Star outfielder Mookie Betts has all the tools to be one of the game’s best players. However, he hasn’t quite put it all together yet.
The Boston Red Sox are close to breaking through as a team. How do they break through? They need their young stars to reach stardom. The Red Sox are hoping for the best with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, but they need one player in specific to reach his potential: Mookie Betts.
Betts had a terrific year in 2016, batting .318 with 31 home runs and 113 runs batted in. These numbers were what so many fans got excited about, reminiscing about the possibility of those numbers further increasing.
However, Betts’ 2017 season took a downward spiral and never quite rekindled 2016’s magic, hitting .264 with 24 HR and 102 RBI.
The most noticeable difference between the 2017 and ’16 season were Betts’ slugging percentage and walks. His SLG plummeted from .534 to .459, vastly decreasing his overall batting average. However, Betts increased his walks from 49 to 77, suggesting that opposing pitchers avoided Betts and dared the Red Sox’ lineup to beat them in other ways.
The lineup didn’t have too many guys who could consistently deliver — which shows that just about everyone on the roster had a down year, minus Rafael Devers, Christian Vasquez or Eduardo Nunez. This may not be just a Betts problem, it may be a Red Sox problem. Hence the reason hitting coach Chili Davis is no longer with the club.
"“I think it starts with pitch selection,” Hyers told CNHI Sports Boston. “I think early-count hitting, taking advantage of the way the game is changing a little bit with pitchers really trying to get ahead of us… When they throw pitches over the middle of the plate, no matter if it’s the first pitch or the third pitch we need to be ready to do damage and be aggressive in those counts.”As the game evolves, their outlook at the plate needs to change, too. Power bullpens are taking over the baseball, look no further than the 2017 postseason for an illustration of that. Working deep into counts to chase starters doesn’t have the same value it used to, so Hyers wants his hitters ready for anything.“No matter who’s on the mound, we need to be aggressive early to take advantage,” Hyers said. “So pitch selection is No. 1.”"
This could play a major role into Betts’ attempt to bounce back next season. Betts has never been one to walk as much as possible — he always takes aggressive hacks at pitches that he likes no matter where the location is. This is based purely off speculation, but Davis’ approach of grinding out at-bats and racking up hits on “money pitches” rather than swinging freely at pitches could’ve caused Betts to be hesitant at times.
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Yes, Betts had injuries and is capable of a down year, but a player’s batting average usually doesn’t drop 54 points in a down year. It’s usually indecisiveness in the player’s approach, or he’s not seeing the ball well. One could argue Betts was a victim of this conflict.
When Betts is swinging aggressively, his offense produces the most. He can’t afford to be timid or wait for the perfect pitch because it may never come. Betts must be comfortable at the plate, swinging freely to set the tone for the rest of the lineup. After all, he’s the most talented hitter on the Red Sox.
Betts doesn’t need to hit 50 HR for the Red Sox to be a great offensive team. Betts must get back to being the multi-tool threat on offense for the Red Sox to see an increase in overall offensive production. If Betts can reach a .300+ batting average with 35ish HR and 100+ RBI, the Red Sox will see a huge difference in their offense.
On the contrary, it’s not just up to Betts, others must produce. Betts can’t have an MVP caliber season only to see the rest of the lineup not reach potential like they did last year. Betts must have a solid supporting cast in order to swing freely. The Red Sox can’t afford to see Betts turn in another season that was just OK. They need him to be the star that sets the tone for the lineup.
If Betts is seeing good pitches and producing at a high level, others will benefit. The pressure is on Bogaerts, Bradley, Hanley Ramirez and others to pull their weight in the lineup. The Red Sox may not hit as many home runs as the New York Yankees or Houston Astros, but they have a chance to score as many runs as them, assuming most of the lineup has a bounce back year.
How do the Red Sox score more runs consistently in 2018? Have your star hitters swing to their potential. That starts with the biggest star of them all, Mookie Betts. If free-swinging, salt-sprinkling Betts can break through, the Red Sox will too.