Yuniesky Betancourt ranked dead last qualified amongst shortstops in 2011, racking up +0.5 WAR in 584 plate appearances. Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin reportedly scoured the trade market for upgrades prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline, but was unable to come to terms on a deal. And with no legitimate upgrade on the postseason roster, Milwaukee entered the 2011 postseason with the worst everyday shortstop in the league in their starting lineup.
Surprisingly, that has turned out to be extremely fortunate for the Brewers.
In a 1-1 game in the sixth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS, Arizona’s Chris Young made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in center field to rob Jerry Hairston Jr. of an extra-base hit and save the go-ahead run. That brought up Yuniesky Betancourt at the plate with two outs, runners on first and second, and Arizona’s ace Ian Kennedy on the mound.
The 29-year-old Cuban native jammed himself a bit on the swing, but muscled a 92 MPH fastball from Kennedy into right-center field for a bloop RBI-single that put the Brewers ahead 2-1 late in the elimination game. That play had a leverage index (LI) of 2.52 and would have proved to be the winning run if John Axford could have navigated the ninth inning without trouble.
Betancourt continued his fine play in Sunday’s Game 1 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
With Milwaukee down 5-2 entering the bottom of the fifth inning, the Brewers’ bats broke the game open. Ryan Braun sliced a two-RBI ground-rule double into the right field corner to cut the lead to just one. Prince Fielder followed with a laser-like home run on a hanging breaking ball by lefty Jaime Garcia to put the Brewers up by a run. Rickie Weeks then reached on an error by the new pitcher Octavio Dotel.
Enter Yuni Betancourt. After fouling off four-consecutive pitches, the Brewers’ shortstop connected with a 78 MPH hanging slider and laced one into the bullpen in left-center. That home run put Milwaukee up three, and they never looked back.
It is also easy to forget that Betancourt led off the seventh inning with a double down the left field line after the Cardinals scored the previous half-inning to slash the Brewers’ lead to two runs. It is always important to answer quickly when your opponent shows signs of a rally, and yet again, Yuniesky Betancourt produced.
Through the first six games of the postseason, Betancourt is hitting .318/.348/.636 with two doubles, a triple, and a home run. He has been a key contributor for the Crew at the plate and has even made a couple slick plays in the field, as well.
But, given his regular season performance and career track-record, Milwaukee cannot seriously allow this six-game stretch to influence the decision of whether or not to exercise Betancourt’s option this offseason. It is only six games. The postseason is practically the definition of small sample size. Sure, the stakes are higher and players must rise to the occasion and produce, but the short postseason cannot be seen as a talent measuring stick for the 2012 season.
Not everyone agrees, of course. Jerry Hairston said after the game that Yuniesky Betancourt “is a good player” and is “a really good defensive shortstop and definitely has pop in his bat.” He’s right about the latter part, though at this point, scouts and metrics generally agree that Betancourt has less range than just about any other shortstop in the sport.
The chances of the Brewers legitimately exercising his option for 2012 seem even less likely when considering the strong group of shortstops hitting free agency this winter. Some of the more relevant names include: Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal, Jamey Carroll, and Clint Barmes.
With those names on the table this winter and the fact that Betancourt has not posted a WAR above +1.0 in a season since 2007, the Brewers will probably feature a new shortstop on Opening Day in 2012 — and it would be an unequivocal upgrade for the organization.
But so far this postseason, Yuniesky Betancourt has been a valuable cog in the Brewers’ machine and a significant reason they are sitting with a 1-0 lead over the Cardinals in the NLCS. If he keeps this up, he could become the Edgar Renteria of 2011.