Mookie Betts Is Ridiculous

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mookie Betts is on fire right now. Last night, he led off the bottom of the first with a single, stole second base, and scored. He came back up in the third and lashed a game tying homer, which was also the 1,500th hit of his career — because of course it was. He was the catalyst for the Dodgers’ 5-4 win over the Giants. Also, his average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all went down on the night, because he’s just that hot to start the season.

Through eight games, Betts is hitting an outrageous .500/.605/1.167. None of those numbers make sense. He’s on base more often than not. He’s walking twice as often as he strikes out. His isolated power is .667, a number that barely sounds like a baseball statistic.

To be fair, we’ve only played eight games. These numbers won’t hold up over a full season, obviously. He’s on a heater at the moment, and pretty much everything will tail off. But this season-starting rampage is an all-timer. Here are the top five eight-game starts to a season in the Wild Card era:

Best 8-Game Starts, Wild Card Era
Player Year AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+
J.D. Martinez 2017 .478 .647 1.261 1.908 359
Sandy Alomar Jr. 1997 .618 .629 1.206 1.834 387
Adrián González 2015 .548 .622 1.194 1.815 386
Chris Shelton 2006 .500 .529 1.281 1.811 356
Mookie Betts 2024 .500 .605 1.167 1.772 323
Byron Buxton 2021 .481 .548 1.185 1.734 353
Ken Griffey Jr. 1997 .467 .556 1.167 1.722 326
Barry Bonds 2002 .391 .588 1.130 1.719 312
Jim Edmonds 2003 .500 .594 1.115 1.709 353
Larry Walker 1997 .471 .526 1.147 1.673 300

Of note, Martinez’s start wasn’t the start of the season; he missed the start of that year with an injury and returned in a blaze of glory. But these are the best performances of the last 30 years, and Betts fits squarely into them. The best seasons of Bonds’ and Walker’s careers started this way. Griffey and Edmonds put up near-peak years after their hot starts. Shelton and Alomar are fun reminders that wow, baseball is wild.

How is Mookie doing it? He’s just doing everything he always does – only more so. First, he’s not chasing bad pitches. That’s just how he always operates. His chase rate is among the lowest in baseball, but it’s not far from his career average. He hasn’t chased a single pitch above the strike zone all year, in fact. Here are all of his swings:

That dense cluster middle-in shows you what he’s trying to do, and it’s working. And it’s not like pitchers just happen to be throwing him a lot of pitches there. He’s swinging frequently where he can do damage and spitting on everything else. Here are his takes, for contrast:

That’s so beautiful. The void right in the center is making me giggle a little bit while I type this. What does the perfect batting eye look like? It looks like those two charts, basically.

Remember last season in the All-Star Game, when he said on microphone that he didn’t know how to take a pull swing? Turns out that he figured it out. Here are the locations of all of his batted balls:

This isn’t quite the most he’s ever pulled the ball in an eight-game span, but it’s surprisingly close. And that’s a great recipe for home run success. Betts doesn’t have the power to smash the ball out to any part of the park. His hardest-hit batted ball this season is only 105.1 mph. He falls squarely into the Paredes zone, which means that he needs to take advantage of park dimensions to leave the yard.

Has he done so? Uh, yep. Betts has hit eight balls 100 mph or harder this year. Five of them have turned into homers, and another produced a ringing double. Seven of those eight balls have been hit in the air; there’s no wasted contact going on at the moment. That’s always been the case with Betts, it’s just even more so right now.

There’s only so much analysis you can do about a streak like this. We’ve all seen Mookie Betts succeed in the past. He’s just doing the same stuff he’s always done, only better. He’s always needed to pull the ball to hit homers. Here, for example, are all of his extra-base hits from 2023:

Here’s the best season of his career so far, his 2018 MVP campaign:

When he’s turning on the ball, he’s capable of hitting it out of any park. Combine that with his masterful sense of the strike zone, and pitchers have nowhere to hide. He has eight walks, nine extra-base hits, and four strikeouts, half of which came last night. What can an opponent do other than marvel?

Oh, yeah: He’s doing all of this while playing shortstop full-time. In an extremely small sample, Statcast thinks he’s an above average defender there. DRS thinks he’s one of the best two defensive shortstops in baseball, behind only Bobby Witt Jr. The result is that in addition to being the most valuable hitter in the game by a mile, our WAR metric, which uses the less optimistic Statcast numbers, still thinks he’s a top-10 defender so far.

This level of performance won’t continue. It can’t continue. He’s as locked in as he’s ever been at the plate – he’s only had better eight-game stretches six times in his illustrious career. He’s “on pace” for 28.3 WAR, which is patently absurd. He won’t keep hitting 61.5% of his batted balls hard, or barreling up 15.4% of them, or hitting homers on a third of his fly balls. No one can stay this hot forever.

All that means is that you should enjoy it while you can. One of the greatest players of the 21st century is producing one of the best stretches of his career. He’s doing it at 31 while learning shortstop on the fly and succeeding at that as well. In 20 years, Betts will be a legend of the game, and we’ll probably still talk about that time he went nuclear to start the season where he became a full-time infielder. It’s just another outstanding achievement in a career full of them.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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1 month ago

Mookie is all that is right in this world.