Coming off a season that resulted in yet another World Series championship earned, the Boston Red Sox do not have that many areas that need to be improved. However, their bullpen, after inevitably losing Craig Kimbrel (even though he still remains unsigned) will need to reshuffle and figure out who will slot in at the end of their pen.
Having not brought another reliever in during the offseason due to money constraints, filling the void and performance vacated by Kimbrel will need to be filled in-house, which will be difficult but not impossible. The likes of Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes and Tyler Thornburg will all be thrown into the mix to see who can nail down the closer role during spring training.
Even with the pitching situation being unsettled in the Red Sox’ bullpen, their star player role is mighty fine. Mookie Betts, the starlet in all Boston fans’ eyes, is brimming with potential and the team rode his performance throughout the playoffs to the World Series and past the pesky Los Angeles Dodgers, who did not seem to put up a real fight.
Betts, who played in his lowest amount of games since his first season in the big leagues in 2014, produced eye-popping numbers at the plate for the BoSox. A .346 average, combined with 32 home runs, 80 RBIs, 81 walks and only 91 strikeouts across 520 at-bats is quite remarkable, to say the least.
While he will be looked to again in 2019 to help bring the Red Sox back to the promised land, there will need to be an expectation that he will regress in a sense and that injuries may make him play less again this season. While no one wishes for that to happen, not even New York Yankees fans, that is seemingly inevitable, especially with the type of workload he faced last season.
With that in mind, here are three bold predictions for Betts for his 2019 season.
AL leader in steals? You bettscha
His career high in steals came last season, as he swiped 30 bags in yet another way to build himself into a cannot-miss player among the upper echelon in the league. Now ranking up there with the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado in terms of positional players, Betts will try and add the art of base swiping to his arsenal of skills.
To provide some perspective, the leaders from each league in 2018 had steal totals in the 40s, as Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals stole 43 bags and the repeating champion and newly-extended second baseman for the Kansas City Royals, Whit Merrifield, led the American League and the entire MLB with 45 stolen bags.
To have an increase of at least 15 more steals from what Betts has had as a career-high is going to be a tough ask, but it may become a necessity that Betts take on the role of a base stealer to help this team become more well rounded as the season progresses.
Lower average continues the pattern
The past four seasons for Betts have resulted in an interesting trend, as he has put up a .200+ average, then a .300+ average every other season, as he had a .290 average in 2015, then up to .318 in 2016, back down to .263 in 2017 and then all the way up to .346 last season.
While not being superstitious in any form, the numbers do not lie. While Betts has had a remarkably consistent career so far, his average will fall again, mostly due to wear and tire on his body from his uber-performance last season.
Hitting for a .294 clip is still impressive, even if it is 52 points lower than in 2018. However, having a lower average does not necessarily mean a worse season, albeit that is what the numbers would show.
A lower average can mean an uptick in home runs and runs driven in, combined with a higher amount of walks or fewer plate appearances. If Betts were to make fewer appearances at the plate and not have that number be influenced by injuries, then the Red Sox and manager Alex Cora were successfully able to rest some of their players during the course of the season while not having their record slip, a very hard task to accomplish for any franchise.
Still will remain under 100 strikeouts
For a player that sees as many plate appearance as he does, Betts is successfully able to keep his punch out numbers low, a rarity in the free-swinging era that the MLB is currently experiencing. Betts is one of the few superstars that displays an uncanny sense of patience at the plate, and his numbers back up that notion with ease.
Having no season above 91 strikeouts is remarkable, especially with how, in every season but his first in the majors, Betts played in at least 145 games. In upwards of 575 plate appearances, he struck out, on average, every 16 plate experiences, which equals out to around every four games if seeing four plate appearances per game, on average.
In essence, those numbers average out to only striking out once per week in a season. Once per week! An absolutely unheard of number, Betts has that ability to pick and choose what pitches he likes, making him that much more dangerous and that much more difficult to get out.
In an act to help the Red Sox bring another World Series title back to Beantown, Betts will need to be his superhuman self yet again if the franchise wants any sort of a chance to repeat. Someone who is absolutely underpaid and coming as a bargain for the Red Sox, Betts should easily command the game’s largest contract in a few years down the road, potentially touching $400 million in total guarantees when the pen is finally put to paper. With an impressive supporting cast headlined by J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi, Betts has the tools surround him to make yet another case for the MVP award.