Yuniesky Betancourt and the Worst Trend in Baseball

This is a post with two potential introductions. We will deploy both one of them. By our numbers, a year ago, Michael Young was worth -1.4 WAR. He’s going to be a starter for the Phillies. A year ago, Ryan Howard was worth -1.0 WAR. He’s going to be a starter for the Phillies. A year ago, Delmon Young was worth -0.7 WAR. He’s supposedly going to be a starter for the Phillies. A year ago, Chone Figgins was worth -1.0 WAR. By reports, the Phillies are the last team to have expressed some interest. A year ago, Joe Mather was worth -1.5 WAR. He’ll be in Phillies camp on a minor-league deal. A year ago, Yuniesky Betancourt was worth -0.8 WAR. He’ll be in Phillies camp on a minor-league deal.

It’s misleading to present the numbers like that, but it’s also powerful. The Phillies are going to have a lot of talent on their roster, but they could also have a lot of players coming off really bad seasons. For now, it doesn’t mean much that Mather and Betancourt will be in camp, because they’re on minor-league contracts, and minor-league contracts are effectively harmless. But the risk is that a bad player on a minor-league contract can end up on the major-league roster, and as you’ve figured out, I’m using this as the latest opportunity to write about Yuniesky Betancourt, the extraordinary underachiever.

I write not to bash the Phillies, because as far as Betancourt is concerned, they haven’t yet done anything horribly wrong. Maybe they need a full-year infielder at triple-A. This is about the player, and not the team. The player with a lifetime .290 on-base percentage. The player with one of the very lowest walk rates in baseball. The player with 30 career steals and 30 career caught-steals. Betancourt is 30, now, and he’s days away from turning 31. He’s not a player on the verge of putting everything together. He’s a player for whom too much has gone wrong.

That’s evident from his lifetime 2.5 WAR, over more than a thousand games. He had a 4.1 career WAR through 2008. Switch to Baseball-Reference and you find a -2.6 career WAR. You all understand Yuniesky Betancourt, because he’s a popular subject on websites like this one. You all understand that he didn’t become what he was supposed to become. You all know him to be a pile-of-crap defender. But there’s a trend in the numbers, a trend that hasn’t gotten a lot of direct attention. It’s a trend that I think captures the essence of the whole Yuniesky Betancourt experience, a trend that says everything that needs to be said.

You’re familiar with the Fan Scouting Report, yes? This project. It’s a project by which baseball fans evaluate baseball defenders, and it’s a whole Wisdom-Of-Crowds sort of thing. Defenders are rated by those fans on the Internet who watch the defenders the most. You get it. Some of the results are made available here at FanGraphs. Older results can be found through that link above. The Fan Scouting Report results in an overall rating for each player, and it just so happens we have results covering the entire career, to date, of one Yuniesky Betancourt.

The numbers are unbelievable. The numbers, I felt, were sufficiently unbelievable to warrant a post.

Year Rating
2005 86
2006 82
2007 69
2008 39
2009 26
2010 34
2011 22
2012 18

Betancourt was considered a magician when he first came up. The results put him second on the 2005 Mariners, behind only Ichiro, and Yuni drew comparisons to Mark Kotsay, Torii Hunter, and Cesar Izturis. In 2006, Yuni was rated as baseball’s third-best shortstop, behind Adam Everett and Omar Vizquel. Then began the slide. In 2007, Yuni was rated as baseball’s 11th-best shortstop. In 2008, he was among the worst, near Jhonny Peralta and Brendan Harris. The slide continued. Last year, there were 414 players who fielded for at least 250 innings, and who received enough Fan Scouting Report ratings. Yuni got an average overall rating of 18. This was the worst rating in baseball, out of everybody. Worse than Raul Ibanez, worse than Rod Barajas, worse than Ty Wigginton. Worse than everybody. 18. The very worst.

I’m not going to lie to you and say the Fan Scouting Report results are infallible, without imperfection. They select for people who know who tangotiger is, basically, and to a degree they’re also going to be vulnerable to groupthink. Evaluations will often be entered by people who already have a familiarity with advanced defensive metrics and various defensive reputations, and evaluations might also be prone to exaggeration in either direction. There are issues, and we haven’t even touched on the limited sample sizes and the questionable evaluation skills of the audience.

But Yuni came up as an 86. He’s slid to an 18, according to these numbers. You might think of Betancourt’s defense as Delmon Young’s offense: Yuni was a top defensive prospect, but in reality, as a major leaguer, he’s been quite bad. That might understate things.

Here are a couple .gifs I made years ago. We see Yuni making a play for the Mariners in 2005, and we see Yuni failing to make a similar play for the Mariners in 2008. The situations and balls in play aren’t identical, but the point gets across.

