With each passing day, we inch closer to another season of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball. While new acquisitions and young hopefuls such as Miguel Vargas and James Outman could aid LA’s quest towards their first World Series championship since 2020, franchise staples like Mookie Betts will undoubtedly lead the way.
The 2023 campaign has the potential to be a legacy year for Mookie Betts. He is one of baseball’s premier talents in the field, and could see a return to second base this year due to Gavin Lux's season-ending ACL injury. His contributions at the plate have been just as, if not more important to his overall profile, and the Tennessee native’s offensive tactics have seemingly evolved towards a more power-oriented approach.
The 30-year old outfielder is coming off a season in which he finished fifth in NL MVP voting, slashed .269/.340/.533, hit 32 home runs, collected 82 RBI and held the league’s seventh-best WPA (Win Probability Added). However, Betts had slow stretches during which he did not play up to his usual level of offensive versatility. During the month of June, for example, Betts recorded a subpar .523 OPS and hit for a .193 average.
Dodgers Mookie Betts bringing more power to 2023 and beyond as Hall of Fame case grows
2022 saw Betts take on an aggressive approach at the plate. According to Baseball Savant, he swung at the first pitch a career-high 30.4% of the time. Additionally, he swung at the most pitches of his career, and only ranked in the 59th percentile in terms of BB%.
None of this is to say that Betts is attempting to become a “boom or bust” kind of hitter, but it is clear that he’s aiming to become a more consistent home run threat. During the offseason, he made an effort to bulk up after losing some weight over the past few years.
“Losing weight equates to losing strength,” Betts told MLB.com. “I was just little, man, so I had to gain my weight back.”
Strength breeds power, and greater power numbers could supremely influence Betts’ legacy. He is undoubtedly one of baseball’s brightest stars, but has never been known as a pure power threat. His 2018 MVP season as a member of the Boston Red Sox was not necessarily defined by elite power.
He did hit 32 home runs, but also boasted a league best .346 batting average, and 129 runs. That season’s Red Sox were a powerful bunch that hit the sixth-most home runs in the American League. Players such as J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers were the main run scorers, and Betts set the table with ease as the leadoff hitter. Betts' 80 RBI were fourth on the team, but given his position in the lineup and the overall depth of the roster, he was expected to do a little bit of everything. During his time as Dodger, Betts has continued to be a versatile hitter, but has seemingly made adjustments that lend themselves to more intimidating power numbers.
Given his ups and downs, Betts does not always feel he’s one of the game's top talents. Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman believes that self-doubt plays a part in the former fifth-round pick’s commitment to excellence.
"“I think that is Mookie’s fuel,” Friedman told the L.A. Times last July. “I think he goes through a lot of periods where he doesn’t feel like he’s one of the best players on the planet and it probably contributes some to his work ethic. But it is astonishing to be as talented as he is and the times that he will question that.” "- Andrew Friedman
The loss of Justin Turner, Trea Turner, and Cody Bellinger means that Betts (and Freddie Freeman) will have to carry more of the Dodgers’ offensive load as LA’s leading man. Betts’ willingness to bulk up, combined with a more assertive approach at the plate, could result in a legacy-defining 2023 campaign that securely propels him into a new strata.