In defense of Yuniesky Betancourt

Say Hey! Yuniesky is back in Kansas City... or something.

Yuniesky Betancourt is not a great player. By most accounts, he’s not even a good player, or slightly below average. He’s in competition for the coveted title of  “Worst Everyday Player in Baseball.”

His 2011 numbers with Milwaukee back that up. in 152 games, all at shortstop save for a few pinch hits, Betancourt hit .252 for a .652 OPS, which adjusts down to a 75 OPS+. He did hit 13 home runs, but walked only 16 times. He’s a slap hitter with signs of pop but no real discipline, and he’ll be 30 years old before Opening Day. If he hits a peak, he probably already has.

With that in mind, it’s not hard to understand the outrage with the Royals signing him to a contract for 2012, if there can be such a feeling regarding the signing of an infielder in Kansas City. Even when that infielder has recently been underwhelming in the same uniform. And the “underwhelming” tag comes without much in the way of initial expectations.

Here’s a quick taste of what the internet had to offer on the deal:

Rustin Dodd, The Kansas City Star:

Betancourt, of course. is something of a sabermetric punching bag, and it’s not just the numbers.  Yes, the stats do show him to be one of the worst in baseball at getting on base and playing shortstop. But then there’s also the teams that have continued to play him all. the. time. And the feeling among stat folk, I believe, is simple: Why can’t these baseball people see what we see? It’s an intriguing frustration for fans. What do you do if it seems like your team continually minimizes your own baseball philosophy?

Matt Klassen, FanGraphs:

Oliver projects him to hit for a .279 wOBA in 2012. Betancourt projects at around replacement level. I suppose one could say he could project as 0.5 WAR over a full-season, but that is both pushing it and quibbling over details given the level of “precision” one expects in projected total value. Basically, the Royals just gave away $2 million for no reason. The Best Farm System Ever can’t produce a league-minimum utility infielder?

Jeff Sullivan, Baseball Nation:

But the second time? After you’ve already been through the first time? Yuni wore out his welcome in Seattle. The Brewers didn’t seem to make much of an effort to bring him back. He’s not uncoachable, but he has an established history of being close to it, and no part of his game has really improved over the years. His approach still sucks. His defense still sucks. His work ethic…I don’t know if it sucks, but it’s never been good. The numbers suggest as much.

Everything Rob Neyer says here.

Of course, none of them are wrong. Neyer might be the most vocal in his opposition (that I read, anyway), but of course, he brings years of frustration with the Royals to the table, along with a long written history of disagreeing with their general manager, Dayton Moore.

General managers are paid to think analytically. Stat-savvy writers are paid to interpret their moves, too. I understand the frustration that can come with trying to interperet the chain of events that led a light-hitting shortstop with suspect-at-best defense back to a team hoping to contend soon.

But the signing of Betancourt shouldn’t inspire rage, it should inspire blindly optimistic hope. It provides a needed wrinkle.

A quick run through the world of Retrosheet offers the top performances of Betancourt’s career. A few nuggets: From May 20 to June 9, 2007, Betancourt strung together a 20-game hitting streak with the Mariners. On July 19 of last season, he went 3-for-5 with two home runs for the Brewers. On Aug. 1, 2007, he drove in Adrian Beltre for the winning run in the 12th inning of an 8-7 win for the Mariners over Anaheim. He’s gone 4-for-5 seven times in his career, and once every year since 2006.

At some point, in 2012, Betancourt will likely make a play that will blow people away, or win a game with a double or home run that defies logic, mostly because he won’t have been good enough to have earned the at-bat in the first place. And that’s amazing.

For all the performances by dominant players put in a position to win we’re going to see, Betancourt, or someone like him, will win a game, despite having likely contributed to losses in the past. Baseball is better with Yuniesky Betancourt.

Besides, it’s not like I’m paying him. He’s not even on my favorite team.

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