Betting on Betts

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At just 21, Mookie Betts burst onto the scene and provided a huge offensive boost to a struggling Red Sox team in 2014.  He finished that season with 55 hits, 18 RBIs, and 7 stolen bases, while posting a .291 batting average in 52 games.  He was expected to be a big contributor heading into 2015, and Betts did not disappoint.  In his first home game of the season, Betts had two hits (one being a three run dingah), two steals, four RBIs, and robbed a Bryce Harper home run.  Manager John Farrell said after the game that “[Betts] took the game over… he’s a talented, exciting player.”

It was clear then that Betts was ready for the big leagues, and his steady success throughout the season confirmed it.  He finished the year as one of the team’s only bright spots, ending up with 174 hits (21st in MLB), 18 home runs, 21 stolen bases, and only 82 strikeouts while retaining his .291 batting average. But Betts’ impressive offensive abilities go even further than that. On pitches outside of the strike zone, for example, Betts has a career swing percentage of 24.6.  When compared to an already proven hitter such as Harper (32.8%), this stat shows that Betts draws long counts from pitchers, and doesn’t throw away any swings on bad pitches.

When the pitcher does throw a strike, however, Betts’ bat is just as impressive as his eye. His career contact percentage when the pitch is in the zone stands at 93.1.  This shows that Betts doesn’t let easy pitches slide, and is quick to jump on a pitcher’s mistake.  Combining these two numbers exemplifies his value as a leadoff hitter. When Betts hits first in the batting order, like he did 117 times last season, he is be able to get a great look at the pitcher not only for him, but also for the rest of the team.  Betts has already built a reputation for being a very helpful teammate and a true student of the game, taking extreme measure to research pitchers beforehand.  Additionally, with someone fast like Jackie Bradley Jr. batting last, small ball play or hit and runs become viable options.

Mookie was no slouch on defense either.  In 133 games, Betts had 335 putouts (10th in MLB), and .989 fielding percentage.  He was fifth among outfielders for errors with only four, and turned into a dependable centerfielder in only his second season playing the position.  One of the new breed of smaller but more agile outfielders, Betts is able to chase down hits and go horizontal to rob doubles and triples in the gap when necessary.  Slated to start the year in right field, he will have to learn how to navigate that position’s difficult angles at Fenway Park, but based on how he handled the move from second base to center, he is likely to handle those obstacles with ease.

Also, no matter where he plays in the outfield, Betts will have the support of the other two members of the rangey BBC (Betts, Bradley, and Rusney Castillo).  He will have enormous amounts of confidence knowing that should he lose sight of the ball, or take a bad route; there will be capable backup there to bail him out.  That trio, supplemented with platoon shifts by newly acquired Chris Young, will be one of the more dominant defensive outfields in all of baseball.

Although he is one of many young, exciting, Red Sox (Bogaerts, Betts, Swihart, Vasquez, JBJ, Shaw, E-Rod, Owens, Moncada, Devers-oh my), Betts will play perhaps the biggest role on and off the field.  He will provide consistent offense; capable of both hitting balls over the wall and for average, and a dependable arm in the outfield.  Off the field, however, Betts will be counted on to keep the clubhouse loose.  Mook seems like the coolest friend you could possibly want to have, and is definitely “one of the guys” already.  A noted (and ranked) bowler, Betts is definitely a wild card, and a great personality to have on the team.  It’s almost unfair to expect so much from a 23 year old, but it’s easy to have full confidence in #50 to help carry this team to a fourth World Series in 12 years.

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