Rafael Betancourt Is Just Getting Laughable

There have been two players named Betancourt throughout the course of major-league history, and it just so happens that both of them are current. Far more has been written about Yuniesky Betancourt than Rafael Betancourt, even though Rafael has been around longer, and even though Yuniesky is terrible. But then, that’s kind of the reason. Yuniesky wasn’t supposed to be terrible, but he became terrible, famously terrible, and he kept getting jobs. Rafael is a reliever who has been quietly effective for relatively unpopular teams for the better part of a decade. It never didn’t make sense that more should be written about Yuniesky. But some should be written about Rafael, because it turns out he’s more interesting than you probably thought.

Full disclosure: I’m obsessed to a minor degree with Rafael Betancourt. I find him to be absolutely fascinating for reasons that might not appeal to the average baseball fan. There’s something particular about the way that Betancourt goes to work. He hasn’t hit a batter since his rookie season way back in 2003, many hundreds of appearances ago. That’s crazy, and I’ve written about that elsewhere. But that’s a symptom. It’s not that Betancourt tries not to hit batters; it’s that he pitches in such a way that hit batsmen are almost impossible. Especially, specifically, against lefties.

If you click the link above, you’ll see an image of Betancourt’s pitch-location patterns against left-handed hitters. It’s silly, but that article’s also from the beginning of May. In 2012, Betancourt has turned it up to 11, by which I mean he’s now become more laughable than ever. Courtesy of Texas Leaguers, here is how 2012 Rafael Betancourt has pitched to lefties:

Betancourt is not a one-pitch pitcher. Against lefties, he throws a fastball, a change, and a slider. But while Betancourt is able to mix up his pitches, he doesn’t exactly mix up his pitch locations. While he does vary height, everything — almost literally everything — is away. Nearly every single pitch he’s thrown to a lefty this year has been over or beyond the outer half. Some pitchers try to live on both the edges. Against lefties, Betancourt lives on just one of them.

It’s always been this way, or at least it’s always been this way to a high degree during the PITCHf/x era. We can’t go back any further than that, but odds are the way Betancourt has pitched is the way Betancourt has always pitched. The inner half of the plate goes almost entirely unexplored. Here is the very most inside pitch Betancourt has thrown to a lefty all season long. It’s from the season opener, in Houston.

The very most inside pitch. And based on the catcher’s glove movement, it wasn’t supposed to be an inside pitch at all. It was supposed to be more away, like all the rest of Betancourt’s pitches, and Betancourt just missed. The chart above is a testament to how good Betancourt usually is about hitting his spots.

I mean…

The very most inside pitch. It was an inside pitch, definitely, in that it was not an outside pitch. It was also a strike. The furthest inside Betancourt has thrown to a lefty this year was still within the strike zone. Interestingly enough, check out pitch number 5, which came immediately after pitch number 4, as is always the case.

That’s the fourth-most inside pitch Betancourt has thrown to a lefty this year. Once again, it wasn’t supposed to be that far inside, and Betancourt just missed a little in. Two of Betancourt’s four most inside pitches to lefties so far in 2012 came consecutively in the same plate appearance in the season opener.

I haven’t checked, but I can’t imagine there are many pitchers who leave areas of the zone as unexplored as Betancourt does, if there are any of them. Strangely, Betancourt still shows absurdly large career platoon splits. Betancourt has held righties to a .243 wOBA, while he’s allowed a .313 wOBA to lefties. Against lefties, his strikeout rate has gone down and his walk rate has nearly tripled. But he’s also generated grounders and done just as good a job of limiting dingers, and maybe that’s the idea. Lefties have had success against Rafael Betancourt, but they haven’t had success knocking him out of the park.

It’s strange to see a guy with Betancourt’s pattern, and it’s strange to see a guy with Betancourt’s pattern and splits. You’d think Betancourt might mix things up to try to improve his success against lefties, since he’s been exploitable. Maybe he doesn’t trust his stuff, and in that event, maybe he’s right not to. Clearly, there’s a reason that Betancourt keeps pitching like this. And it’s nothing short of mesmerizing that he does.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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exxrox
Member
exxrox
3 years 10 months ago

I find him to be absolutely fascinating for reasons that might not appeal to the average baseball fan.

Thought this would be a saber article on hat-tugs.

jirish
Guest
jirish
3 years 10 months ago

I thought it would be about the number of times he touches his cap or the amount of time he takes in between pitches.

John
Guest
John
3 years 10 months ago

That’s amazing.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 10 months ago

I love articles that explore unexplored and largely pointless back alleys of baseball. There are so many of them, and with the right ambassador, they are so interesting. Out of boredom, I’ll list a few I can think of:

-Watching Tom Milone live up to his 9+ K/9 in the minors without touching 90 MPH
-Franklin Gutierrez’s routes to fly balls (so glad he’s back)
-Manny Ramirez’ routes to fly balls (so sad he’s gone)
-Brett Anderson and Chris Sale’s time between pitches
-Hawk Harrelson defending an egregious at bat by Gordon Beckham

Alright I gotta get back to work. But all us die hards have these little things that we love, and I bet a lot of other people would love to watch for them too. I know I’ll soon switch MLB.tv to Betancourt vs. a lefty and laugh to myself as he pounds the outside corner.

gnomez
Guest
gnomez
3 years 10 months ago

How about Rafael Betancourt’s time between pitches? That’s what I was expecting this to be about.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 10 months ago

Holy crap. Just checked his pace…my god!! 30 seconds???

