Is Mookie Betts’ Power for Real?

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but it really was only a few years back when Mookie Betts was a relatively unknown prospect ready to make the leap into national consciousness. We all know how that process went: Lightning-quick and equipped with sky-high expectations. Amazingly, through roughly two seasons against major-league competition, Betts has essentially lived up to all of the expectations.

Against the odds, he’s rewarding the “prospect huggers” who bemoaned any trade rumor that included the name Betts. Against even larger odds, he’s making us think twice about institutionalizing those who called the fast-riser “The Next McCutchen.” Betts is in the same conversation as some of the best players in baseball (not quite in the top tier, but right behind them), and that’s a fun thing that becomes easy to forget over the course of a long season.

So far this year — and through his whole career, really — Betts has been at least adequate in every aspect of the game. Most of these strides haven’t been overly surprising given the skill set he showed off in the minors.

The power, however, is not one of those strides. So far this year, Betts has knocked out 18 homers, one of 39 players who has reached that mark in 2016. He also has a .211 ISO, one of 51 players who have shown at least that much power this year. Even the most optimistic projections for Betts a few years ago would’ve called this is a surprise. What has happened, though, is far less interesting than what’s going to happen. The sustainability of Betts’ power is what will determine whether he’s merely very good or truly great. 

As fun as it can be to watch Betts do his thing on the base paths, it’s a lot more fun to watch him slug balls over the wall.

So, there are really two ways of looking at this question, and each give different answers for Betts’ future. Whether you look at this issue as one of overall power or strictly home run power allows you to view things very differently for Boston’s right fielder. Right now, Betts is on pace for 32 home runs. Without looking at the numbers (which we’ll do soon), that seems like an unlikely final number for him in 2016. However, the idea of him sustaining an ISO slightly above .200 becomes much more likely. This, of course, is because he has the ability to notch an almost-infinite number of extra-base hits.

Everything is working for Betts in this regard. For one, he’s a line-drive hitter, which allows the ball a better chance of reaching the gap or the corner. Then, you add in the base-running acumen. Not only is he fast, but he’s proven extremely smart on the base paths. Betts is going to turn more singles into doubles and doubles into triples than most MLB players. On top of this, Betts plays his home games at Fenway, which is Doubles Heaven. This is not as efficient of a route to a high ISO as simply hitting lots of dingers, but at the end of the day, it works.

Let’s be honest, though. As fun as it can be to watch Betts do his thing on the base paths, it’s a lot more fun to watch him slug balls over the wall. There are some reasons to believe he can keep up something close to this long-ball pace. The first one is more of speculation, but it needs to be mentioned. In case you haven’t noticed, home runs and offense in general are up across the league this year. In fact, it started midway through the 2015 season.

We don’t know why this is happening, whether it’s something as cynical as juicing the balls or something as natural as the regular ebbs and flows of the game being helped along by a recent surge of amazing offensive prospects. Either way, Betts isn’t the only one being affected by this, but he’s certainly being helped.

Even beyond that, however, there are some tangible reasons he is hitting for so much power this year. For one thing, he is making sure to punish pitches in the zone. We all know that it’s much easier to hit home runs on balls in the zone rather than those outside of it. Among the 112 batters who have seen at least 1250 pitches this year, exactly zero (0) have made more contact on balls in the zone than Betts.

This is a big reason for his aforementioned line drive and contact skills. Even better, he has not been hitting the ball on the ground. Here’s a fun fact: It is impossible to hit a grounder over the fence for a home run! As such, hitting the ball in the air is essential for real power. Betts ranks 179th out of 211 players with 400 plate appearances in ground-ball rate. One would think this could have a negative effect on his BABIP, but it hasn’t been the case this year

Finally, Betts is thriving against the easiest pitch to hit home runs off: the fastball. One of the most amazing things that one notices when watching him hit is just how quick his hands are. For such a small guy, he can turn around just about any pitch, which helps explain his .438 ISO to the pull side (per Fangraphs).

For such a small guy, Betts can turn around just about any pitch, which helps explain his .438 ISO to the pull side.

According to Brooks Baseball, Betts has managed a 14.3 percent HR/FB ratio against fastballs this season, while hitting ground balls only a third of the time and hardly ever whiffing. Betts has had success against offspeed and breaking pitches this year, too, but the fastball has been his bread and butter. Luckily, this part of his game seems mostly sustainable given that he hits in front of Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz. Most pitchers won’t want to mess around and put Betts on base with free passes too often.

The bad news is, even factoring all this in, it doesn’t seem completely sustainable. Betts’ home-run numbers are still being elevated by that insane two-day run he went on in May. Remember that? It was awesome when he hit five home runs in two days, but it’s still having an unfair effect on his overall totals. In fact, that was the only individual month in which Betts finished with an ISO of at least .200. The good news is two of the other months ended with a .193 ISO.

That last part goes back to my original point: If you are worried only about home-run power, you will probably be disappointed. Betts has shown legitimate pop in his bat, and his underlying numbers support that, but it’s probably a low-20’s home run bat rather than a low-30’s one. Nonetheless, those home runs aren’t all going to turn into outs. There will be a couple extra doubles and triples mixed in, and he can keep his ISO hovering in the .200 range. At the end of the day, Betts’ power may or may not be for real. But that all just depends on what you mean.

Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images

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4 comments on “Is Mookie Betts’ Power for Real?”


2016 Mookie Betts power is a lot more real than 2011 Jacoby Ellsbury power. Peak Mookie will be even more amazing than Outlier Jacoby.


I do not know why people, like Matt Collins, are still hesitant to accept the fact that Mookie is a true five tool player. He is easily a 70+ in every facet of the game. Hit-check, run- check, defense- check and hit with power- check. I have watched Mookie, in person, since Greenville and predicted, in response to a BP article during Spring Training, that his line in 2016 would be .310/.375/.500 with 25 HR’s. Don’t look at the size of the man, look at the performance.

Matt Collins

Huh, that sounds a lot like an ISO close to .200 and closer to low-20s home runs than low-30s. Feel like I read a similar prognostication recently.


It is now July 22 and he has already reached the “low 20’s”. In the last 2 games he has hit 2 over the Monster, dented the Monster with a shot hit so hard even he could only get a single and hit the center field wall. What, may I ask is power?

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