Boston Red Sox player preview 2018: The resurgence of Mookie Betts

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: Mookie Betts
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: Mookie Betts /

After an MVP-caliber year back in 2016, Mookie Betts struggled to hit the ball for power throughout the 2017 season.  This year, he looks to re-capture that magic as one of the Boston Red Sox top guys.

The Boston Red Sox have been unable to lock up Mookie Betts to a long term deal so far in his young career.  This offseason, Betts was awarded $10 million in arbitration, which was more than the Sox thought he was worth.  In 2018, the talented outfielder will be out to prove his worth to the team and the rest of the league.

Coming off a 2016 season in which he was AL MVP runner up, Betts was still one of the team’s top players offensively and defensively.  He didn’t quite have the MVP-type season he had in ’16, but he still showed signs of how bright his future is.

However, something looked off in 2017 for Betts.  His batting average dropped from an impressive .318 in 2016, to a mediocre .264 last year, according to Baseball-Reference (which isn’t great for a leadoff hitter).  A lot of it has to do with fans putting unnecessary pressure on him after David Ortiz retired.

Despite the significant drop-off in that category, Betts still had silver linings to his game.  According to FanGraphs, Betts was still the third-best baserunner in the MLB in 2017, and even stated that his speed compares to the likes of Billy Hamilton.

Betts’ ability to cover a ton of ground out in right field makes him even more valuable to a team that is known for its strong outfield defense.  It’s not like right field of Fenway Park is easy to play at an exceptional level either.

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His ability to put the ball in play was also still above average in 2017, where his patience shined with a strikeout rate of only 11 percent.  That’s what a leadoff hitter should do, swing at good pitches.  Betts actually batted .313 in the ALDS back in October too, so at least he left the season on a high note.

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Hopefully, that high-level of play trickles into 2018 regular season.

Betts preview for 2018

With the recent addition of power hitter J.D. Martinez to the lineup, the pressure on Betts can finally be lifted a bit. His hitting didn’t digress because of talent, but rather it was because of the tremendous expectations put on him.

People forget that he’s only 25.  He doesn’t have to act like the preeminent superstar anymore.  He just needs to get the job done.  That’s why he had a breakout year in 2016.  Not only did he have Ortiz and Pedroia to help him out, but the possibility of him becoming an MVP candidate was low.

When he gained that moniker, his batting average started to dip.  Now, with Martinez hitting behind him, Betts is the afterthought once again.  He should thrive with that notion.  He reminds me of Isaiah Thomas, but without the massive ego.

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If the flashes of greatness from an underwhelming 2017 showed us anything, it is that Betts is far from a one-hit wonder.