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2021 Dodgers in review: Mookie Betts

Nagging injuries ate into an otherwise solid year for the superstar outfielder.

Championship Series - Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

A frustrating and injury-plagued season by Mookie Betts proved to be still quite valuable and productive, even if not up to his own standards, but also reminded us in glimpses of his full, unrestrained talent.

The first half of the season saw nagging injuries sideline Betts for at most a few games at a time. There was back soreness and getting hit by a pitch on his forearm in April, left shoulder soreness in May that required treatment for weeks, and even an allergic reaction that impaired his vision so much he was scratched from a lineup.

Even though he was relatively limited, Betts still merited a worthy All-Star selection, voted to his fifth straight midsummer classic by his peers. Betts instead opted not to play in the All-Star Game, instead using the four-day respite for his body to recover from his myriad of maladies.

Chief among his lingering issues was right hip soreness, something that seemed to bother Betts for most of the season. Things came to a head almost immediately after the break, forced out after hitting his fourth extra-base hit in a game in Denver. The hip pointer landed Betts on the injured list for the first time since 2018, and after missing 11 games he found himself back on the IL less than two weeks later, missing 16 more games.

On quick glance, Betts put up a season very much in line with most of his other excellent years. His 131 wRC+ ranked 15th among National League hitters, almost mirroring his 135 career wRC+. But looking a little closer, we can see the effects of those persistent pains throughout the season.

Betts’ hard-hit rate (41.3 percent) was his lowest in four years. With a compromised hip for a large chunk of the season, Betts’ speed was limited, costing him in multiple ways. His batting average on balls in play was only .276, down from .312 in his career through 2020. After averaging 19 infield hits per full season from 2015-19, never fewer than 15 in any one season, Betts had just 10 infield hits in 2021.

His defensive numbers, while still above average, were down across the board, lower in a full 2021 season than during the 60-game campaign the year before.

Mookie Betts defense

Years Games DRS Total Zone UZR OAA
Years Games DRS Total Zone UZR OAA
2016-19 average 141 24.0 15.8 17.7 13.0
2020 52 11.0 13.0 6.0 6.0
2021 98 4.0 6.0 1.9 -1.0
Sources: Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant

Betts led his league in Defensive Runs Saved among right fielders in 2016, 2017, 2018, and in 2020, coming in a close second in 2019. This year he was tied for fifth in DRS among NL right fielders (+4), with less than half the total of the league leader (Adam Duvall, at +9). Betts was still a top-three finisher for the Gold Glove Award but Duvall won it, snapping Betts’ streak of five straight wins at the position.

Betts was limited on the bases as well, stealing only 10 bases, his same total from the truncated 2020 season, and after averaging 24 steals in his previous five full campaigns.

The glimmer of hope in that regard came during the postseason, when Betts stole six bases without getting caught in 12 games, proving every bit the menace.

“I think it’s just an element of my game that I can put on display right now,” Betts said. “It’s not like we’re just slugging and scoring a whole lot of runs, so we have to find ways to manufacture runs. Part of my game is stealing bases, so I’m just doing anything I can to help us win.”

During the playoffs, Betts hit .319/.377/.404, showing signs of his dynamic self with highlight defensive plays, a four-hit game in the NLDS clincher in San Francisco, and the game-winning double in Game 3 of the NLCS.

Even while missing a quarter of the regular season, Betts was still a four-win player, and was back to doing Mookie Betts things in October. His frustrating season was one most players would kill for.

2021 particulars

Age: 28

Stats: .264/.367.487, 23 HR, 29 doubles, 10 SB, 128 OPS+, 131 wRC+, 4.2 bWAR, 3.9 fWAR

Salary: $17.5 million

Game of the year

Betts was instrumental in outlasting the Giants in the NL Division Series, especially with his four hits in Game 5. Betts stole a base and scored the Dodgers’ first run, capping off a 9-for-20 series. While Logan Webb allowed only nine hits in two starts against the Dodgers in that series, Betts had five of those hits, and scored the only run against San Francisco’s ace.

“This is when the stars are stars, and he’s a superstar,” manager Dave Roberts said of Betts.

Roster status

Betts is under contract through 2032, including a $17.5 million salary in 2022. Eight million of that salary is deferred, though Betts will also receive $5 million of his signing bonus. So he will be paid a total of $14.5 million next year.