Breaking down Mookie Betts’ assumed thought process in each of his at-bats vs. Angles starter Tyler Skaggs on 4/18/18.
What to Know
Skaggs entered the game with a stellar 2018 record. He’s more or less a two-pitch pitcher, with a low-90’s fastball that he likes to throw up in the zone, and a long, looping 12-to-6 curveball that he likes to throw low and outside to lefties, low and inside to righties. He relies on his fastball when he’s behind in the count and goes to his curveball the most often in 2-strike counts. He had fairly good command with both pitches on the night.
Mookie has very good plate coverage and can hit the ball from anywhere in the zone, but his power alley is low and on the inner half of the plate. Alex Cora has preached aggressiveness at the plate this season and likes to see his guys swing at every strike, but still be disciplined on balls out of the zone.
1st at-bat: 1st inning, lead off.
(Photo credit: ESPN)
Skaggs starts the game, as most pitchers do, with a fastball. This one is up and off the plate, and Betts takes it for a ball. Unlike a lot of lead off hitters, Betts doesn’t usually shy away from this first pitch, but sees this one is landing well outside and lays off. Now ahead in the count, Betts is likely looking fastball here, and he gets one, but he sees that it’s not tracking towards his preferred hitting zone and takes for ball 2.
Betts knows that the overwhelming majority of 2-0 pitches are fastballs, and probably thinks that Skaggs will try another one in an attempt to find his location with the pitch. It is indeed a fastball, but it’s tracking outside and Betts takes again, but this time for a generous strike call. At 2-1, Betts is still ahead in the count, so he has the luxury of waiting for a pitch he likes still, which is likely why he lets Skaggs’ curveball drop in for strike 2.
At 2-2, Betts needs to shorten his swing and protect the plate a little more in order to avoid a strike out. He gets a pitch that he normally likes (fastball, middle-out), but over-swings a tad and rolls over it for the groundout.
While he didn’t reach base, this was still a useful AB for Betts. It allowed him to see what Skaggs is working with for the first time and log some information that he can use going forward.
2nd at-bat: 3rd inning, lead off.
(Photo credit: ESPN)
Skaggs has thrown first pitch fastballs to 7 of the 9 batters he’s faced up to this point in the game, so Betts is likely looking heater for the first pitch again, but instead he gets a curve, probably catching him off guard, and it’s in for a strike.
With only 1 strike against him, Betts still has the freedom to wait for a pitch low in the zone that he can drive, so he remains selective with his swing and takes balls 1 and 2, both fastballs up. Betts is ahead in the count, so he can take the same approach he has thus far, waiting for a pitch in his wheelhouse. The curveball he gets next is not that; it’s middle-out, and Betts takes again for a strike.
With a 2-2 count, Betts again needs to protect the plate a bit, so anything close he knows he needs to swing at and try to make contact with. He knows that Skaggs likes to use his curveball in this kind of situation, but he also threw a curve last pitch, and Skaggs doesn’t double up on off speed pitches often. Betts is again probably looking fastball, so he gets his plant foot down early, sees a 4-seamer tracking low-middle (right where he likes it), and drives it for a single to right-center.
3rd at-bat: 4th inning, 1 out, no one on base.
(Photo credit: ESPN)
Betts has received a first pitch fastball and a first pitch curveball in his 2 previous AB’s, respectively. Skaggs has still been throwing mostly fastballs for his first pitch, so that’s what Betts is looking for once again.
He gets just that, but it’s high, where Betts doesn’t like it, so he takes for ball 1. Ahead of the count for the 3rd time in the game, he’s again sitting on a low fastball that he can drive. Skaggs fools him with a rare changeup, a pitch Betts surely wasn’t expecting, and it’s taken for strike 1.
The 3rd pitch is a low fastball, a pitch Betts likes, but it’s well outside and a pretty easy take. At 2-1, Betts is in the driver seat. He can wait for a pitch he likes, but he also knows that Skaggs has been throwing some curveballs in non-curveball counts like this one. In fact, Betts himself has gotten one of those in each of his first 2 AB’s, so he’s ready for it. Skaggs goes fastball, though, freezing Betts for strike 2.
It’s time to protect the plate again for Betts. He knows that any of Skaggs’ 3 pitches could come his way, so he’s just looking to shorten his swing and put the ball in play. A low curveball comes next, but Skaggs’ delivery makes it easily identifiable, and Betts smartly takes low for a ball.
Now, Skaggs certainly knows that Betts likes low fastballs, so he throws a changeup on the full count. Betts, being a seasoned hitter, knows that he still has 2 strikes on him and he needs to swing at anything in/near the zone, so he shortens his swing again and holds it just long enough to foul off the changeup.
The final full count pitch is a fastball inside. At this point Betts is timing everything off of the fastball, so it’s exactly the pitch that he wants, just not in the location he wants. It’s chest high and in on the hands a bit, and Betts knows that he needs to keep his hands inside of it. He compacts his swing and actually does a good job of fighting it off, but misses it with the barrel of the bat and flies out to center.
Betts ended his day a respectable 1-3 against Skaggs. He put the ball in play in all 3 of his AB’s and hit it hard in 2. Being the first time he had ever faced Skaggs, Betts was going into with just outside scouting reports to go of off. Now, he’ll be able to use what he learned from his AB’s when facing Skaggs in the future.