Mookie Betts' infield/outfield splits for Dodgers are wildly unexpected
Hmmm ... maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers were onto something when they decided to give Mookie Betts an expanded role on defense? Some fans expressed hesitation around the former MVP being moved around to second base and shortstop, but the early returns have been tremendous.
Betts has filled in admirably as a middle infielder, as the Dodgers suffered losses in free agency and to injuries. But fans were rightfully skeptical because taking him out of his natural right field position -- where he's a perennial Gold Glover -- might've played another role in the roster being downgraded.
Turns out, things are better than anybody could've expected. The Dodgers might boast the best versatility/flexibility they've possessed in years.
Betts has made just one error in 17 games between shortstop and second base. He's been good for a 0.4 dWAR and 4 Defensive Runs Saved in total thus far in 2023.
But there's one considerable difference that might get lost in the shuffle, if fans aren't paying close enough attention: Betts' bat has been way better.
Mookie Betts has been better offensively for the Dodgers as an infielder
- As right fielder - .200 AVG, .720 OPS, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 19 BB, 27 Ks in 31 games
- As second baseman - .310 AVG, .929 OPS, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 6 Ks in 9 games
- As shortstop - .333 AVG, 1.322 OPS, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 3 BB, 2 Ks in 7 games
Sure, not the biggest sample size, but perhaps Betts moving around defensively helps him unlock a more consistent offensive profile? Since arriving in LA, Betts has seen his average decrease and his strikeout rate increase. His walk rate has also been a bit up-and-down compared to his prime years in Boston from 2017-2019. Betts has expressed a willingness to fill in where the Dodgers need him, and has voiced his pleasure in doing so.
"This, he believes, is where his growth shows up. These days, his mind is more at ease.- Betts via ESPN's Alden Gonzalez
"As I've gotten older, I'm just trying to take on less stress and enjoy the game," Betts said. "I've been playing it for so long, and I just want to enjoy it. I don't want to stress about it."
"That's why I go in and go play short and go do things at short, because if you don't use it you lose it. Go be an athlete. And then when I go to right [field], I turn on all those athletic muscles and I can go catch those fly balls and do all those things. But if I just stood in right all the time, I might lose some of those things.""
Look, he's a natural. If he has the athletic ability and is comfortable moving around the field, then there's no longer a reason to express apprehension with the Dodgers' plan, which has unfolded almost seamlessly since Opening Day.
Nobody expected Gavin Lux to go down and for the Dodgers to be without an everyday shortstop/second baseman, either, but Betts is at the forefront of making it one of the more enviable situations for the rest of the league.