Last night, in the 4th inning of a game in Toronto, Francisco Liriano did something that no one had been able to do in the last 7+ months … he struck out Mookie Betts. It has been an amazing run for Betts. 129 plate appearances in the regular season since his last strikeout (September 12th of last year). It was the longest streak by a Boston player since 1975, and the longest in baseball since 2004.
Even with his incredible streak over, however, Betts still has an opportunity to make history. Since 1947, only 5 players have struck out so rarely that they averaged at least 48 AB’s per strikeout. The incredible thing about that list is that Nellie Fox accomplished the feat 6 times from ’51-’62! In fact, every season in which Fox was a full-time player (’50-’64), he never struck out more than 18 times in a season.
Currently, Betts is averaging one strikeout per 49 AB’s. To put that into the context of a season – that’s about 11 K’s spread out over an entire year. The last player to come close to that kind of number was Dave Cash, in 1976. That year, Cash led the league in AB’s (666), and only struck out 13 times.
But, the difference between Betts and the rest of the guys on the low strikeout list is Betts’ ability to hit for power. Cash never hit as many as 5 HR in a single season, and had a career SLG of .358. Fox had 35 career HR, and a .363 career SLG. The only man to make the list with legitimate power in his bat was Yogi Berra. Berra struck out just 12 times in 1950, when he also hit 28 HR and drove in 124.
If Betts can continue to be as diligent as he has been at avoiding strikeouts, he has an opportunity to join some extremely elite company.