Mookie Betts vs. Juan Soto is MLB’s Hottest Debate of 2024

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The last thing Major League Baseball needed after a triple whammy of a dull winter, the new uniforms fiasco and a sudden gambling scandal was a boring start to the 2024 season.
“Not to worry,” said Mookie Betts and Juan Soto.
For the 6-2 Los Angeles Dodgers, there’s Betts with a 1.772 OPS and five home runs among a veritable smorgasbord of eye-popping numbers. Even for a guy with seven All-Star nods, an MVP and two World Series rings, this is a legendary run.
For the 5-1 New York Yankees, even pointing out that Soto—a three-time All-Star and World Series champion in his own right—has been on base 15 times is missing the forest for the trees. What he’s done simply doesn’t compare to what it means.
So, what the heck? Let’s debate over who’s owning 2024 more. It’s Team Betts vs. Team Soto, and there can only be one winner.
Who’s the Better Player?
In no universe can anyone look at the numbers Soto is putting up and come away unimpressed.
His debut for the Yankees has seen him take 29 trips to the plate and collect five walks and 10 hits as he’s extended an ongoing on-base streak to 39 games in a row. He’s struck out only four times, and one of those was on a bogus call.
Whereas this is ho-hum stuff for a guy who leads active hitters with a .422 career on-base percentage, the real revelation early has been Soto’s defense. He’s not normally known for either, yet he’s made an impact with both his glove and his arm.
But that’s also a discussion for later, specifically after we address the whole ‘nother level that Betts is occupying.
Even for a seven-game sample size, a .500/.605/1.167 slash line boggles the mind and is certainly worthy of history. As noted by Sarah Langs of MLB.com, Betts’ OPS alone is the seventh-highest ever for a player through the first eight games of a season.
Betts’ counting stats, meanwhile, should have whole danged teams blushing. The Chicago White Sox have him beat by just one walk, while his runs batted in, runs scored and home runs place him ahead of three, three and 10 teams, respectively.
And the early returns on Betts’ shift from right field to shortstop? They’re good. As in, “co-leading all defenders in Defensive Runs Saved” good.
Advantage: Betts
Who’s Having the Bigger Impact?
It also reflects well on Betts that the Dodgers have won six out of eight, and that neither of their losses can be placed at his feet.
Just check out these splits:
Betts in 6 Wins: 1.452 OPS, 3 HR, 4 RBI
1.452 OPS, 3 HR, 4 RBI Betts in 2 Losses: 2.500 OPS, 2 HR, 7 RBI
Even still, would the Dodgers have a winning record even without Betts?
Three other L.A. regulars have OPSes over .900, and one of them (Teoscar Hernández) is just south of Betts with four homers. And despite Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s debut dud in Korea, the starting pitching has been OK to the tune of a2.91 ERA.
Besides, as nice as a 6-2 record may be, the Dodgers didn’t start 5-0 like the Yankees did. And far from a big one, it is the smallest of leaps to say they would not have done so if not for Soto.
The leverage index makes it possible to quantify the impact he’s made, which brings us to this fun fact: Of the six biggest plays the 25-year-old has been involved in this season, five have had a positive outcome for the Yankees.
And that, if anything, is underselling Soto’s impact.
Because while it does include his game-saving throw from Thursday, his tough sliding catch from Friday and his game-winning single from Sunday, missing the cut is the home run he hit on Saturday that gave the Yankees a lead that they did not relinquish.
Soto wasn’t just a difference-maker in the Yankees’ opening sweep of the Houston Astros. He was the difference-maker. And in so doing, he lifted a team that badly needed lifting.
Advantage: Soto
Who Has the Stronger Vibe?
Apropos of that last note, does anyone remember the mood surrounding the Yankees before Soto put them on his back?
Even setting aside a mostly meaningless 14-16 record during spring training, what really soured the mood was the injury bug. Gerrit Cole has been and will continue to be sidelined with an elbow injury. DJ LeMahieu opened the year on the IL with a non-displaced fracture in his right foot. Aaron Judge avoided the IL, but he was banged up for much of the spring.
Expectations for the Yankees shifted accordingly. Only two ESPN writers picked them to win the American League East. Yours truly didn’t even have them making the playoffs.
Such takes are already aging poorly. FanGraphs, for example, has elevated the Yankees’ chances of making the playoffs from 71.2 to 83.2 percent just since Opening Day.
That’s the Soto effect, and the Yankees know it.
They can’t seem to stop praising him, with manager Aaron Boone even saying that he “embodies what we want to be.”
The Dodgers, by contrast, are merely living up to expectations. They came in as a perceived shoo-in for the playoffs and are living life as…well, as a perceived shoo-in for the playoffs.
And yet, that Betts is succeeding as much as he is (on both sides of the ball) at shortstop is not to be glossed over. It’s the most important position on the infield, and a spot where he had started only 12 times before he was tasked with moving there full-time due to the emergency of Gavin Lux’s throwing issues.
It’s hard to overstate how screwed the Dodgers would be if Betts wasn’t taking immediately to shortstop, but the fact that he has can be traced back to the chip he’s put on his shoulder and the hard work he’s putting in.
“He’s driven to be great,” said first base coach Clayton McCullough, per Juan Toribio of MLB.com. “This is a new challenge for him that I think internally he’s been wanting to do for a while and show that he can do it. And not just do it, but excel and be much better than OK.”
Plus, let’s face it: The Dodgers needed somebody to take the spotlight off Shohei Ohtani.
This would have been a preposterous thing to say as recently as two weeks ago, but that was before Ohtani became a key character in the gambling scandal swirling around his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. It’s an uncomfortable situation, and one made even more uncomfortable by the questions to which there are still no good answers.
Betts’ performance hasn’t pushed all this to the background, but it’s fair to say he’s pulled off a Paul McCartney-style miracle by taking a sad song and making it better.
Advantage: Push
Final Verdict
Personally, I’m Team Betts.
It’s as simple as Betts being the hotter hitter with a greater defensive challenge for a team with higher expectations.
If not, well, there’s also the extent to which Betts is locked in so. He’s swung and missed at only eight of the 167 pitches he’s seen and hit 16 of his 26 batted balls at 95 mph or better. He truly deserves to be the hottest hitter in baseball.
But if ever there was a “No Wrong Answer” question, it’s this one.
There may be higher expectations for the Dodgers as a team, but there’s always been something about being a Yankee that puts extra strong pressure on the individual. Many a player has been crushed by it, so to see Soto acting as if it’s a wayward feather on his back really is something.

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