Might have to revisit switching to him on MLB.tv

jon
Guest
jon
3 years 10 months ago

He’s only 5th in slowest pace this year: Broxton, Papelbon, Peralta and Papa Grande (33 sec) all beat him out.

slash12
Member
slash12
3 years 10 months ago

bob howry (from what I recall) pitched to the outside almost constantly, I’m not sure if it’s quite this extreme, however.

Who?
Guest
Who?
3 years 10 months ago

This guy takes FOREVER to throw a pitch.

shthar
Guest
shthar
3 years 10 months ago

It’s the Iceball pitching stragety.

Natty Bumppo
Guest
Natty Bumppo
3 years 10 months ago

Most unsung relief pitcher in the NL over the past five years.

Almost as unsung as Stephen Foster’s 19th century classic, “My Old Kentucky Home”.

Bip
Guest
Bip
3 years 10 months ago

It looks like he throws a lot of cutters and sliders, which, from a right handed pitcher, should be much more effective against right handed batters than against left handed ones. Maybe, knowing that, he is thinking more about limiting damage against lefties, as the article suggests. I’m guessing he aims outside because if he goes too far then it’s a ball outside, but more likely it’s a ball that starts off the plate and cuts in. If he tried to go inside more it probably would either cut too far inside to look like a strike or if it’s over the plate at all, a lefty might be able to crush it, being as it’s easier to hit a pitch that breaks towards you.

Alex
Guest
Alex
3 years 10 months ago

He is absolutely ridiculous when he’s on. Here’s his second half from last year:

90 PA, 7 hits, 1 HR, 1 walk, 39 strikeouts. Good for a .089 OPB, .114 SLG and a 39 K/BB. Insane

Don Draper
Guest
Don Draper
3 years 10 months ago

To Jeff Sullivan: I know this is really really really random but who is your favorite rapper?

Josh
Guest
Josh
3 years 10 months ago

“It never didn’t make sense that more should be written about Yuniesky.”

I’m no English proffesor, but there is something wrong there…

Bookbook
Guest
Bookbook
3 years 10 months ago

Intentionally.

mr mr
Guest
mr mr
3 years 10 months ago

I’m an English professor. It’s fine.

mr mr
Guest
mr mr
3 years 10 months ago

Or maybe it’s not god stupid reply.

dudley
Member
Member
dudley
3 years 10 months ago

didn’t glavine pitch almost exclusively to the outer half of the plate? perhaps not to the extreme as betancourt, but then again, he was a starter.

rokirovka
Guest
rokirovka
3 years 10 months ago

Yes, lefty Tom Glavine did exactly this against right-handed batters. That’s why in every playoff game he pitched, the pregame preview of his style by Tim McCarver included the phrase “Away, Away, Away.” I guess those of us who remember him pitching in the early 90s qualify as old guys these days.

dudley
Member
Member
dudley
3 years 10 months ago

also, great article!

jon
Guest
jon
3 years 10 months ago

Regarding his slowness, the Mets announcers were hysterical in his save against them last week. They called him “the human rain delay” and Keith Hernandez audibly kept groaning! I think he even let out an “Oh my god, this guy is unbelievable” one time when he stepped off! Great stuff.

Adam
Guest
Adam
3 years 10 months ago

When Betancourt was in Cleveland, I remember Victor Martinez putting some effort into trying to convince Betancourt to bust lefties inside every now and then just to keep them honest. The overwhelming feeling from the broadcast booth during those years was “This guy doesn’t even know the inner half of the plate exists.”

Certainly one of the most underrated relievers in recent memory.

Broham
Guest
Broham
3 years 10 months ago

Kind of taking a poll to see what people think..
Romney or Obama?

Chase
Guest
Chase
3 years 10 months ago

Wow, you must be really fun at parties.

Phrozen
Guest
Phrozen
3 years 10 months ago

I like Romney’s minor league xFIP, but I’m not sure he has the endurance for a full season.

Wally
Guest
Wally
3 years 10 months ago

I like the idea of starting Romney out in the pen, sending him back to AAA to stretch him out as a starter at the All-Star break, then getting him back just in time for a playoff push.

zach
Guest
zach
3 years 10 months ago

if you are not reading what jeff sullivan writes on lookoutlanding.com, you are missing out!

Dave Silverwood
Member
Dave Silverwood
3 years 10 months ago

I have to agree he has both good and un-usual stats,but even with his pecular situation I would love him on the Reds as well as yANSEY.

tz
Guest
tz
3 years 10 months ago

I remember Betancourt pitching to Youkilis in the 2007 WS. I dozed off on the 3rd or 4th pitch of the at-bat, had a full dream, and woke back up to see Youkilis STILL at bat (he had fouled off about five straight 2-strike pitches)

Hmm
Guest
Hmm
3 years 10 months ago

that would have been the 07 ALCS, Bets was still an Indian then

Eric M. Van
Guest
3 years 10 months ago

Betancourt was a SS his first three years in the Red Sox system and pitched for the first time at age 22 in low-A. He faced 125 hitters, struck out 52, and walked 2.

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