Is Mookie Betts the best hitter in MLB?

Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts singles off a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb in the third inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 16, 2017, in Boston. The Red Sox won 7-5. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Mookie Betts ended a streak of 129 plate appearances without striking out. Is Betts currently the best hitter in MLB?

Debate by downloading our app on iOS at apple.co/1ITwL4w or on Android at bit.ly/fandings. You also can play online at playfandings.com.

The story:

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts stuck out for first time in 129 regular season plate appearances on Wednesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Betts struck out against Francisco Liriano in the top of the fourth inning. His last strikeout in the regular season was on September 12th, 2016 against the Baltimore Orioles.

It is the longest streak by a Red Sox player since Denny Doyle went 159 plate appearances without striking out in 1975.

Betts was hitting .356 on the year with 16 hits and no strikeouts in 11 games on the season before Wednesday night.

This is one heck of a list:

A truly impressive streak:

That Betts still has a goose egg in the strikeout column 50 plate appearances into this season is all the more remarkable given the “Grip It and Rip It” era he plays in. The league-average American League batter is on pace to strike out 129 times this season over 600 plate appearances.

In 2016, the league average figure was 124 strikeouts per 600 PAs, with Orioles slugger Chris Davis leading the way with 219 Ks. Davis also hit 38 home runs, a decent illustration of the modern player who seemingly sells out for power, strikeouts be damned.

That makes Betts’ bat control all the more remarkable. He struck out just 80 times in 730 plate appearances in 2016 – his 11% rate ranking seventh in the AL – and still managed to hit 31 home runs and get on base at a .363 clip. He finished second to Mike Trout in AL MVP voting.

Bett’s doesn’t seem to care:

In the strikeout era:

What makes Betts’s performance especially impressive is that it comes in an era when strikeouts are at record numbers. Last year, the MLB strikeout rate was 21.1%, the highest rate ever recorded and one that has steadily increased since 2008 and has now topped 20% three years in a row. Hitters are swinging and missing more than they have at any point in the last 15 years (since 2002, when swing-and-miss data first became available), with the league breaking 10% for the first time in that span. And while the 2017 season is young, the league as a whole already boasts a strikeout rate of 21.6% and a swing-and-miss rate of 10.4%, both of which would be new records.

Jon Taylor from SI:

Overall, Betts’s philosophy is a simple one: Don’t swing often, but make contact when you do. That creates an incongruous and unique profile because he has the same swing and contact rates of low-power slap hitters like Iglesias or Panik but produces results closer to the likes of Trout. Betts’s ability to cover the plate and punish strikes while also driving the ball is hard to find in today’s game. So while Wednesday night saw his strikeout-less streak end, don’t be surprised if Betts also quietly started another one.

Lindsey Adler from Deadspin:

 

It’s difficult to consider the extent of the strikeout streak as one entity, given that an entire six months passed between the last game of the 2016 regular season and the first of the 2017 regular season. This being so, let’s mark off Betts’s swing and contact rates starting from the beginning of this season. They’re pretty eye-popping. Per Pitchf/x data from Fangraphs, Betts is:

  • Swinging at only 18.7% of pitches outside the zone.

  • Swinging at 56.4% of pitches inside the zone.

  • Swinging at 38.5% of overall pitches.

  • Making contact with 76.5% of pitches his swings at outside the plate.

  • Making contact with 98.3% of pitches he swings at inside the zone.

  • Making contact with 93.2% of pitches his swings at overall.

Just how did Bett’s pull this off:

What do you think? Is Betts the best hitter in MLB?

Debate by downloading our app on iOS at apple.co/1ITwL4w or on Android at bit.ly/fandings. You also can play online at playfandings.com.