Mookie Betts is Boston’s prized possession. He’s one of the most naturally talented players in the league, a rare 5-tool guy who’s both well liked across Red Sox Nation and respected throughout the MLB. His talent is evident, his upside is massive, and his highlight reel is eye-popping (2 Gold Gloves in 3 years speaks for itself). So what happened to him in 2017?
Betts’ rookie season was a successful one. A .291/.341/.820 OPS stat line is very good for anyone, but it’s especially phenomenal for a rookie. Then, after finishing 2nd in the MVP race in 2016, when he hit .318 with 31 HR, 113 RBI, 122 runs scored and a 9.5 WAR, he followed up in 2017 with a dismal campaign which saw his numbers drop across the board, including an almost .60 point plummet in BA.
I think much of that can be attributed to a certain overzealousness at the plate. My personal eye test saw Mookie swinging a little too hard, trying a little too much to hit dingers rather than driving one to the gap for extra bases. I’d assume that the reason for this is the pressure felt by him and everyone else caused by the David Ortiz sized hole in the lineup, a pressure that continued to build as the weather turned warmer and the home runs remained elusive. Without Papi providing the pop, Betts felt too much responsibility to drive in runs in bunches.
With new arrival J.D. Martinez anchoring the heart of the lineup this year, I’d expect some of that pressure to ease off of Betts’ (and everyone’s) shoulders, allowing him to get back to what he does best, driving the ball. With a swing that trails slightly upward, the home runs will come, especially with the Green Monster looming in left, but with Mookie presumably leading off, he will be most effective just by getting on base and using his speed to make things happen.
Can he do that? An 0-14 start to Spring Training isn’t the most encouraging sign, but he certainly has the ability, and at only 25-years old he definitely has the room for growth. Add in a sharp baseball mind in Alex Cora pulling the strings from the dugout, and my money is on a Betts resurgence in 2018.