History is important in baseball for more than nostalgia. It also helps inform huge investments. Predicting how players will age using the Venn diagram circles of age, size, position, home ballpark, injury, mechanics and past performance is both an art and science.
Baseball finds comfort in its “comps.” For instance, Mike Trout is Mickey Mantle, Bryce Harper is Reggie Jackson and Zack Greinke is Mike Mussina. Good luck trying to find someone quite like Mookie Betts, the inimitable Boston rightfielder who is very available by trade today or by free agency after the season.
At least one team recently undertook just such an internal study of Betts. Nothing relevant came back. Betts is a terrific baserunner, a defensive wizard and a rock of dependability. Over the past five years he is fourth in the American League in games played.
Here’s what sets him apart: Betts, 27, is listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. At this age, Betts is the greatest small power hitter since Mel Ott, who was born in 1909. It takes quite the imagination to find much precedent in Ott, who debuted 94 years ago at the Polo Grounds with a distance of just 258 feet down the rightfield line.