There’s a lot of negativity surrounding the Boston Red Sox right now. I get it. A lot of it is deserved. The Sox have now gotten knocked out in the first round of the playoffs in two straight years, and they haven’t looked even close to their competition. That’s unacceptable in Boston. However, the team we have is still good. A big part of that is because of Markus Lynn Betts.
"Mookie" Betts finished the 2016 season as the runner up in the American League MVP voting. Many people think he should've won it since his team was a division winner and Mike Trout didn't come close to the playoffs. As a 23-year-old that year Betts hit .318/.363/.534 with 31 homers, 26 steals, and won a Gold Glove award. Betts finished the season with 32 defensive runs saved, 10 more than the second place finisher. He did everything you'd want out of a dynamic, young superstar.
Therefore the bar was set impossibly high for 2017, just his third full year in the majors. His triple slash line fell to .264/.344/.459. Let's talk about that for a minute. The batting average falling that much is concerning. It's the lowest he has put up over a full season since becoming a professional. What that says to me is that...this was probably a fluke. Let's check his batting average on balls in play.
Career BABIP (including 2017): .303
2017 BABIP: .268
Career batting average (including 2017): .292
2017 batting average: .264
BABIP is useful because it can show how unlucky (or lucky) a player is getting. Sometimes over the course of a year you'll be smoking line drives right into where fielders are standing, and sometimes bloops will keep falling in as hits. BABIP isn't perfect, but in the case of Betts here there's definitely a case to be made that he was unlucky this year. Throughout his career he hits .303 when putting the ball in play. That fell to .268 in 2017. Maybe he was unlucky. Maybe he was hurt. But I doubt the super athletic 25-year-old is regressing already. I expect his batting average to bounce back to around the .300 mark in 2018.
Betts' power was also down last year, but were people expecting 30+ homers to be a lock for him moving forward? This is a 5'9", 180 pound speedster who was drafted as a slap hitting, second baseman. In the minors in 2012 he hit ZERO homers. The fact that he ALREADY has hit 78 big league homers in mind boggling.
Mookie regressed from 31 homers in 2016 to 24 last year. He still stole 26 bases. He still won a gold glove. He still finished in the top 10 in the AL in WAR. Wait, what? Yes you read that right. For as much of a "down season" as Betts had in 2017 HE STILL FINISHED SEVENTH AMONG ALL AL PLAYERS IN WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT. It's because of all the value he provides with his glove and on the bases that make up for the batting average fluke from last season.
So let's stop with this narrative that Betts was such a bust last year. 2016 may very well be the best season he'll ever have, but even if he keeps turning in performances like 2017 then we still have a franchise cornerstone on our hands. If (when?) that batting average corrects this year he could return to MVP level. I'm buying in. All aboard the Markus Lynn Betts bandwagon.