Mookie Betts is a good baseball player. Since the start of 2015, only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson have been more valuable (using WAR). In 2016—at the age of 23—Betts put up huge numbers: 31 homers, 42 doubles, 26 steals, .363 OBP, .534 SLG, 9.5 WAR. In the second half of the season, he was especially good. Some of his baseball goodness came as a result of not striking out. In 317 second half plate appearances, Betts struck out just 25 times (7.9%). For comparison, here are the strikeout percentages from other great players in the second half of 2016: Trout (22.4%), Kris Bryant (21.3), Donaldson (17.3), Jose Altuve (10.6) and Joey Votto (10.2).
Earlier this week, Betts' lack of strikeouts became a story around baseball. Before Wednesday, he had not struck out in a regular season game since September 12, a stretch covering 29 games and 128 PA. Can you imagine being that good at hitting? 128 straight times coming up to the plate and not striking out. In high school, I was happy not to strike out twice in a game against guys that were throwing 70.
Well, everyone jinxed Mookie and he struck out in the 4th inning Wednesday (and twice on Thursday). To see how historically good his stretch was, I went to Play Index. I'll break it down by games and at-bats.
Longest Stretch (Games) Without a Strikeout (since 1980)
I have so many questions about this list. Let's start with Kurt Bevacqua. He went 44 games without striking out while only hitting .186; what gives? Bevacqua was a career pinch hitter, so during this streak he only amassed 59 at-bats. It's fair to question every manager that used him as a pinch hitter, as his career numbers are terrible: .236/.305/.327 and -3.8 WAR over 15 seasons. But, Padres manger Dick Williams trusted him enough to use him as DH in the 1984 World Series, Bevacqua's finest moment.
Despite his numbers during these streaks, Greg Gross actually had a decent 17-year career (.372 OBP). Like Bevacqua, he was also a career pinch hitter—he's the Phillies record holder for pinch hits with 117. Gross appears on this list four times before Betts at 32. Other players with multiple stretches longer than Betts' 29: Juan Pierre, Lenny Harris, Garry Hancock, and Tony Gwynn (3).
Longest Stretch (AB) Without a Strikeout (since 2000)
Long live Juan Pierre. He struck out in just 5.8% of his 8,280 big league plate appearances.
If you're curious, the longest stretch without a strikeout since 1930 was Nellie Fox in 1958: 98 games and 396 AB. Some people are just insanely good at this game of baseball...
Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the opposite of this list: longest stretches with a strikeout.