Two weeks ago, we took a look at Mookie Betts and how he has somehow flown under the radar for the Boston Red Sox. Easily the best position player on the team, I spent a few paragraphs reminding the few who forgot that fact, relying on his work at plate. But I left out another piece of the equation: his defense.
Defense is not something that fits onto the back of a baseball card and can oftentimes be overlooked unless a player does something really bad or exceptionally good. You expect players to make the routine plays and are overjoyed when they lay out to rob a base hit. But what about the plays in between? That’s where elite defenders make their presence felt. Betts doesn’t have the flash as an outfielder as Jackie Bradley Jr, but there’s reason he’s won two Gold Gloves.
In 2017, Betts led the Red Sox in defensive runs saved (DRS). But he didn’t do it by a little. He had more than double the total of the next best player, registering 31 compared to Sandy Leon’s second place mark of 15. He also stood out with his ability to get to balls, posting ranged runs above average of 14.0 and a ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 20.5.
Drilling even deeper and examining Betts on a play-by-play level, you’ll find more goodness. He made a career-high 56.3 percent of plays deemed unlikely by FanGraphs last season, while logging another personal best with 1,389 1⁄3 defensive innings. His ability to get to the right spot is predicated on excellent instincts that are only getting better. According to FanGrahps’s fan scouting report, Betts earned a rating of 81 (out of 100) in instincts and 83 in first step for 2017, which were both the best marks of his career.
Plus even when he can’t get to the ball he’s still doing it with a smile on his face.
BASEBALL NEEDS MORE OF THIS— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) March 27, 2018
Mookie Betts, during an in-game interview, gets ball hit over his head: “I ain’t getting this one, boys.” pic.twitter.com/McfNeuEnXT
His arm also makes him a plus defender, as he has accumulated 32 assists over the last three seasons. His work there has really improved lately, as he has accumulated an outfield arms runs above average above 5.0 in each of the last two seasons. His previous career-high was 0.2.
In closing, Mookie Betts is very good at baseball and not just at the plate. Where do I pick up my Pulitzer?
For as solid as they are in the outfield defensively, there is some improvement that needs to be made in the infield. (Steve Buckley; Boston Herald)
Depth is another area of concern for the infield. (Alex Speier; Boston Globe)
The Red Sox are among the teams in that wonderful world of being a contending team with a future. (Grant Brisbee; SB Nation)
That doesn’t mean there isn’t any pressure on this team. There always is after all. (Scott Lauber; ESPN)
Andrew Benintendi is swinging more often and it worked in the spring. (Chad Jennings; Boston Herald)
Meet Marcus Walden, the most unlikely member of the Opening Day roster. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)
The Red Sox have the highest payroll in baseball and part of that is going to players who are no longer on the team. (Nick O’Malley; MassLive)