It’s been years since Yuniesky Betancourt has yielded positive overall value on the baseball diamond. To be exact, it’s been six years since Betancourt compiled a +1.4 WAR with the Seattle Mariners in 2007. He hit .289/.308/.418 as a 25-year-old shortstop that season.
That would be the final year in which he provided substantive value as a professional baseball player, other than simply being the least-bad option at shortstop for various organizations. While that sentiment may seem too acerbic to some, consider this: Betancourt received 500+ plate appearances every year between 2008-2011, despite accumulating -1.3 WAR over that time period. In fact, most of his value came from his durability, not his bat nor his glove.
So you’ll have to excuse Brewers fans for lamenting his return to Milwaukee this spring. Our own Jaymes Langrehr illustrated his stages of discontent in this article, but in actuality, the signing wasn’t supposed to have much impact. He was to see no more than maybe 50-75 plate appearances until Corey Hart returned from his knee injury, and he would most likely be designated for assignment at that point.
Of course, that was before the Aramis Ramirez injury and the recent hand injury to Alex Gonzalez. All of these unexpected injuries — not to mention the injuries to Taylor Green and Jeff Bianchi – have led to more playing time for Betancourt. It’s recently been at third base, and it’s been about what one would expect. He owns a .267 wOBA and 64 wRC+, meaning his performance at the plate has been 36-percent below the league-average.
Baseball is made up of a series of disparate events, however, in which below-average players experience spurts of tremendous value. On Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals, Yuniesky Betancourt enjoyed one of those rare days in which he was a positive contributor to the Brewers’ extra-innings victory, and those performances should indeed be celebrated instead of being tossed aside as a fluke — or worse, swept under the rug because it doesn’t support the ongoing narrative.
In the fifth inning, the Cardinals led 3-0 over the Brewers. They had a runner at third base with two outs, and clean-up hitter Allen Craig at the plate. Craig dribbled a slow chopper up the third base line — a swinging-bunt of sorts that often results in an infield hit. With the Brewers already down three runs and unable to afford surrendering another run, Betancourt made a nice charging play on a tough chopper and narrowly gunned out Craig at first to preserve the three-run deficit. Considering the final score, Betancourt’s fine play to keep the Cardinals off the board proved immensely important.
Advancing ahead to the bottom of the eighth inning, the Brewers had taken a significant bite out of the Cardinals lead with a two-run home run by Ryan Braun in the top-half of the inning. Jim Henderson threw a stellar one-two-three inning to preserve the one-run deficit. Without the help of Betancourt’s glove, though, the inning may have resulted differently.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has traditionally been a thorn in the Brewers’ collective side. He puts together quality at-bats and hit .357/.390/.589 with three homers against the Brewers a year ago. With two down in the eighth, he jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Henderson and laced a sharp grounder to the left side of the infield. Betancourt, who is known for his lack of range, makes a nice diving stab to retire Molina.
This defensive effort didn’t have such an obvious impact on the final score as did the previous defensive play highlighted in the fifth inning, but it did prevent the beginning of a potential two-out rally by the Cardinals and allowed the Brewers to head into the top of the ninth only down a single run.
And down only that single run, it was actually Betancourt who plated the game-tying run on an RBI-double off closer Mitchell Boggs.
Betancourt isn’t known for his plate discipline or his ability to drive the baseball to right-center field, but he drove a 90 mph cutter on the outside-black of the plate into the opposite field, allowing the speedy Carlos Gomez to race around the bases and tie the game.
Again, this at-bat is a singular point in time. It doesn’t signify a better approach at the plate from Betancourt — he’s still only seeing 3.18 pitches per PA this season — but in the top of the ninth inning against Mitchell Boggs, he was a star.
It’s easy to forget that historically below-average players still have the necessary skill to make good things happen on the diamond. And in uncommon circumstances, those below-average players can even string together a series of good events to make a wholly positive impact on the game. Yuniesky Betancourt did that on Sunday.
And for all the criticisms spat in his direction or jokes of which he’s the ultimate punchline, it’s important to take time and chronicle the positives he occasionally brings to the Brewers, too.