Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts wasn’t just one of the best hitters in the American League in July. He was the game’s best fielder as well. And he put together arguably the best all-around month of any player this season.
Betts entered the month with four defensive runs saved all season. He finished it with 15, tied for third in the majors and the most of any right fielder. And he’s our choice for Defensive Player of the Month for July.
Betts did all this in a month in which he hit .368/.415/.653. His 1.068 OPS in July ranked sixth in the majors and second in the American League to Tyler Naquin (1.097), who did it in 29 fewer plate appearances. Betts recorded a hard-hit ball (based on video review) in 27 percent of his July at-bats, the second-highest rate in the majors, a hair behind Justin Turner of the Dodgers.
The combination elevated Betts’ wins above replacement (WAR) to 5.3 this season, which ended July ranked fourth in the American League behind Mike Trout (6.8), Jose Altuve (6.1) and Josh Donaldson (5.8) and matched NL leader Kris Bryant. Betts ended July with 1.5 more WAR than David Ortiz.
But we’re here to discuss defense, and Betts’ D was outstanding. He’s been highly adept at getting outs both on shallow fly balls (he’s five plays above average on those) and on balls hit to the deepest part of the ballpark (he’s nine plays above average on those and had a major league high six such catches in July).
Betts has also made improvements in terms of eye-test measurements. Last season, he had 22 good fielding plays (think Web Gem-caliber) and 31 misplays and errors, per video review by Baseball Info Solutions. The 22-to-31 ratio is below-average for a center fielder. This season, Betts has an above-average ratio in right field -- 15 good fielding plays and 11 misplays and errors.
But what’s most interesting about Betts is that there’s still room for growth in his game. Tuesday marked his 324th career professional start in the outfield -- the equivalent of two major league seasons (he was groomed to be a second baseman for much of his minor league career). As Baseball Tonight analyst Doug Glanville pointed out to me on Monday night, Betts is still learning on the fly. Sometimes when Betts catches a ball, it still looks a little awkward, even in the two plays linked earlier in this article.
“He’s still figuring out how to be efficient in his routes,” Glanville said. “It’s like you’re in a car as a passenger and the driver is driving on a straightaway. If they’re good, you don’t feel the subtle adjustments they’re making. If they’re constantly making adjustments, it’s not comfortable. Mookie is still making adjustments. When you’re an outfielder, your routes can exploit you [and lead to mistakes]. Precision is so important.
“He’s phenomenally talented, super-fast, and constantly working to get better. That’s why he excels in so many ways. The sky’s the limit for him. But there’s way more he can do."