Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts – A slump or his future?

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 16: Mookie Betts
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 16: Mookie Betts /

Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox is in a second half slump.  Is this just an extended slump or what to expect from Betts in the future?

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is a respectful gentleman, an expert golfer, a pilot, and a .260 hitter who is now being transformed from a dangerous hitter to one that pitchers consider just another batter. The fear factor is fast becoming a memory.

The focus has been on Xander Bogaerts and his ongoing miseries with a prolonged slump. Chris Sale is now making his well established run at eliminating himself from Cy Young Award contention with a September pratfall. Hanley Ramirez was pushed aside for a few days. The Red Sox bullpen is like New England weather with its ability to change dramatically from outstanding to horrid. The real issue that is killing this team is Betts. Is Betts getting a mulligan?

Betts is a “nice kid” and certainly a willing learner, but the reality is this season is one that certainly is forgettable. Far more was expected and I do believe Betts would most certainly agree. You examine the offensive figures from 2016 and compare them to 2017 and the drop is dramatic – right across the board. Even Betts’ fear has been more than halved in a year.

Betts is starting to look eerily like Andrew McCutchen only with a quicker demise from elite to just ordinary. Most notable for Betts is reflected in his drop of .322 in 2016 to his current .260 in BABIP. Despite a slight increase in FB% (39.4% to 42.3%), the results are those balls are now staying in the park and not leaving the park.

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A player can win for his team without the bat and that means defense. Betts has not slipped in that facet of his game. Among American League right-fielders Betts is ranked number one defensively and it is not even close. His only completion is against himself and his 2016 season. Betts has already had 28 Defensive Runs Saved and the closest competitor is Aaron Judge at a mere nine. Obviously, Betts is no in a funk defensively.

Betts also has another integral part of his game that remains top-tier and that is speed.  Speed does not go into a slump and Betts is still quite nifty at pilfering a base, taking an extra base and putting some pressure on the defense when the ball is in play. The part that impacts this is a decline in OBP from .363 to .339.

So why the decline?  Did pitchers all meet at a conference center in March and determine how to neutralize Betts? Where it has taken place is in the second half of the season and like the aforementioned Judge the decline has been dramatic. At the All-Star hiatus, Betts was on pace to approach 30 home runs and 100 RBI. No longer.

Since the break, Betts has been below ordinary, so is it just a prolonged slump? That would be my first reaction, but with the idea festering regarding McCutchen – sometimes the mighty fall and fall quickly. I would simply take the more prudent pathway and say that this season is an anomaly, but with a degree of caution. Betts may never be the Betts of 2016 or the Betts of 2017. A Betts that simply falls between those two seasons.

The 2018 season will be the season where a more definitive Betts will emerge. The Red Sox undoubtedly will add a bat into the lineup that will provide the depth, run production, and protection that was missing in 2017. That would certainly benefit Betts and others. Betts may also find a home in the lineup where he is consistently placed. My own personal benchmark for a player to be evaluated is a nice solid and extended sample – three or more seasons.

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One final motivator is the fiscal aspect.  Players can reap riches and extraordinary players reap extraordinary riches.  Betts can see that payout prize on his own team with contracts that should encourage anyone.  Betts has the ability and is also a known seeker of everything baseball – self-improvement and self-analysis are certainly in Betts’ daily approach to his profession.

Stats through 9/5