Mookie Betts has been a Dodger for four seasons. This year-in-review essay could bombard you with statistics but a much simpler way to think about Betts’ 2023 campaign is as follows: he was spectacular — except at the end.
Betts had a runner-up National League Most Valuable Player campaign where he played and excelled at second base, shortstop, and his customary position of right field. Betts was a model of durability missing only 10 games all year, with three of those games being time spent time on the paternity list in April.
He was second in the majors with 8.3 Wins Above Replacement, beating everyone, including NL-MVP Ronald Acuna Jr, except unicorn superstar and now teammate Shohei Ohtani.
Betts led the majors in leadoff homers in 2023 with twelve. Betts had multiple games where he went at least four for four at the plate, even going five for five in the Game That Would Never End in Cleveland on August 23/24.
Betts won his sixth Silver Slugger Award in 2023. Betts was named to the All-MLB team, for the fourth time in the five years of the award. Betts had an exceptional regular season in 2023, finding moments of occasional peerlessness in August.
True Blue LA covered how Betts was finding success in early September when Dodgers’ announcer Joe Davis made the following call:
...We’ve talked about how much J.D. Martinez has meant to Mookie Betts. And [Betts] pointed to a couple conversations with J.D. The first one that he had with J.D. that led to his MVP-calibur season came right after Martinez signed with the Dodgers. They hopped on the phone and J.D. said “I’m coming there and you’re going to win MVP.”
[Betts replied] “Yeah, I love it. I love the sound of that. [J.D.] said “No, no, let me hear you say it. [Say] I’m going to win MVP.” Betts humored him and said “Okay, I am going to MVP.” J.D. said “Alright good. To do that — we are going to grind every single day.”
And Mookie said “Yeah, of course, we are.” J.D. said “No. You’re not like Freddie [Freeman] where you can just roll out of bed and hit. Do you remember how hard we worked every single day in 2018 [the year Betts won MVP]?” Mookie thought about it and he said “You know what, I guess maybe after , I did rely on feel and leaning toward trusting [myself] too much and drifted away from hard, diligent, pointed work.”
Davis at this point, pointed out that no one is saying that Betts has not worked since that date as Betts puts in as much training time as just about anyone. Davis continued:
J.D said “Let’s not forget what made you the MVP in 2018. I’m coming there and we are going to work and work and work the same routine every single day.” ... And, so from the moment J.D. Martinez arrived, these guys have had this routine together to get ready for their hitting, every single swing throughout the day has a purpose.
And when so Mookie gets to the game, he’s no longer searching for anything. It used to be he was looking for a feel, hoping that he had it on a given night, because he’s so athletic, he often would. But he said there’s none of that anymore, he doesn’t wonder if he has gonna have the feel. He has put the work. He trusts that he will and then goes out, has simple thoughts and has fun.”
One cannot discuss Betts in 2023 without discussing Betts’ return to Fenway Park, his first games at Fenway as a Dodger since being traded by Boston in 2020. I can attest that this weekend was emotional, capping an offensive explosion of a week where Betts won both player of the week and player of the month honors.
Betts’ return to Boston was cinematic and had I not seen it for myself, I would not have believed the poetry and the emotion of it. One could arguably sell that script and make it into a movie tomorrow.
Looking over the 2022 year in review essay for Betts, one can get overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu. Baseball excellence is what Betts does at this point and he’s so good, it’s tempting to take that excellence for granted.
So we are not, and by examining the things that were not as exceptional, we can appreciate the exceptional even further.
Betts was a middling baserunner in 2023, stealing only 14 bases in 17 attempts.
But if one is being honest, there is one notorious incident on the basepaths, which Dodger fans will likely get to see perpetually played for as long as the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants. On June 16, on Pride Night at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers and Giants ended up going into extra innings.
In the bottom of the eleventh inning, all hell broke loose with Betts having a TOOTBLAN moment for the ages in a game that the Dodgers would ultimately drop.
Here's Jon Miller's incredible radio call of Friday's incredibly bizarre play in the 11th inning— KNBR (@KNBR) June 17, 2023
"Man, that was just disgraceful!" pic.twitter.com/MdQUxMjAxl
For the second year in a row, Betts had a stellar August, a pedestrian September, and completely disappeared offensively in the postseason. Betts went hitless in the postseason, as the Dodgers were quickly swept by the soon-to-be-NL-champion Arizona Diamondbacks.
Betts acknowledged that he did not help the Dodgers win and owned up to his poor performance against the Diamondbacks. As if his postseason was not bad enough, Betts gave a full-throated defense to disgraced former Dodger pitcher, Trevor Bauer to the Los Angeles Times.
Apart from the ignominious and baffling ending, Betts had a spectacular 2023. If he could save his best baseball for September and October, the Dodgers' prospects are likely to be bright in 2024, even before considering the addition of Ohtani.
Now with the addition of Ohtani, Betts and the Dodgers are out of excuses to not hit in the postseason. Stars are meant to shine and the Mookie Betts Experience needs to be known for more than just a summertime experience. But as summertime fun goes, Betts tends to deliver, both on and off the field.
Stats: .307/.408/.579, 167 wRC+, 152 G, 39 HR, 126 R, 107 RBI, 14 SB, 8.3 fWAR & bWAR
Salary: $20 million; $8 million of Betts’ salary was deferred, and he was paid $5 million of his signing bonus, making for $17 million in total payment to Betts in 2023
Game of the year
Betts had many show-stopping games and stellar moments throughout 2023. There is not really a wrong answer to this question. On June 2, Betts went 4 for 4 against the New York Yankees at home with two home runs and a stolen base feels pretty definitive, narrowly edging the Game That Would Never End.
Betts is under contract through 2032. He has a $25 million salary in 2024, of which $8 million is deferred. Betts will also be paid $5 million of his signing bonus on November 1, making for a total of $22 million paid to him in 2024.