Yuniesky Betancourt: The Most Interesting Man In The World

22 08 2010

Posted by BaconSlayer09

Yuniesky Betancourt is an interesting fellow. Ask some people about him and they’ll praise him. Ask others and they’ll scold him and deem him one of the worst players in all of baseball. So who is right about this Cuban defector? In my view, Betancourt is one of those players where we find beauty and usefulness in sabermetrics. Here’s why.

Betancourt hit his career-high 13th homer on Saturday.

Using conventional stats such as batting average, RBI, and even home runs, Betancourt seems like a totally acceptable offensive shortstop. For instance, Betancourt is a career .273 hitter. He has had 3 seasons with 50 or more RBI. And this year, he has 13 home runs, as well as 61 runs batted in after a day in which he absolutely owned White Sox pitching. As a shortstop, these numbers look more than acceptable. Add on the fact that most scouts like his fielding ability (this was one of his supposed strengths when he was signed by Seattle) and you have yourself a decent-sounding Major League shortstop.

But what about the flip side? Oh, where to start? Yuniesky Betancourt has a career .297 OBP. He makes outs more than 70% of the time. The reason for this low OBP is his lack of walks. He has a career 3.2% walk rate. That’s about 6% lower than league average. This is due to the fact that he swings at 32% of the pitches outside of the zone, compared to the 25% league average. On top of that, he makes lots of contact, almost way too much contact (88.1%). If you’re not good at identifying pitches and you are making lots of contact, more likely than not, that is going to be weak contact.

So while Betancourt’s .273 average may be the result of his high contact rate, that contact rate mixed with his bad plate discipline has also lead to his .395 career slugging percentage as well as his poor .297 OBP. This results in Betancourt being a very bad hitter. He has a career OPS of .692. It’s not a horrible figure, especially at the SS position. But a more advanced stat like wOBA definitely highlights his flaws even more because Betancourt has a career wOBA of .298 (FYI, league average is around .330). So I think one thing is certain, Betancourt is a below average hitter. You can vary on the degree of just how bad he is, but to say he is average or above average – that’s pushing it.

Betancourt's fielding has been the subject of much criticism amongst sabermetric proponents and many Royals fans.

So we’ve evaluated his hitting, but no analysis is complete if we don’t mention defense. While Betancourt has been praised by scouts for his arm and his supposed range, most people would tend to disagree, especially sabermetricians. Ask a Royals fan, any objective Royals fan (like Joe Posnanski), and they will say that Betancourt is below average at SS. But as his hitting goes, we can vary on the degree of how bad he really is. UZR says he’s awful, especially in these past few years. His career UZR/150 is at a clip of -8.4. But it gets better, it’s been -11.5, -19.7, and -9.4 these past three seasons. Not a fan of UZR or just looking for more variety? We can try Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved, where Betancourt is at a career mark of -53. He’s also racked up -46 in the past three seasons alone. Even if we go by fielding percentage, Betancourt has made more than his share of errors (54 in past 3 seasons). So while the scouts might have been semi-right about Yuni’s range early on in his career (DRS had him as average until 2007), he has regressed to a horrendous fielder as of late.

So the  advanced numbers say that Betancourt is a bad to horrible hitter and now a terrible fielder. But since shortstop is a premium position, he has to have some value right? Unfortunately for Betancourt, this is not the case. Entering into this season, Betancourt had a WAR of 1.8 over the course of 4 full seasons. Divide that out if you want, but he’s barely contributed anything to the teams he has played on. He’s a replacement level player, an overrated one at that.

So you may wonder why I am writing about Yuniesky freaking Betancourt and the answer is easy – I’m pissed off that the White Sox lost at the hand of a horrible baseball player. To be quite honest, when I saw Yuniesky’s .271 batting average, his 13 home runs, and his 61 RBI, I immediately thought back to the days where I was ignorant about statistics. If I had looked at those numbers way back when, I might have thought Betancourt was having a very good year. But since I now know better, I looked up his stats on FanGraphs. What do you know? Yuni is still Yuni, except slightly better. His .311 wOBA still sucks and his fielding is about as bad as it ever was. However, I also wrote this because I bet there are a lot of people in Kansas City (including that idiot Dayton Moore) thinking highly of Betancourt right now and honestly, I can’t blame them. Nevertheless, Betancourt will always be a bad baseball player in my eyes and in my opinion, the differing of opinions on players like Betancourt is part of the beauty of sabermetrics.




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