Dodgers Team News

No One Knows How to Pitch to the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts is batting leadoff for what could arguably be the best lineup in Major League Baseball. He sets the table for reigning American League MVP and current triple crown candidate Shohei Ohtani and MVP candidate Freddie Freeman. 

No other team has better lineup protection, so it is puzzling to see Betts getting fewer pitches in the zone this season. According to Davy Andrews of FanGraphs, Betts’ zone rate has fallen from 49.1 percent in 2023 to 45.4 percent this season, which falls in the 13th percentile of all qualified players.

Opposing pitchers are avoiding Betts like never before. Andrews writes that 10.1 percent of the pitches Betts has seen have been in the waste zone, and 24.4 percent have been in the chase zone. Both numbers are the highest he has ever seen in those categories. Meanwhile, 23 percent of the pitches have been in the heart zone, the lowest he has ever seen.

Relatively to years past, Betts isn’t getting anything he can hit. Pitchers seem to be approaching Betts with a specific plan with more offspeed pitches on the outside corner, but this hasn’t exactly worked, either. So far Betts has a career-high 16.3 percent walk rate and a career-low 9.6 percent strikeout rate.

Betts has a team-high and league-best 29 walks, resulting from pitchers risking a walk and staying away rather than trying to come inside, where Betts is known to destroy pitches. The heat map from FanGraphs below shows where that sweet spot has been over the past few years.

In recent weeks, Betts has also appeared to have crowded the plate more than in the first month — which is understandable when he isn’t getting many pitches to hit in the zone. That has also led him to chase more pitches.

With the season a fifth of the way over, Betts will likely begin to see pitchers daring enough to throw him inside. Ohtani can turn a Betts walk into two runs easily with one swing. If Betts is content to get on base ahead of Ohtani, he’s doing his job. He leads MLB with a .451 on-base percentage.

If Betts is looking for pitches he can drive, that’s a tougher ask. He last hit a home run on April 12. Unless he’s content to take walks, and hit more for average than power, Betts has to continue adjusting to this new approach.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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Maren Angus

Maren Angus-Coombs was born in Los Angeles and raised in Nashville, Tenn. She is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and has been a sports writer since 2008. Despite being raised in the South, her sports obsession has always been in Los Angeles. She is currently a staff writer for Dodgers Nation and the LA Sports Report Network.

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