Challenge accepted. Kind of.
Last week on Twitter I was challenged to write 7,500 words on Yuniesky Betancourt and why he isn’t the best option for the Royals to be playing second base. I’m sure I could come up with a few descriptive things to say about Betancourt, and I’m sure if pressed into action, I could come up with 7,500 on why he shouldn’t be on the Royals roster. I’m sure of it. But there’s little reason to go there now, that horse has been beaten dead for a while.
The first acquisition of Betancourt via trade was at least justifiable from the standpoint of there not being any other shortstop in the system capable of playing the position, and there was at least some buy low characteristics of the deal. In the end, it wouldn’t prove to be a complete disaster because at the very least Betancourt’s ability to stay healthy allowed the Royals to buy time to find his replacement.
The second acquisition last offseason made little-to-no-sense given his history as a below-average defensive shortstop, his history with the Royals as a negative-2.1fWAR(!) in 2009* and 0.9 fWAR in 2010, and the Royals really already had someone on the roster capable of doing what he does in Johnny Giavotella. Oh, that, and he creates a whole lot of outs offensively.
*Admittedly part of that season was with Seattle
Sure the fans were told that Betancourt was only being acquired to be a backup (which was a laughable argument) and that good backups cost money, especially ones that were coming off a year they were starters. The Betancourt signing was simply a move to create depth on the major league roster.
Flash forward to today and because of the injury to Chris Getz, Betancourt has supplanted Johnny Giavotella as the normal second baseman. The problem with Betancourt receiving most of the playing time isn’t so much that he’s actually playing, it’s that he’s getting the majority of his plate appearances by batting second in the order. No seriously.
We know enough now through lineup studies that the batting order holds less significance than we originally thought in terms of where guys bat, but the one caveat to that is that at the very least, batters at the top of the order have to make less outs than players at the bottom, because they will bat the most often. It’s pretty simple.
Betancourt will enter tomorrow night’s game with a .309 OBP on the season, and a career on-base percentage of .292.
Two. Ninety. Two.
No matter what you think a No.2 hitter looks like, or having one that can do all the “little things”, there is no hitter in baseball that can make up for having a .292 on-base percentage and be valuable batting second. It just doesn’t happen.
The subject of Betancourt’s playing time, or even his roster spot, has probably been hashed around enough at this point that there’s probably little need to go further than that. Any argument to Betancourt’s viability can immediately be countered with “.292”, and the argument would be over.
That wasn’t quite 7,500 words, but I think the point still remains: Betancourt’s playing time should still be strictly as a backup, if at all, if he can’t avoid making so many outs.
Well, the bullpen. And the bullpen. Have I mentioned the bullpen?
The Royals bullpen has thrown the most innings in all of baseball this year and has the sixth best ERA. That’s doin’ somethin’.
Led by Tim Collins, one of the strengths heading into the year has really been just that. The worry of course is how long they can keep it up.
At 225 innings through the team’s first 58 games, it’s hard to imagine the group either a) staying effective for a full season or b) not having multiple guys breakdown with injuries. The starting rotation was known to be the weak link of the roster to start the season, but I don’t think there’s anyone that could have foreseen this bad a performance, and it’s putting a lot of pressure on the bullpen to log so many innings.
If the group could keep up this production for a full season, given the workload, it would be nothing short of remarkable. Though, as good as the bullpen has been, I think everyone wishes they’d been called upon a little (a lot) less.
While it would be nice to write about a 12 for 18, 3 homeruns, 3 doubles week for Alex Gordon, hereby officially busting him out of his year long no-power funk, I am not and the offense continues to struggle. What was thought to be one of the major strengths of this team coming into the season has proven, yet again, to be a major annoyance as there’s been no consistency, and the same hack-away style at the plate and give-away style on the bases approach is still being implemented.
The numbers have been beaten to death at this point but they always bear repeating: the Royals are 7th in the American League in batting average (.258), 11th in on-base percentage (.314), 12th in wOBA (.309), and 13th in runs (224). That 13th place ranking in runs, mind you, is only ahead of the Oakland A’s, who consistently get made fun of for how bad they are offensively.
So what’s to blame? At this point in the season it’s too late to continue to fall back on the lack of production from Gordon or Eric Hosmer, or the injuries to Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain. Remember, there were doubts a year ago of Cain’s ability to hit at the major league level, and there have always been doubts of his being able to stay healthy. That isn’t to say giving him the starting centerfield position was a bad idea – in many ways it was the right call – there just should have been a better option to replace him than Jarrod Dyson if the need arose. Which is was almost assuredly going to happen.
Even though the struggles of the two more potent bats in the lineup hurt, that isn’t necessarily the reason to the overall production of the lineup being so bad. The fundamental flaw of the Ned Yost era – or, in fairness, baseball in general – is the complete disregard for offensive outs and the willingness to give them away without contention.
This isn’t merely from a bunting perspective, which has been taken apart on this site as well as many others, but from a base running point of view where “aggressive base running” leads to far more harm than good. The Royals, metrically speaking, rank as the third-worst base running team in the American League, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a sign of that turning around, because the same mistakes keep happening.
Suffice it to say, if there’s a sarcastic hashtag named for you on Twitter (heh), there’s something you’re not doing right.
It doesn’t get any easier this week. Last week I wrote that the Royals really had a chance to make some noise in the AL Central with their upcoming June schedule. That noise turned to a faint whimper as a 1-win, 5-loss stretch against Minnesota and Pittsburgh has ruined any good vibes there was entering the month. A very #Royaling feat indeed.
This week, it’s three at home against Milwaukee and three on the road against St. Louis. Oof.
What will be fun to see is the over-reaction of fans to the “traitor” Greinke, and then the subsequent hyperbole if he does well – “Hey, he could have been doing that here, quitter!” – or if he does poorly – “See, he can’t handle the pressure, he’s too weak!” or “See, he’s not a true ace!” Either way, it should be interesting, and entirely predictable.
Before this week you could have made the argument that a six game stretch against the National League would be a huge benefit to the Royals, given how well the American League teams usually do during Interleague play. Now, given the pretty thorough dismantling at the hands of the Pirates, there are some doubts.
One thing Royals fans will see this week is stars (much like they did with Andrew McCutchen) and the impact those stars have on teams. It’s long been my contention that stars win championships, not “well rounded” players, because those great players can make up for the deficiencies of a couple average players. The Brewers have Greinke, and Ryan Braun; the Cardinals have Carlos Beltran (ugh), and whatever category you’d like to put Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright in. The Royals are still trying to find theirs.
Even though stars don’t make the complete difference in baseball, they make a huge difference. And as long as the Royals are still searching for one, it’s going to make things a lot harder, and 1-5 stretches harder to avoid.