steals) would have had compelling cases to win the award. But Betts’s overall contributions on a team that claimed a franchise-record 108 victories made him the clear front-runner for the award.
Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez received one first-place vote. He finished in fourth place in voting with 198 points, just behind Ramirez (208 points). Betts and Martinez are the first Red Sox teammates to crack the top four in MVP voting in the same year since Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis (third) in 2008.
“I’m glad he was recognized,” said Betts, who credited the arrival of Martinez and manager Alex Cora as key reasons behind his landmark season. “He had a great year, definitely an MVP year. I’m just glad to know that at least he was recognized for it.”
Betts is the 11th Red Sox player to receive the MVP, joining Tris Speaker (1912), Jimmie Foxx (1938), Ted Williams (1946 and 1949), Jackie Jensen (1958), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Fred Lynn (1975), Jim Rice (1978), Roger Clemens (1986), Mo Vaughn (1995), and Pedroia (2008).
Christian Yelich of the Brewers was named National League MVP, claiming 29 of 30 first-place votes, after leading the NL in average (.326) and OPS (1.000) while hitting 36 homers and stealing 22 bases. Cubs infielder Javier Baez finished second, and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished third.