Yuni05.gif.opt

Yuni08_2.gif.opt

Yuni was a wizard, to the eye. He didn’t just regress to the mean over time — he regressed so far beyond the mean that you might expect reverse regression to the mean. We don’t need to re-summarize everything that’s gone wrong with Betancourt and his skillset. I just felt like the table above was worth sharing, because, yeah. That’s Yuni’s career in a nutshell.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the upside is with signing Yuni to even a minor-league contract. He can’t field, he can’t walk, he can’t hit for good power, and he’s never demonstrated anything in the way of solid leadership skills. He’s older now than he’s ever been, much like you and me. Because it’s a minor-league contract, though, I can’t be critical of the Phillies, yet. I can be thankful, because the Phillies caused me to look up Betancourt’s player page, which caused me to notice the Fan Scouting Report results. Those are bad results. Bad results, for a pretty bad baseball player.



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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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James
Guest
James
3 years 7 months ago

“I don’t care about walks, I care about production” – RA Jr

Alex Remington
Member
3 years 7 months ago

In fairness… that is the correct order of priorities. Walks are only important insofar as they are correlated with team runs. The purpose of an offense is to score runs by any means possible. Walks are a means to an end; runs are the end.

But it’s hard to give Amaro a lot of credit for this point, because Yuniesky Betancourt and Delmon Young are not just bad at walking: they are bad at all aspects of baseball. They hurt an offense and a defense in every single way that it is possible to hurt them. They are zero-dimensional players.

bc
Guest
bc
3 years 7 months ago

If exercise is a means to good health, it makes no sense to say “I don’t care about exercise, I care about good health”.

Franco
Guest
Franco
3 years 7 months ago

You’re selling the awfulness short. Their baserunning skills stink too.

MBD
Guest
MBD
3 years 7 months ago

If they’re zero-dimensional, shouldn’t the problem have gone away?

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 7 months ago

Exercise is a necessary component of good health. Without exercise, you will not be healthy, no matter what you do. Walks are not necessary to production. See Guerrero, Vlad.

Danzel
Guest
Danzel
3 years 7 months ago

Dictionary

Outlier – Guerrero, Vlad

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
3 years 7 months ago

I saw him make a nice play a year or 2 ago, where he got to a grounder up the middle, and with his momentum carrying him to the first base side of second he managed to flip the ball with his glove behind his back to the 2b covering for the force. It may even have started a dp. I forget. But that’s how I remember it.

It made me think the hoary thought: “You know, even the worst of these guys are pretty damn good at baseball.”

And then I thought “Naaah, Betancourt sucks.”

Karl
Guest
Karl
3 years 7 months ago
suicide squeeze
Member
Member
suicide squeeze
3 years 7 months ago

I was at that game. It felt creepy giving a standing ovation to a yuniesky betancourt defensive play.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

Has any other team intentionally spent an offseason acquiring all the worst players in baseball from the year before?

Paul B
Guest
Paul B
3 years 7 months ago

Regression to the mean! They’d win it all!

Gomez
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

See: Pirates, Pittsburgh and Royals, Kansas City.

Tomcat
Guest
Tomcat
3 years 7 months ago

are you referring to grabbing Melky and Frenchy?

NATS Fan
Guest
NATS Fan
3 years 7 months ago

Reading about the Phillies in this article filled me with absolute joy. Not as much Joy as a phillies team that actually started Yunieski and Delmon alongside Howard and figgens for most of the season. Figgy really. That latter team would make this 47 year old man smile a large smile from opening day until they lost 100 games even with that pitching. Sorry I am a NATS fan and we have grown to hate the Phillies!

benjammin
Guest
benjammin
3 years 7 months ago

Why is it you only hear of actual “Nats” fans when their winning?

When the team sucks, as is almost all the time, there ARE NO FANS…Strange

JDBrew
Guest
JDBrew
3 years 7 months ago

I don’t think that it’s so much of there not being any Nats fans, as it is that they’re a very new ballclub, and until now the Nats fans haven’t had anything to celebrate. I can understand your point however. I do dislike bandwagoners. I have been a Nats fan from the beginning. And I always have to prove that by saying that I remember watching Barry Bonds break the record off of Mike Bacsik, and I remember loving that one Soriano year, I can remember thinking Ryan Church and Austin Kearns were pretty good corner outfielders, and that Jose Vidro was solid. And as if Lastings Millidge and Elijah Dukes weren’t bad enough I remember when our starting centerfielder was Nook Logan. Nook Logan!! (Sidebar: he appeared on the list of PED users. It must suck to have to take steroids to even be that bad)

As a real Nats fan I take offense to those saying that there’s only fans now that they’re good. We’ve always been here. But what was there really to say then? Nook Logan for MVP???

Steve
Guest
Steve
3 years 7 months ago

At one point the Mets traded for both Jeff Francoeur AND Gary Matthews Jr in the course of a year.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
3 years 7 months ago

except that the Royals, despite the Phillies’ pleading, wouldn’t part with Francoeur.

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy
3 years 7 months ago

Veteran grit is popular in a few circles, and as either you or Dave pointed out on a recent FanGraphs podcast – the Phillies are possibly the least sabermetric-oriented team in baseball.

Bip
Guest
Bip
3 years 7 months ago

If that’s true then I hope they’re shopping Cliff Lee.

