Markus Lynn Betts, affectionately known as Mookie, may be baseball’s most known-unknown commodity.
Known, referring to a player who’s .316/.360/.566 slash, 28 home runs, and 141 wRC+ have translated to baseball’s sixth-highest WAR mark at 6.0, firmly cementing him among the American League MVP discussion. Unknown, being he’s still only 23 years old, winding down his second full season in the big leagues, and despite the MVP talk there’s still kind of a sense that lots of folks wouldn’t be able to pick Betts out of a police lineup.
Nevertheless, Betts has become the Red Sox’ best all-around player, and it’s much to do with his corner outfielder power, even in his 5’9, 180-pound stature.
There’s a bit of a misunderstanding when it comes to little guys and power because the little guys don’t often inherit the slugging tool. Players like Betts have to ask their body to do much more than, for example, Mark Trumbo or Edwin Encarnacion. The two maulers generate more consistent pop because their natural size and strength affords them the benefit of exerting their mechanics without more than necessary effort, or as they say, they have that “easy power”. In the attempt to add the extra muscle, the majority of players who fall into the same categorization as Betts will lose their fundamentals when trying to do more than they’re intrinsically capable of.
That isn’t Betts however, and that’s what makes him so different. Betts is one of the few hitters at his size who doesn’t compromise his swing path with added veracity because the brace works in harmony, like a Bostonian pronouncing Yawkey. It just fits.
One of the things Betts does so well is hit in rhythm. The high loading of his hands isn’t ideal in some circles, but he uses it in sync with his stride and is complemented with one of baseball’s fastest set of hands. Like Josh Donaldson’s high leg kick, this is Betts’ personal spin on producing hard-hit baseballs that travel long distances. Not so personal, however, is the nearly identical approach to hitting Betts has with one of the game’s smaller, yet prodigious power-hitting outfielders.
Andrew McCutchen is only 5’10 and, like Betts, is very simple in his stride. Though Betts may be more extreme, McCutchen also utilizes a high-hands pre-pitch load. Both players are tremendous in creating backspin on the baseball, a testament to the pair’s ability to swing on top of the ball. And again, that all withers back to the two using their hands in such a fashion.
Though the most important similarity Betts and McCutchen share is not their hands or load, but where their strides take them. Both don’t wait for the pitch to get to them. They attack the baseball.
Using Trumbo again as an example, he’s a hitter that is more up and down in his stance, employing a small toe-tap as his means of timing. Trumbo never really glides through the baseball, but that’s the benefit of being 6’4 and 240 pounds. He doesn’t have to.
Betts and McCutchen are rare in their ability not only to greet the baseball out in front of them with such force, but never disallow the rest of their swing to abandon them. Their heads never waver, keeping their eyes on a level path to traverse the plate. Such is their process — both men draw to the baseball with fury and square their hips with equal fervor. Pull power is atypical of men of their proportions, and despite McCutchen’s current struggles they’re players whose feats are abnormal to those of any measurables.
And as good as McCutchen was so quickly, his career ISO arc is being put into the shredder by Betts’, whose power is no fluke. Even if his slugging numbers fluctuate a tad as McCutchen’s have, we’re still looking at a corner outfielder who prototypes as an organizational cornerstone, and if you didn’t know who he was, you’d never guess Betts was only 5’9 and happens to play plus-plus defense.
As an Orioles fan, I’m equally terrified as I am bewildered by the prospect of Betts playing with the BoSox for the next few years and beyond, because even though his sample size of roughly two years across three seasons isn’t quite enough to stamp him as a star, he looks like he’s just getting better.
Nick is a weekly writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as Camden Chat, SB Nation’s Baltimore Orioles blog. If you so choose, you can follow his Orioles musings on Twitter at @Swissere.