The Dodgers are finally experiencing peak Mookie Betts. In his first two seasons in Los Angeles, Betts was certainly good, hitting .273 and slugging .511 from 2020-21. He had a stellar run as the Dodgers won it all in ‘20, hit .319 in the playoffs in '21 and played his signature game-changing defense.
But he hadn’t had a stretch quite like this, hitting on all cylinders at the plate. Over the past month, Betts has been one of the best players in the Majors. He recently had a streak with a run scored in 12 straight games, tied with Rafael Furcal for the longest such streak since the club moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
The Dodgers are getting the full Mookie Experience. Could that lead to some offseason hardware? It’s early, but always a good time for a reminder that the only player to win an MVP Award in both leagues is Hall of Famer Frank Robinson -- and of course, Betts won it with the Red Sox in 2018.
Betts hit .203 with a .686 OPS and two homers in his first 15 games, with a 22.2% strikeout rate. In the 28 games since, he’s hitting .345 with a 1.126 OPS and 11 homers, with a 13.4% strikeout rate. That’s more like it.
“I think even in ‘20 there were snippets where he was playing good baseball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said earlier this week. “But over the last 30 days, it’s as good as anybody on the planet. Yeah, it’s as good as I’ve seen him. He’s scoring runs at a crazy clip. He’s on base. He’s slugging at a ridiculous clip, too. And he’s playing Gold Glove defense, too. He’s making the game look a lot easier than it is.”
You heard the skipper. And it’s true -- Betts has been the best player in baseball since late April. Let’s dig into what has powered Betts’ turnaround and the company he's in.
Crushing the ball
One great way to succeed in baseball is to hit the ball hard. In 2022, batters are hitting .472 and slugging .907 when making hard contact, which is at 95+ mph exit velocity.
In those first 15 games, Betts had just a 32.6% hard-hit rate, below the MLB average of 38.9%. Since then? Betts is hitting the ball hard more than half the time, with a hard-hit rate of 52.6%.
“It feels like everything he hits is an extra-base hit,” Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner said earlier this week. “Even his outs are loud. … Just the consistency, man. It’s really good, really special.”
Those league-wide numbers when hitting the ball hard are good, but Betts is even better. This season, he’s hitting .600 and slugging 1.354 on hard-hit batted balls. His doing that more frequently is in everyone’s best interest -- except opposing pitchers.
With that increased hard-hit rate and Betts’ consistently above-average sweet-spot rate comes better expected stats, too. He had a .211 expected batting average and .349 expected slugging percentage, based on quality of contact, in those first 15 games to go along with actual marks of .203 and .339, respectively. Since then, he has an xBA of .334 and xSLG of .664 to accompany actual marks of .345 and .717, respectively.
One hallmark of Betts’ game throughout his career has been his whiff rate. He’s been 88th percentile or better in every year since 2015, which represents each full season of his career. He had a 16.8% whiff rate last season and a 13.8% mark in ‘20. In his first 15 games of the season, he was whiffing at an un-Betts-like 21.4% clip. Below the league average of 25.7%, but not quite Betts-ian.
Since then, he’s missing on just 12.8% of his swings, bringing his season average to 15.7% and putting him in the 94th percentile. He’s striking out less, too, in 13.4% of his plate appearances, as opposed to 22.2% earlier in the season. As with whiff rate, that initial rate wasn’t bad -- it just wasn’t like Betts, whose highest strikeout rate in a completed season of his career was 15.6% in 2021. He’s at 16.6% now.
“Just having fun and enjoying the game, man, and taking it one pitch and one at-bat at a time,” Betts said after hitting two homers Tuesday. “I’m just laughing and joking and really sitting back and enjoying it.”
Betts has 2.5 WAR, per FanGraphs, since April 26 -- after those first 15 games he played. That’s the most in the Majors in that span, ahead of Rafael Devers with 2.3, and Manny Machado and Paul Goldschmidt with 2.2 each. Betts is back in the MVP echelon.
"He’s playing MVP-type baseball. He really is,” Roberts said. “That’s where it’s starting, and after that, guys are just following. It’s all about Mookie right now. He’s just carrying us right now and playing excellent baseball.”
Before 2022, Betts hadn’t had a single-season stretch of this length with this much WAR since his '18 MVP campaign. And of course, he’s still Mookie in the field, too, where he is a plus defender yet again by Outs Above Average, adding to what makes him such a captivating player.
“A lot of good quality at-bats all around,” Roberts said Thursday. “Mookie just continues to be out of this world.”
MLB.com’s Juan Toribio contributed to the reporting of this story.