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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Yuniesky Betancourt: Finally Done?

Today the Phillies released Yuniesky Betancourt, and with less than a week left in spring training it appears likely that "Yuni B" will not be breaking camp as a regular contributor with a club.  The first question that comes to my mind is, "Why in the world has it taken this long?"  Betancourt's career has been defined by swinging at bad pitches and misplaying routine balls on defense.  Yet year after year, he was handed a starting job.  Year after year, negative rWAR performance after negative rWAR performance, he started.  Last year, the Royals wouldn't give him a chance at short, but they let him play at second.  By August, he was released.  The Phillies brought him in this year to give him a shot to make the club, but it appears that Yuni B is finally out of options.  Finally, it appears that MLB has reached a collective state where it has determined that Yuni B is done as a significant contributor.
Career Summary
To keep this short, I'll skip the finer details of Betancourt's career.  The Seattle Mariners signed him as an amateur free agent in 2005 as a defector out of Cuba.  In his first few years, Betancourt was actually pretty serviceable.  While he never obtained the status of "Major League average player" in his career, he did have some value early on.  At the trade deadline in 2009, the Kansas City Royals traded for Yuni B to have him as their primary shortstop.  By this time, Betancourt's defense had severely dwindled and he was frequently unable to contribute positive value in any facet of his game.  In December of 2010, he was part of the trade that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee.  After another disappointing season up in the Beer City, Yuni B was granted free agency, and he eventually signed with the Royals.  After contributing -1.2 rWAR and -0.8 fWAR, he was given his outright release and did not appear in the majors after that point.
Looking back on Betancourt's career, it's really hard to see how teams justified bringing Yuni B on as a player, let alone as a starter.  When you watch him on tape and look over his numbers, he just doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities.  To get what I mean, let's go over some traditional scouting tools:
1) Hit tool: Betancourt has always been a free swinger who rarely strikes out.  He's able to make contact, but he just doesn't do anything with it. He has a career LD% of 18.2 and only missed pitches he swung at 6.2% of the time.  The line drive percentage is tied for 131st among qualifying 2012 batters, and the swing-and-miss rate would have been tied for 35th best.  So overall, really not that good.
2) Power tool: Career ISO of .126 and HR/FB rate of 5.0.  Even though he played quite a bit of his career in Safeco and Kaufman, these numbers are still exceptionally low for a guy who showed up in a pretty favorable offensive era.  His HR/FB rate would have been 130th best in MLB among 2012 qualified batters and the ISO would have been 115th (and remember, we are currently in a pitcher-friendly offensive environment).
3) Speed: Betancourt was never a speed guy, and he was 30/60 on stolen base attempts in his career, which is atrocious.  75% is often considered the cutoff for being valuable, and Yuni B was well off of that mark.  As far as his other baserunning tools, his career BsR is -5.3.
4) Fielding: Career UZR of -56, career dWAR of -3.1, and a career marked by laughable efforts in the field.  Overall, he's been a terrible fielder.
5) Arm strength: This is one thing I'm not sure you can hold against Yuni B.  He's always had an adequate throwing arm, and he's made his fair share of great throws in his career.  You can be the judge.
Lasting Impact
I think it's safe to say that it is remarkable that Yuniesky Betancourt lasted as long as he did in the Major Leagues.  Without any real redeemable MLB qualities, Betancourt kept getting starts.  I guess what is most mystifying about Yuni B's career is the fact that he did it all in the "Information Age" of baseball.  With all of the emphasis on advanced scouting video, detailed reports, and statistical analysis, it just surprises me that teams kept concluding that he was worth a shot.  Even his release came as a surprise to me, given the fact that the Phillies also have employed Michael Young and Delmon Young this spring.  Either way, the Phillies made the right choice.  It's time for Yuni B to walk off into the sunset and enjoy his life.
But who knows, teams are reportedly interested in signing him.  Perhaps he's still got some starts left in his system.

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