Does Mookie Betts have the skills to be the next Andrew McCutchen?
The Red Sox have long been out of contention in the AL East. The team has struggled because of a lackluster rotation, a bullpen that lacks consistency, and a few offseason signings that haven’t gone exactly according to plan. But there are a few things to get excited about in Beantown that shouldn’t be overlooked during such a grim season, and the biggest of them all is actually rather small.
Markus Lynn Betts is only 5-foot-9, rather short by Major League standards, yet don’t let that tiny frame fool you. Mookie Betts is a pretty incredible baseball player. He can field, he can hit for power or for average, he can steal, and he does all three seemingly with ease. Does this remind you of anyone? Here’s a hint.
Mookie Betts might be the next Andrew McCutchen and not just because of their contagious smiles.
Minor differences, major similarities: Separated at birth?
Let’s start at the beginning. Yes, Andrew McCutchen entered the league with some extra pomp and circumstance. The Pirates outfielder was drafted in the first round of the 2005 Player Draft, while Betts was taken during the fifth round in 2011. But that is just about where the differences stop. Both youngsters were multi-sports stars; Betts was a bowling aficionado who almost went pro and was named Most Valuable Player in District 12-AAA as a point guard in high school, while McCutchen was a track star and an impressive football player who was planning on playing in college.
Both were known for their smarts both on and off the diamond. And, interestingly, their skill sets developed in the same way, causing Betts to rocket up prospect rankings as he began to move through the Boston Minor League system. Take a look at the similarities between their respective scouting reports as they marched upward from Double-A to Triple-A:
X has the ability to steal bases and take an extra base on even the best outfield arms … [his] speed and ability to make contact helps project him as an efficient and effective top-of-the-order hitter. He has the ability to see lots of pitches, realizing that a walk is as good as a base hit … X has surprising power … very impressed with the overall athletic ability, soft hands and quick feet.
Y a five-tool player with terrific athletic ability to go along with plus bat speed and good pitch recognition. The development of his power will determine whether he’s a leadoff hitter or an eventual run producer. He has outstanding speed and is an excellent defensive center fielder but is still learning the nuances of base-stealing.
Can you tell which player is X and which is Y, according to their MLB Pipeline scouting reports? Well, player X is Mookie Betts, and Y is Andrew McCutchen, but it barely matters, as the scouting reports are nearly identical. Both players show speed and developing power, both play impressive defense, and both have excellent pitch recognition. Now, how did these skills play out in the Majors?
What happened when they hit the Majors: Mookdrew McBetts?
Let’s continue the “X-Y” guessing game because the first round was so much fun. Here are two stat lines: which belongs to Mookie, and which belongs to Cutch?
X 433 AB: 74 R, 124 H, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 22SB, .286/.365/.471
Y 540 AB: 80R, 155 H, 15 HR, 71 RBI, 19SB, .287/.334/.467
In addition to the offensive numbers, their raw defensive skills were rather similar, but Betts has excelled in a way McCutchen did not early on. It is important to note that Betts was originally a second baseman in the Minors but moved to center field under Boston’s watchful eye, and he has quickly developed into one of the American League’s best outfielders in the game. McCutchen utilized his speed when he arrived in the Majors but lacked the instincts that Betts possesses.
dWAR for Betts: 1.3
dWAR for Cutch: -0.8
Back to our game. Stumped? Well maybe the number of at-bats helped, but these are the totals for both McCutchen (X) and Betts (Y, as of Sept. 22) in their first full seasons in the Majors. Look at how eerily similar the final lines are. They boast nearly the same average and ability to get on base, similar low-double-digit power numbers and the speed to steal 20 to 25 bases. Both are only 22 years old, with McCutchen making his Major League debut in 2009 and Betts debuting in 2014, but playing his first full season in 2015.
Still not convinced? Then let’s take a look at some of the underlying numbers behind these stats.
This chart shows what type of contact each player displayed in their youth. As you can see, both McCutchen and Betts make solid contact, sporting a healthy line drive percentage and similar GB/FB ratios.
These numbers show that both McCutchen and Betts were not just making solid contact, but they were also making hard contact, driving pitches with a slim number of softly-hit balls. A high line drive percent mixed with a high hard-hit percent is often a predictor of future success.
Finally, let’s look at their lefty-righty splits:
.291AVG, 4 homers vs. L
.286AVG, 11 homers vs. R
.310AVG, 4 homers vs. L
.279AVG, 8 homers vs. R
The splits show that both players handled either side of the plate with relative ease, an impressive feat for two 22 year olds. Hitting both lefties and righties is often an area of struggle for rookies, but both McCutchen and Betts have proved exceptions.
Joe’s Conclusion: What does the future hold?
This topic has been addressed before by a few different places; this comparison isn’t the only one between Cutch and Betts. And others sometimes come to different conclusions. Dave Cameron duly notes that McCutchen’s development was a bit of an anomaly, which is true. But when Cameron did his analysis last year, he noted:
“If you break his final 39 games from the time of his permanent recall in half, he swung at just 33 percent of the pitches he saw from Aug. 18 to Sept. 7 [of 2014], then swung at 39 percent of the pitches he saw from Sept. 8 to Sept. 28. But even a 39 percent swing rate is still well below the league average, and Betts would have a long way to travel before he got up to McCutchen’s current 45 percent swing rate. And increasing one’s swing rate isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to hit for more power, so the transition isn’t as simple as swing more to get better.”
While this true, Betts’ swing rate has continued to increase, and it is up to 41 percent this season, and his OBP has actually continued to climb, as has his power. McCutchen’s swing rate wasn’t always at 45 percent—it wasn’t until his fourth season that McCutchen surpassed a 41 percent swing rate. And so Betts is on a similar trajectory, at least to some degree. SH Baseball, in their analysis, made a point that is a bit more concerning. They took a look earlier in the season at the spray charts of both outfielders career HRs. Here’s how they stack up.
While they get a bit hung up on the number, one believes that power can certainly develop. A bit more troublesome is that Betts’ home run power is entirely to the pull side, while McCutchen has peppered homers throughout all fields during his career. Yet at Fenway Park, he plays at the perfect field for his power. And if you take a look at his spray chart with the other hits added in, you can see that Betts sprays his line drives all over the park. Behold:
This at least offers some promise. While Betts probably won’t boast the power to all fields that Cutch in his prime offers, there are plenty of players who are successful in the Majors who rely on pulling the vast majority of their homers. But nevertheless, Betts has plenty of time to develop more power and can work on shifting his approach as he matures with age. At 22 years old, Betts looks like a mini McCutchen, boasting the same type of contact, same impressive eye, excellent speed and an even better glove in center. And with McCutchen’s upside, one should take him on his squad any day of the week.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your MLB SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more MLB questions »