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Alex Cora has a bold prediction for Mookie Betts

Rob Bradford
April 19, 2018 - 12:42 pm

It's easy for the casual observer to suggest Mookie Betts is going to have a career year. When you watch what he has been doing through the first 17 games it seems like a no-brainer.

But when his manager definitively offers a prediction along the lines of what Alex Cora gave Dale & Keefe Wednesday, that's something else.

"There’s a different approach," Cora said of Betts. "I think he set the tempo on the first-pitch fastball of the season he almost take it out of the ballpark in Tampa against Archer. Instead of just working the count, taking pitches right down the middle and falling behind, he’s ready to attack from the get-go. You can see now pitchers, they know what’s going on so they have to grind from the first pitch with every at-bat. I don’t think it’s a hot stretch. I think this is the guy. Obviously his OPS is not going to be 1.400. He’ll be over .900 and that’s a good leadoff hitter. I mean, that’s elite. That’s what we wanted from the get-go and he’s done an outstanding job."

An over .900 OPS?

To add some context, even in the 2016 season Betts finished second in the MVP race he totaled an .897 OPS, the highest of his career. Last season, there were 23 players to manage an OPS of .900 or better, with the number standing at 16 the year before.

As for leadoff hitters, only one full-time guy at the top of his respective order hit carried an OPS of over .900, and that was Charlie Blackmon of Colorado (.999 when hitting leadoff). Even the guy Cora wanted Betts to emulate, Houston's George Springer, fell just short of the mark in his time in the leadoff spot, comin in at .894 at the top of the Astros' batting order.

The reason Cora is so optimistic, identifying this version of Betts as the guy he will be going forward, is because of some noteworthy changes. 

First off, Betts is hardly putting the ball on the ground at all, carrying the fourth-lowest ground ball percentage in the majors (25.9 percent), which is significantly different than the 40.8 percent he finished last season with.

Then you get to what Cora referencing about Betts' approach.

The outfielder is fifth in the majors in putting pitches he swings at in play (52.4 percent), while swinging and missing the third-fewest times, whiffing on just 10.7 percent of his swings.

And while it has seemed as though Betts is hunting for those first pitch opportunities more than ever, that's actually not been a primary weapon. He only has one hit (a home run) in the six plate appearances he has swung at the first pitch, offering at Pitch No. 1 just nine times in 71 opportunities. It's been setting up the pitcher after not chasing that has been the key. Betts is 5-for-8 on 1-0 counts, 2-for-2 on 0-1 counts. 

There are also 102 players who have gotten into more two-strike counts than Betts. Moral of story: If he sees a pitch he likes, he hits it. And he's been hitting it a lot.


Alex Cora with Dale & Keefe 4-18-18

Red Sox manager Alex Cora joins Dale & Keefe to discuss his perception of David Price last night, the Sox’s pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, letting pitchers hit and pitch, how the team’s defense became elite, and to drop some praise for Rafael Devers.

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