BOSTON (CBS) — So the Red Sox lack power. Fine. Without a major overhaul of the middle of the lineup, that’s a problem that’s hard to fix. But there’s something about the Red Sox’ approach that is lacking at times, too – particularly in key spots of late – and Mookie Betts is a great example.
Two nights ago, for just the sixth time this season and 38th time in 447 career big league games, Betts struck out multiple times in a game. Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman made a concerted effort to pitch Betts away, and the pull-happy Betts appeared lunging and off-balance, which we’ll try to demonstrate with the following photo. Pay particular attention to Betts’ hands – which are among the fastest in the game – and the head of his bat, which is way, way out in front:
Obviously, this one at-bat. Certainly, there is every chance Betts was simply fooled on this pitch. But during a season in which the Red Sox rank last in the American League in homers, it’s worth noting that 14 of Betts’ team-leading 17 home runs have come on the road. All 17 have been hit to the pull side of the field. As talented as Betts is, Betts lacks the size and strength to hit the ball out of the ballpark to the opposite field – and that is hardly his fault – which is why teams try to attack him on the outer part of the plate. Out there, he just can’t hurt them as much.
But the moment Betts starts doing what he did on Monday night – reaching and trying to pull outside pitches – he becomes an infinitely easier out.
Make of this what you will: according to baseball-reference.com, Betts entered Tuesday night batting just .143 on balls hit to the opposite field this season. He had just six opposite-field hits on the season. (Yes, six). That is an absurdly low number, especially for someone of Betts’ ability. And it is so low, in fact, that it makes you question the way the statistic was calculated and the legitimacy of the source.
So we’ll tell you what. Let’s purely compare apples to apples. Using the same metric from the same source, Betts batted .266 on balls hit to the opposite field last season, finishing with 33 hits. This year, he is on pace to finish with 12, which is probably a big reason that someone who batted .318 last season and entered this year with a career number of .304 is sitting, for the moment, at .274.
All of which brings us to last night.
With two outs and two on in the 11th inning of last night’s game, Betts came to the plate with the Red Sox trailing the Blue Jays, 4-3. Jays closer Roberto Osuna started Betts off with – you guessed it – a cut fastball away, and Betts slightly pulled off it, swinging and missing. So what happened next? Betts made an adjustment, punching a single through the right side that tied the game.
That swing looked like this:
Look, none of us is a big-league hitting coach. But you get the idea. The Betts in this photo is balanced, sitting back on the ball, taking what the pitcher gives him. This is situational hitting at its best. And while the focus here is on Betts, it all speaks to an overall situational approach by Red Sox hitters, the large majority of whom lack the kind of power to drive the ball out of the ballpark to the opposite field.
And so, short of a trade, what do the Red Sox need to do to improve their relatively mediocre offense? Stop trying to hit home runs. Against good pitching, especially, take what the opposition gives you. Score in other ways.
If the 2017 Red Sox want to make a run at a championship, after all, they really have no choice.