Up: Mookie Betts
One of the few players in the league to outplay Martinez thus far has been his teammate, Mookie Betts. Last season, hampered by injury, Betts hit 24 home runs and still finished sixth in the American League MVP race. As of May 2 of this year, Betts is on pace to shatter his 2017 totals.
After collecting the fourth three-home-run game of his young career, becoming the first Red Sox player in history to record that many, Betts now leads Major League Baseball with 11 home runs. His .365 batting average places him squarely in second, just 1/100th of a point behind Manny Machado, and his 1.274 OPS leads the pack by a good margin.
Betts credits his success to a refind, more aggressive approach. He’s swinging more on first pitches, and he’s swinging harder with two strikes. However, though he’s been more aggressive, he’s deployed that aggression more selectively. Last season, per Fangraphs, Betts swung at 22.4% of pitches outside of the strike zone, and 53.8% of pitches inside the strike zone. This year, so far, he’s swung at 19.5% of pitches outside of the zone, and 59.7% of pitches in the zone. So, while he’s swinging more, he’s also making sure his swings are at more of the pitches he can hit.
Betts has also thrived as Boston’s leadoff hitter this season, so much so that manager Alex Cora has decided to leave him in that spot permanently. He might slump at some point and injuries are always unpredictable, but for now, Betts seems an early favorite for AL MVP.