The Milwaukee Brewers re-signed Craig Counsell yesterday to a one-year pact worth $1.4 million. Counsell spent last season primarily at shortstop while seeing time at second base and third base as well. Despite Counsell’s age – he turned 40 in August – there’s a case to be made that he should find himself in the lineup more often in 2011.
The Brewers’ acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt has led many to crown him as the starting shortstop. One tiny problem: Counsell might be the better player. Over the last three seasons Betancourt has managed a .262/.288/.384 slash line (in nearly 1,700 plate appearances) while playing poor defense; Counsell, meanwhile, has hit .259/.349/.356 (in nearly 1,000 plate appearances) with better defensive marks.
Expecting a 40-year-old shortstop to play daily is a bit much, which means a platoon is a better idea. The contrast in batting hands allows for a perceived natural platoon and the numbers support the idea. Betancourt doesn’t do much well, but his ability to hit left-handed pitching seems genuine. Betancour has even managed on-base percentages over .330 in three of the last four seasons against lefties, which is worth noting because Betancourt is not known for reaching base. Interestingly, Counsell has walked more in the last three seasons than Betancourt has in his entire career in about a third of the plate appearances. Counsell saw his numbers versus righties slide last season, but he’s usually good for an on-base percentage over .330 versus them.
The combination might lack pizzazz and sizzle, but a Counsell-Betancourt combination could lead to the Brewers’ best offensive output at the shortstop position since J.J. Hardy’s glory days. The team’s shortstops hit a collective .230/.284/.316 last season and .247/.306/.355 in 2009. Betancourt might exceed those numbers himself, yet a little outside the box thinking could produce even better results.