Ten Things Mookie Betts Is Doing to Justify the Hype

The funny thing about being a phenom is you don’t really have to be phenomenal. Last season Mookie Betts was both exceptional and therefore the exception to that when he put up a 130 wRC+ in 52 games for the Boston Red Sox. He stole bases, he hit home runs, and he played center field after a life spent in the middle infield. He was your basic run-of-the-mill young star. But even young stars often struggle eventually, so this season figured to be somewhat of a learning process for the 22-year-old center fielder.

Betts didn’t disappoint at being disappointing. After a solid opening week that featured him almost single-handedly beating the expected best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals, in the home opener, Betts faltered. On June 10 — exactly one month ago for those of you without calendars — he was hitting .237/.298/.368. An 0-for-3 the next day made the numbers look worse. In this run environment that could play with exceptional defense, but for Betts that type of production was a disappointment. There was reason to believe he wasn’t playing quite that badly based on batted-ball velocity and a mid-.250s BABIP, and hey, fast forward* one month and Betts has brought his OPS up 131 points to .789.

*That’s a thing old people used to have to do when watching movies on videotape.**
**Videotape is what they used to have back before DVDs.***
***DVDs were what they used to… Actually, you know what? Forget it. I’m old.

During that time he’s put up a 189 wRC+ which, as Mike Petriello notes, puts him in the company of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado. Here are 10 ways Mookie Betts has turned his season around.

1. Hitting The Ball Hard

This is one of those self-explanatory things, like not driving into other cars or not eating plastic. Baseball players do well when they hit the ball hard and Betts has done that, averaging 90.84 mph on his batted balls. That’s 0.02 mph behind Adam Jones and 0.26 mph ahead of Justin Upton. Our numbers indicate Betts has made hard contact 31.4% of the time and medium contact 52.0% of the time. That’s good contact in 83.4% of his plate appearances, two points above league average.

2. Using His Speed

Betts is fast, so hitting the ball on the ground and using his speed to get on base would seem to be a good idea. Betts hasn’t exactly been doing that all season, but he has been doing that at least somewhat. His ground-ball rate of 36.6% is lower than last season and his fly-ball rate is the recipient of the difference, but he’s hitting .308 on grounders, 74 points above the league average.

3. Not Striking Out

This is another one of those obvious things. Sorry, but not everything is complicated. A batted ball no matter how weakly hit has a chance to go for a hit while a strikeout never does. This is the foundational principle on which Dee Gordon rests. Betts isn’t Gordon of course and that’s a good thing because how weird would that be for Gordon’s wife! Also, Betts is a better hitter. But as for the strikeouts, Betts has struck out just 11% of the time. Meanwhile, league average this season is a 20.1%.

4. Spraying The Ball

Some young players get pull happy. They try to hit every pitch for power. Mookie Betts doesn’t do that. He hits the ball everywhere. His line drives go to left, center, and right field. His ground balls go to the right and left sides of the infield. His fly balls land throughout the outfield. The only thing that consistently goes to one particular place is his home runs which go down the left-field line. This makes him tougher to play against as you can’t shift a guy who hits the ball everywhere.

Here’s a chart that summarizes all the above in visual form:

Source: FanGraphs

5. Running The Bases

It’s not that stuff like this makes much of a dent in his numbers, but man is it fun and what is baseball about if not that?

Also this.

6. Having Success While Getting Pitched Differently

A bit. After discovering Betts loves the inside fastball because he can turn on it and whip it into the left-field corner (or off or over the wall), pitchers are throwing him more pitches outside. This is especially true of sliders. Betts has countered by swinging earlier in the count. This has hurt his walk rate a bit. Consider: he’s walking in 7.4% of plate appearances as opposed to 9.9% last season and a career minor-league rate well over 10%. But! Betts has an OPS 83 points higher than league average when swinging on the first pitch. He’s not letting hittable pitches go by to work the count anymore. That may change — baseball is nothing if not a game of adjustments and readjustments — but for now, Betts is a more aggressive hitter and it’s suiting him just fine.

7. Taking Advantage of Fenway

Fenway Park is perhaps the best doubles park in baseball and Betts has used that to his advantage. Thirteen of his 21 doubles have come in Boston this season. Although his home-run output is relatively evenly split with five at home to four hit on the road so far, the fact that he’s short and strong and hits line drives bodes well for taking good advantage of his home park in a Dustin Pedroia-y kind of way. Hey, it might not work elsewhere, but not unlike a batter’s home runs at Coors or a pitcher’s fly-ball outs at Petco, they all still count — so you may as well.

8-10. I Only Have Seven Things, I’m Sorry

Last season, Betts’ teammate Xander Bogaerts spent the better part of the second half of the season trying to deal with major-league sliders and the knots his batting skills were wound up in after trying to hit every single one he saw. Betts’s transition to the league hasn’t been Lando Calrissian smooth, but it’s been smoother than Bogaerts’. Thing is, Bogaerts wasn’t the exception. Even Mike Trout had a rough go of it in the beginning and we won’t mention Bryce Harper because why pour gas on a fire. Young players struggle, but then the good ones turn it on. We may be seeing that right now from Mookie Betts.

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7 years ago

8. Finally came to realize the Fenway crowd was actually shouting “MOOOOOK” instead of “BOOOOOOO”

7 years ago
Reply to  Jay

I was saying “Boo-urns”.

crazy person
7 years ago
Reply to  Jay

It’s like when the Kansas City crowd shouts ‘Mooooo’ for Moustakas. It’s not boo. Totally confused me at first.

7 years ago
Reply to  crazy person

Or when Yankee fans used to chant ROOOOO for Babe Ruth.

7 years ago
Reply to  J

“ROOOOO” Yeah, we all remember that one.

7 years ago
Reply to  J

It took me a while to figure out they were chanting “MOOOOOOOSE” for Mussina. Thought he was getting booed after 7+ strong innings of work lol

John Thomas
7 years ago
Reply to  Jay

To this day I’m not sure if they were “BOOOOOO” or “LOOOUUUU” for Lou Merloni