What the heck got into Mookie Betts?
Admit it. You were disappointed in 2017 by Betts’ 24 homers, 102 runs batted in, 101 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. Reading that, you now probably feel really greedy, but you have good reason to feel that way. Afterall, after Betts finished 2nd in the MVP voting with a .897 OPS in 2016, it was fair to assume the youngster would continue to take steps forward. Instead, Betts took steps back and appeared to look frustrated at the plate at times. He even got to the point where he sounded like he was losing confidence in himself saying things like, “When am I going to hit 30 home runs again?”
But even his “lackluster” 2017 was not without a long reel of highlights. Here’s a nice one I found on YouTube:
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Well, not only is Betts on pace for 30 home runs, in 45 games played going into the game on Thursday night Betts has already hit 16 home runs,which is on pace for 57-58 home runs per 162 games played. And Betts is not just hitting home runs. He has also contributed 19 doubles, 1 triple and 11 steals while hitting .364/.440/.763 and leading the league in average, slugging percentage and OPS. With a slugging percentage nearly as high as his 2017 OPS, it appears our greedy dreams weren’t unrealistic. In fact, most of us probably didn’t dream big enough.
All the talk going into 2018 was about the Yankees and the Giancarlo Stanton trade. The Yankees would have twin towers unlike the league had seen since Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz dominated the league in the mid-2000’s, and with plenty of supporting offensive firepower coming in the way of Sanchez, Torres, Anjular and Frazier. While the Yankees have not disappointed and are also beating up on the league, they still have found themselves looking up at the Red Sox for most of the early part of 2018.
Much of this is because if you line up Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, they have absolutely dwarfed the supposedly unstoppable combination of Judge & Stanton.
What has changed? Sabremetrics support what the player is saying and the eye can see
Mookie Betts has stated multiple times since Spring Training that with no disrespect to John Farrell & Chili Davis, Alex Cora’s coaching staff’s approach has worked better for him. While the coaches have encouraged Betts to be more aggressive, and he has been (swinging at a career high 59.3% of pitches in the strikezone, making contact 94.7% of the time), he has been more selective at the same time, swinging at a career low 19.7% of pitches out of the strike zone. He has seen a career low 42.9% of pitches in the strike zone and a career low 55.5% first pitch strike percentage, so even with J.D. Martinez & company behind him, the pitchers are pitching him with a lot of respect, which makes this all the more impressive.
As for the power surge, Betts has been pulling the ball a career high 51% of the time, which has contributed to his increased power totals. Some will point to his 22.2% HR/FB, but there is an explanation for that. Betts hard hit ball percentage went from 33.4% in 2016 and 35.7% in 2017 to 46.4% thusfar in 2018. That is a 10.7% increase in hard hit balls, which explains the seemingly ridiculous HR/FB ratio. In contrast, his soft hit ball percentage went from 17.4% in 2016 and 18.2% in 2017 down to 11.8% in 2018.
In short, Betts’ approach has improved more drastically in one season then we’ve seen from a player in some time. His plate discipline got better. He got more confident and aggressive getting out in front and pulling the ball when opportunity strikes. He’s hitting the ball harder then ever. And he looks like he’s having more fun. When Mookie Betts is having this much fun, the rest of the American League usually will not be.