MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Betts' no-whiff streak truly striking

Sox outfielder nearing 21st-century record for PA's without a K

Betts' no-whiff streak truly striking

The count had run full, the game was out of hand, and the pitch from Orioles reliever Oliver Drake was an 82.1-mph splitter that was up and in. The batter froze and let it pass, home-plate umpire Paul Emmel called strike three, and the Fenway Park crowd, still buzzing from the David Ortiz home run that had just put the Red Sox up,10-2, didn't even realize it had just witnessed something historically significant last Sept. 12:

That was the last time Mookie Betts struck out in a regular-season game.

All right, so I'm writing this under the far-fetched assumption that Betts never strikes out again, and can you really blame me? Betts has now gone 28 games and 123 plate appearances without a K -- a streak so crazy in today's offensive environment that when I heard it mentioned on a Red Sox broadcast over the weekend, I was certain I had heard it wrong. Surely, that must be X consecutive plate appearances against a lefty, right? Or X consecutive plate appearances in day games? Or X consecutive plate appearances in even-numbered innings on Tuesdays?

No! The number is real*, and it is spectacular. Betts is threatening the longest such streak this century -- Juan Pierre's 147 straight plate appearances without a strikeout in 2004, which, in strikeout terms, was a different time entirely. The last time someone got to even 100 plate appearances? It was Jeff Keppinger in 2010, while with the Astros. His streak ended at 107. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the longest streak in the Expansion Era (since 1961) is 223 plate appearances by Philadelphia's Dave Cash in 1976.

* For you completists out there, Betts did strike out in the first inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Trevor Bauer of the Indians, but because October is a different season altogether and that was Betts' first career postseason at-bat, it is hereby struck from the record (pun intended).

Betts is a beacon of refreshing defiance of a game that has gone K crazy. A game that is seemingly certain to set a new strikeout-rate record for the 10th consecutive year.

Obviously, Betts' 123-plate-appearance streak is the longest active one in the big leagues. But that's not what's amazing. What's amazing is that the next-closest streak belongs to the Reds' Jose Peraza ... at 43. Going into Tuesday's play, there were 41 players who have struck out 30 or more times since Betts' last strikeout.

"We're looking at a guy with unique and elite hand-eye coordination as the primary reason," Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters.

How often does a Major League batter strike out in today's environment? Once every 4.6 plate appearances so far this season, through Sunday's games. Last year it was once every 4.74. Just a decade ago, it was once every 5.86. And when Pierre completed his streak, it was 5.92. We are basically nearing a point in which it will not be at all unusual to look at a box score (people do still look at box scores, right?) and see that every batter who logged a full day of work will have been punched out at least once.

The upside to all of this is that the home run is back. George Springer has six home runs. He's a leadoff guy. Eric Thames has six home runs. He spent the past few seasons in Korea. Speedy little outfielder Ender Inciarte has four homers already, as does speedy little shortstop Francisco Lindor. Two weeks into the season, 118 players have already gone deep at least twice apiece. The 2017 homer rate (one every 30.2 at-bats) is nearly in line with what we saw last year, when MLB had its highest number of home runs in any season other than 2000 -- the height of the so-called steroid era. And this is in April, before the usual summer surge.

In other words, a lot of people are going deep, and you might have noticed that Betts isn't one of those people. He's hit just one home run since the strikeout-free streak started, and that homer came a week into the streak -- Sept. 19 against the Orioles (off Dylan Bundy, not Drake). When Betts doubled in the seventh inning Monday, it was just his sixth extra-base hit since the streak began.

So all you hot-take artists out there have something to work with. Maybe Mookie should be striking out more. Maybe he needs to think -- and swing -- bigger and learn to live with the occasional K. Frankly, the sample is large in the context of swearing off strikeouts but small in the context of judging a big league batter, so who knows?

But it's not like Betts has amassed this streak by being awkwardly aggressive. Heck, 22 of his 45 plate appearances this season -- including the one when he doubled Monday -- have gone to two strikes.

This, then, is the product of bat speed, discipline and, sure, maybe a little luck. These are good things, and they ought to be celebrated at a time when K's are so common. Betts is not exactly off to a scintillating start in his follow-up to last year's AL MVP Award bid. But even his outs are outliers, and his streak is striking.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.