I was fooled. I took to heart the claims of a new approach, a new focus in regards to Yuniesky Betancourt. For a while, he was going the other way, going up the middle and looking different from what you’d expect. He’s technically been about league average all told so far in 2010.
Unfortunately it won’t last and he needs to get used to conversations with Willie Bloomquist and Brayan Pena on the bench.
This isn’t just about the dropped popup on Friday that cost Zack Greinke a run. His popup fielding technique is maddening to witness, but it’s not going to change. It’s how he’s made that play all his life and a zebra can’t change its stripes. You’ve probably seen the photo of that moment by now – Betancourt gazing up at the cool Arlington sky, glove to his side while the ball is frozen in the image, just about to roll off the heel of his glove and to the ground. It’s symbolic to me because Betancourt is in the right spot to make the play, he has the proper equipment to make the play, but he doesn’t have the attention to detail that allows him to execute the play.
After the play, Trey Hillman told reporters that a play like that “makes it look like we don’t know what we’re doing” and that “you have to take action”. Betancourt got a fine for his lazy approach. But it needs to go farther than that.
Okay, it’s just one popup in the first week of May on a last place team. It’s not going to define his career like a grounder in October defined Bill Buckner’s. But there’s more than just the popup at work here. Most of the time, Betancourt seems to see an entirely different situation than what exists.
Betancourt’s free-swinging ways have been discussed before, but so far in 2010 his discipline isn’t improving. In fact, it’s getting worse. According to FanGraphs, Betancourt is swinging at over 44% of pitches outside the strikezone. That’s well above his own career average of 31%. The league average for swinging at those pitches is just over 27%.
That presents a problem considering that Betancourt makes contact with those pitches nearly 80% of the time. It’s tough enough to get a hit on a ball in the zone. Betancourt’s above average ability to make contact just makes those pitches outs rather than balls. Worse, those outs are usually weak groundouts to his shortstop counterpart.
“But he’s hitting .282!” you say? True, but he’s only walked three times (and two of those were in Bizarro Game on Thursday) giving him an on-base percentage of .307 – so almost 70% of the time, Betancourt makes an out. His groundball/flyball ratio comes in at 1.14/1 which saps any power potential he could muster up. The success he’s had so far is mostly coming from a higher than usual linedrive percentage. An average hitter will hit a line drive 19% of the time, Betancourt’s doing so 23.5% of the time (which is 5.7% higher than his career trendline). On those line drives, he’s batting .826, which is still higher than the league average of .750. Expect both of those numbers to regress to his norms, while the bad swings and groundouts will continue – he’ll likely hit more of each as the LD% goes down.
Where Betancourt has disappointed the most, though, is in his poor situational hitting:
|on 1st, lt 2 out||18||14||6||3||2||3||.429||.500||.643||1.143||2||0|
|on 3rd, lt 2 out||9||9||1||2||0||2||.111||.111||.111||.222||0||0|
|on 3rd, 2 out||2||2||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000||0||0|
With runners in scoring position, Betancourt hits .233. A more significant measure, in situations with a runner on third and less than 2 out, he’s 1-9 and has only gotten two runs in. In one of the games this past week, with a runner on third and one out, he dove across the plate at a slider and lined out to short on the third pitch of the at bat. It’s as if he didn’t consider the game situation at all and just swung at what he felt like swinging at, when waiting for a pitch to get to the outfield should have been the approach.
On their own, Betancourt looks league average, but considering:
- His LD% and BABIP on those line drives should decline
- His GB/FB ratio is in line with his career numbers and should continue to limit his power
- His productivity in run-scoring situations is awful and I’m sure it’s not going to change
- His walkrate isn’t going to suddenly improve, nor is his plate discipline
You can expect Betancourt’s numbers to fall – and his defense isn’t going to get any better either.
It’s time for Mike Aviles (and his 10-23 week helps his case) to take over shortstop. With the demotion of Alex Gordon to make room for Chris Getz, Getz must play every day to justify the move. That leaves Betancourt out in the cold. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to be released as he’s under contract until 2011 and the Royals would then be on the hook for both his salary this year and next year, as well as his 2012 buyout. He still has an option year left, so the Royals could try to send him to Omaha, and if he were to refuse (since he’s accumulated enough service time to do so), he’d become a free agent. That’s unlikely but possible. With the lack of depth in the organization at shortstop, it’s even less likely he’ll go anywhere but the bench. But if he should find himself on the open market, Willie Bloomquist or Irving Falu (hitting .296 in Omaha playing three infield positions) might be the utility infield options behind Aviles and Getz.
As for Betancourt’s hold on the full-time shortstop role? Not surprisingly, he’s dropped the ball.