Red Sox: Mookie Betts strikes out, ending prolific streak
By Sean Penney
Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts struck out in last night’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, snapping an impressive streak.
Mookie Betts struck out. That’s normally not headline news for most players, but the star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox isn’t most players. What was striking about that moment was how rare of an occurrence it has been for Betts.
In the top of the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, Francisco Liriano got Betts to chase a 2-2 slider on the outside edge of the zone. That snapped a streak of 129 regular-season plate appearances without a strikeout.
What’s so significant about that? Not only was it Mookie’s first strikeout of the season, it was the first time it’s happened in a regular-season game in over seven months. NBA and NHL teams have played entire seasons since the last time Betts struck out, back on September 12 in a win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The streak was the longest by a Red Sox hitter since Denny Doyle strung together 159 plate appearances without a strikeout in 1975. It’s also the longest streak by any Major League hitter since Juan Pierre went 147 plate appearances without a strikeout in 2004.
Compare Betts to other active players and the next longest streak isn’t even close.
Betts has now struck out only once in 54 plate appearances this season, while no other qualified hitter in the American League has less than four. Every other Red Sox hitter who has appeared in more than five games this season has at least six strikeouts, including three that have double-digit strikeouts already.
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There are 15 Major League hitters who have piled up at least 20 strikeouts so far this season. Dating back to the last strikeout we saw from Betts back in September, there are eight hitters who have struck out at least 40 times!
Making contact has always been a staple of the All-Star outfielder’s game. Betts struck out 80 times last season, tied for the 24th fewest in the big leagues. That’s not bad, but it looks even better when you factor in that he spent the bulk of the season in the lead-off spot for a juggernaut offense, resulting in the most at-bats in the majors. His 11% strikeout percentage is even more impressive, ranking 11th in the majors. Of the ten hitters that rated ahead of him in that category last season, only Jose Altuve and Daniel Murphy had a higher batting average than the .318 that Betts posted.
In the 29 regular-season games that Betts went without a strikeout, he slashed .360/.425/.456 with five doubles, two homers and 14 RBIs.
Betts has recovered from a slow start that was dragged down by a bout with the flu and is currently riding a four-game hitting streak that has raised his average to .347 this season. He also hit his first homer of the season on Tuesday, so the power is starting to come around now that he’s further removed from the illness that sapped his strength.
The 24-year old has developed into one of the best all-around players in baseball, with his penchant for avoiding strikeouts being one of his many elite talents.
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His impressive streak may be over, but let’s not rule out seeing him start another to challenge the run he just had. Betts won’t pile up too many more strikeouts, but by the time the season ends we expect he’ll be piling up plenty of MVP votes.