Red Sox: Analyzing postseason struggles of Mookie Betts
By Drew Athans
Mookie Betts’ career struggles in October are real, but that doesn’t mean he won’t eventually break out and have his signature postseason moment.
It’s no surprise that Mookie Betts is a huge topic of conversation among Red Sox fans with all of the uncertainty and speculation swirling around as he enters his final season under contract with the team (it’s just been reported he and the Red Sox have agreed to a $27 million salary for the 2020 season, avoiding arbitration).
Betts is the best player on the team and one of the top players (some would say No. 2 behind only Mike Trout) in the American League. He’s had a very good career to this point culminating with his 2018 season where he won the AL MVP, AL batting title, Silver Slugger, and yet another Gold Glove. While some may debate whether he’s worth “Trout money” and speculate as to where he’ll end up after the 2020 season (if not before), I think one thing everyone can agree on is that Mookie is a really good baseball player.
That all serves as a backdrop to an interesting debate I got into on Twitter the other day. Someone tweeted this out…
…to which I replied that he did have a point about Mookie. I mentioned that his career postseason numbers are “awful” but that he is “still one of the best players in the AL, probably second behind only Trout.”
As you can imagine, that set off a veritable firestorm. I think most of us Red Sox fans know that there is a sizable segment of the fanbase that can’t handle any criticism of the team or its players no matter how warranted it is. That’s not to say that perpetual negativity should be tolerated either, but what I brought up was (I think) a very valid critique of Betts.
The common criticisms of being a “hater,” “stupid,” and a “fake fan” were all thrown my way, but there were also several claims that my critique was based on a small sample size. When I replied that the twenty-one career postseason games Mookie has played are hardly a small sample size since that’s roughly a month’s worth of games, I again got both agreement and pushback.
Before I go any further, I do want to mention that a lot of the negative responses to my tweet had to do with the fact that so many people thought I was saying Mookie will never be good in the postseason because I said twenty-one games was enough to prove his October struggles were “real.” Even that wasn’t enough for some people who apparently weren’t understanding what I wrote (or just didn’t want to). My point was that as of RIGHT NOW, Mookie has not been a good postseason hitter.
That got me thinking about another high-profile baseball player who Red Sox fans loved to hate, one who was well-known (and mocked) for his postseason futility: Alex Rodriguez. The knock on A-Rod was always that he was great in the regular season but couldn’t deliver in October (in essence what I said about Mookie). I decided to compare their postseason stats because Rodriguez eventually figured it out and I have confidence that Mookie will, too.
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First, I looked at A-Rod’s career postseason stats which come out to a .258 average, thirteen home runs, and forty-one RBI over seventy-six career postseason games between 1995 and 2015. I then whittled his stats down to the 1995-2004 period to coincide with the end of the 2004 ALCS (when Red Sox fans truly began to hate A-Rod and mock his postseason failures) and also because it was a comparable number of postseason games (to that point) as what Mookie has played. What I found was interesting.
Through the end of the 2004 ALCS which comprised twenty-six postseason games to that point in his career, Rodriguez hit .244 with six home runs and sixteen RBI. Not great, right? He was widely mocked by Sox fans for years after that as MLB’s version of Peyton Manning. And yet, these same Red Sox fans defended Mookie’s .227 average, one home run, and four RBI in twenty-one career postseason games as a mere anomaly in “too small a sample size.”
So which is it? Was A-Rod the choker we all made fun of him for being after the 2004 ALCS (I’m old enough to remember that absolutely was the judgment of him back then)? Or is criticism of Mookie’s shortcomings in October equally valid? I think it’s the latter.
However, that’s not to say Mookie hasn’t contributed at all in October. His defense in the 2018 postseason was incredible and directly responsible for helping the Red Sox get through each series to win the World Series. It also doesn’t mean he’ll never have success in October. As I said in the original responses to my tweet, I believe he will. After all, A-Rod finally broke through in the 2009 postseason to help the Yankees win the World Series.
As one last comparison, let’s look at another former Red Sox player, one who through his first twenty-one career postseason games (through the end of the 2003 ALCS), had the following batting stats: a .227 average with two home runs and twelve RBI. Who could that possibly be, you ask? Why none other than David Ortiz. The following postseason in 2004 saw Ortiz hit .545/1 HR/4 RBI in the ALDS, .387/3 HR/11 RBI in the ALCS, and .308/1 HR/4 RBI in the World Series. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mookie Betts is absolutely capable of turning his October narrative around and hopefully, he’ll be in a Red Sox uniform when he does it.