The third year of the Mookie Betts Era in Los Angeles showcased the superstar fully healthy for (nearly) a full season for the first time with the Dodgers, with several aspects of his dynamic talent on display.
In 2021, Betts dealt with various nagging injuries throughout the season, most notably a right hip impingement that sidelined him twice on the injured list. Even with the limited running and diminished play, Betts was still a well-above-average player, a testament to the standard he’s set over his career.
2022 showed more of the top end of that scale.
The injury bug still found Betts this year, though it was more of a freak occurrence, a collision with Cody Bellinger that broke a rib. That cost Betts 15 games at the end of June, but otherwise he was unimpaired during the season.
Defense showed the starkest difference between 2021 and 2022, with Betts regaining his speed and full range in right field. His fielding metrics jumped back to their norm, including Defensive Runs Saved (+4 in 2021 to +15 in 2022) and Outs Above Average (+1 to +5). Betts led National League right fielders in the SABR Defensive Index, an amalgam of stats that account for a quarter of Gold Glove Award voting. He’s a top-three finisher among NL right fielders, looking to add to his five straight Gold Gloves from 2016-20 (we’ll find out Tuesday night if he gets a sixth). Betts also won the Fielding Bible Award for best defensive right fielder in MLB, his fifth such award (along with 2016-18 and 2020).
He made his sixth All-Star team, starting in center field for the National League at Dodger Stadium, and delivered an RBI single in his only at-bat in the game.
Betts is also a Silver Slugger finalist among NL right fielders, looking to add a fifth career Sliver Slugger to his mantel. He was back to tattooing the ball again, his hard-hit rate (44.9 percent) his best since 2019. His .264 isolated power was his best in a full season since his MVP year in 2018 with Boston (.294), and right in line with his power surge in the pandemic-shortened first season in Los Angeles (.269). The 5’9 Betts finished second in the National League in slugging percentage, narrowly ahead (.533217) of St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado (.533214).
Thirty-five home runs this year represented a career best for Betts, who also hit 40 doubles. He’s just the third Dodger ever with at least 35 home runs and 35 doubles, joining Duke Snider (1953, 1954) and Babe Herman (1930). All of Betts’ home runs were hit while batting leadoff, tied for the seventh-most in a major league season while hitting first. Betts broke Joc Pederson’s Dodgers record (33 in 2019) for leadoff home runs in a season, and Betts’ 69 leadoff home runs in three years in Los Angeles is already tied for second in franchise history, just 30 behind Davey Lopes.
Betts is also one of eight NL finalists for the Hank Aaron Award, which seeks to reward the best offensive player in each league.
Batting leadoff in a dynamic lineup that led the majors in runs scored afforded Betts the opportunity to score a lot, and his 117 runs tied for the National League lead with teammate Freddie Freeman, who played in 17 more games. It was the third time Betts led his league in runs scored, along with 2018 and 2019 in Boston. He and Freeman represented just the third year a Los Angeles Dodger led the NL in runs scored, along with Brett Butler (1991) and Matt Kemp (2011).
A power surge coupled with defensive prowess understandably had Betts among the best players in baseball in total production, ranking sixth in the NL in WAR, both the FanGraphs version (6.6) and Baseball Reference (6.4) versions.
Betts has the ninth-best ages 27-29 stretch in Dodgers history, ranked by WAR. But considering his 2020 season was truncated to 60 games, extrapolating a full year would put Betts’ 27-29 seasons second in franchise history only to Duke Snider. Or maybe third, considering Mike Piazza was traded away only a quarter into his age-29 year (1998).
Highest WAR by a Dodger, ages 27-29
|Pee Wee Reese||SS||1946-48||17.1||16.1||16.6|
Several times over Betts’ three years in Los Angeles, manager Dave Roberts has said some version of “as Mookie goes, so go the Dodgers.” It’s too reductive to take that literally, but consider this — the Dodgers in 2022 were 97-41 (.703) when Betts started, and 14-10 (.583) when he didn’t. Since the start of 2020, LA has a .694 winning percentage in Betts starts, and (a still-great) .610 mark otherwise.
Betts had just two hits in 14 at-bats with a double and three walks in the NLDS, hitting just .143/.278/.214. But he was by no means alone in offensive ineptitude in the Dodgers’ four-game ousting.
Betts turned 30 on October 7. In his 20s, his 56.4 bWAR ranked 28th in major league history. He’s has been every bit as good as advertised since joining the Dodgers, remaining one of the best players in baseball who sparks a dynamic lineup from the top. Mookie Betts is on a Hall of Fame track, and is signed for 10 more years.
Stats: .269/.340/.533, 35 HR, 40 doubles, 12 SB, 136 OPS+, 144 wRC+, 6.4 bWAR, 6.6 fWAR
Salary: $17.5 million
Game of the year
On August 26 in Miami, the Dodgers won a back-and-forth affair over the Marlins, with Betts in the middle of everything. He hit a two-run home run to give the Dodgers the lead in the seventh, and a solo shot that tied things in the ninth. In the 10th, Betts doubled to give the Dodgers the lead, sparking a five-run rally.
MOOKIE TIE GAME! pic.twitter.com/LA4rpD6sUD— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) August 27, 2022
Mookie Magic in Miami. pic.twitter.com/KTzpOvwb7D— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) August 27, 2022
His .921 win probability added in this game was not only the most by a Dodgers player all year, but was the highest by anyone on the team since Adrián Beltré in 2004.
Betts is under contract through 2032, including a $20 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 $17 million next year.