Is Betts’ Power Surge Sustainable?

AP Photo/Steven Senne

A lot has been made lately of the huge power production from the 5’9” 180 pound right fielder for the Red Sox: Mookie Betts. As of Monday morning he had 14 HRs and 45 RBIs out of the leadoff spot, 5 HRs coming in just 7 at-bats over 2 games against the Baltimore Orioles this week. If you watch Betts play, even for a short period of time, you know he has the potential to have an amazing MLB career. He’s an excellent defensive outfielder, has speed to spare on the basepaths, and has some of the fastest hands in the batter’s box, but is he really a power hitter?

Betts made his MLB debut in 2014, playing in 52 games and finishing with a .291 average and 5 HRs. If averaged out to a full 162-game season, he would have finished with 16 HRs, a very respectable number for a leadoff hitter. Then in 2015, he played in 145 games and finished with an identical .291 average and 18 HRs, which is again a great stat line and a lot of production from the leadoff spot. He we are in 2016 and Betts has played in 57 games and has a .285 average and 14 HRs, just 4 shy of his career high and it’s only June 6th. When averaging out his numbers over 162 games, Betts is on pace for 40 HRs this year. Yes, you read that right, 40.

Now I know he will not play in all 162 games and 40 is a high projection, even if the power surge continues, but is Mookie an annual 30/35 HR hitter? Not likely and here’s why…

During 5 seasons in the minor leagues, Betts hit a total of 27 HRs in 1,315 at-bats, which is a HR every 49 at-bats. In the majors prior to this season, Betts had a HR once every 34 at-bats, which is better than his minor league numbers, but almost half as frequent as his 2016 number of one HR every 18 at-bats. I’m sure Betts is a smarter and stronger player than he was in the minors and probably even stronger than last year, but to see such a significant power jump is staggering.

I have to believe Mookie’s power numbers will come back to earth and be closer to one HR every 30 or 35 at-bats, giving him an average of about 20-25 HRs per year. That would be a better pace than his entire minor league career and his first two years in the MLB and make him one of the best and most powerful leadoff hitters in baseball (notwithstanding the Blue Jays recent experiment with Jose Bautista in the leadoff spot). If Betts can maintain his .285/.290 average with 20-25 HRs on a yearly basis, he has the very real potential to be one of greatest players to don a Red Sox uniform.

Before you chastise me for calling him one of the best, he is a LONG way from greatness. He is 23 years old and has just 254 MLB games of experience, a tiny sample size. His small-ish frame and aggressive style of play are incredibly fun to watch, but make me nervous about future injuries and body-breakdown (i.e. Dustin Pedroia).

Regardless of what the future holds, Mookie Betts is helping to make the Red Sox must-watch television. I want to tune in and see the crazy catch he is going to make in right field or the ridiculous HR he will hit after turning on a fastball at his wrists. He is an electric player who puts butts in the seats at Fenway. Whether Mookie hits 40 HRs or 10 HRs, his imprint will likely be all over this team for years to come.

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