James
Guest
James
3 years 7 months ago

Well they are a bit down on him due to his lack of wins last year.

Bhaakon
Guest
Bhaakon
3 years 7 months ago

Maybe veteran grit is popular, but why would anyone think that Betancourt has it?

Kendrick
Guest
Kendrick
3 years 7 months ago

when are people gonna learn that sabrmetrics is killing the game of baseball? can’t we just rely on batting averages, ops, obp, etc? not trying to be a troll, but it rarely works. oakland put together a good team last year, but they still fell short. baseball is a game of science and luck, not computer-generated models.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

“oakland put together a good team last year, but they still fell short.”

More than can be said of the Phillies.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 7 months ago

“sabrmetrics is killing the game of baseball”

Can you give any concrete examples to back that up? Legitimately curious.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
3 years 7 months ago

Oakland made it to the playoffs. They made it. The playoffs are a crapshoot. Societies as a whole grow faster when we try to learn a d understand, not just throw up our arms and say “we’ll the sun was angry today”

Rob
Guest
Rob
3 years 7 months ago

we’re talking about baseball, right?

Bip
Guest
Bip
3 years 7 months ago

I’m not sure your post makes sense. So you’re saying that we should only use offensive statistics? OPS was once considered an “advanced” statistic and the really old fashioned guys don’t even use it, they use good old batting average. What do you consider to be part of sabermetrics?

Luke W
Guest
Luke W
3 years 7 months ago

“baseball is a game of science and luck, not computer-generated models.”…

…Computer-generated models… not the same as science…?

LTG
Guest
LTG
3 years 7 months ago

This was my first thought as well.

My second thought was how did that comment relate to a very non-Saber article? Hard to take the not-trolling seriously…

Tomcat
Guest
Tomcat
3 years 7 months ago

not necessarily and I am as bothered by scientism as anyone, but eliminating any tool be it a computer, a stopwatch or a video camera seems foolish

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 7 months ago

Scientism? Is that a term now?

Bryan
Guest
Bryan
3 years 7 months ago

Scientism… a mutated version of Weber’s theory of rationality.

Garrigus Carraig
Guest
Garrigus Carraig
3 years 7 months ago

You are free, Kendrick, to rely on batting averages, ops, obp, etc. But let me ask you: If sabermetrics is killing baseball, why are you hanging out at Fangraphs?

Chummy Z
Guest
Chummy Z
3 years 7 months ago

People love to feed the trolls.

Tomcat
Guest
Tomcat
3 years 7 months ago

“baseball is a game of science and luck” right, so sabrmetrics attempt to use science to eliminate luck as much as possible.

benjammin
Guest
benjammin
3 years 7 months ago

I am not supporting Kendrick at all but your comment is ridiculous.

Saberfags use “luck” as an excuse (when the results don’t come close to matching their probability equations) more than any evaluation process in the history of baseball analysis.

jim
Guest
jim
3 years 7 months ago

you make me sadface

Ryan
Guest
Ryan
3 years 7 months ago

As someone who has done a fair amount of trolling, let me assure you that any post including “not trying to be a troll but” is in fact trolling.

joser
Guest
joser
3 years 7 months ago

Exactly. Anybody who knows enough about the subject to know what kind of question sounds like it verges on trolling, knows enough to not need to ask that “innocent/legitimate” question.

I’m not trying to troll, I’m just hiding under this bridge.

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 7 months ago

That is one hell of a good troll post. You had me going for a second.

Honest Hal
Guest
Honest Hal
3 years 7 months ago

The bottom line is Seattle has lost all right to a major league baseball team, unleashing the hellish horrors of the Yuni ilk upon other teams.

Kindly relocate to Portland.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 7 months ago

This post misses a prime chance to tell them to move to Oklahoma.

Jaack
Guest
Jaack
3 years 7 months ago

And then steal the Sacramento River Cats!

Jake
Guest
Jake
3 years 7 months ago

Seattle has not lost their team. The ownership group has. No city would support these owners. The M’s owners might just be worse than Miami, simply for the fact that they have done such a great job hiding from the media their ineptness towards baseball beyond finance and business and their lack of desire to win a World Series.

Coors'Coon's
Guest
Coors'Coon's
3 years 7 months ago

Aren’t their owners Nintendo of America? No matter how you square it, every big city in North America supports them in the form of sales from Pokemon, Zelda and Mario games. It’s passive endorsement.

That said, I don’t think Seattle fits in the same discussion as the Marlins. The Mariners are “generically bad”; while the team is poor, nothing contributing to the poor play immediately jumps out. Lack of talent/immolated prospects? See Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Penny-pinching owners? Oakland, Miami and Toronto (up until now). Pitcher’s park? San Diego, Oakland, Minnesota. Hitter’s Park? Colorado (sigh). Seattle can’t even claim to have suffered from bankruptcy (Texas, Los Angeles, New York) or scandal. Can’t say I recall a team embroiled in scandal lately.

I find it kind of funny. But I’m miserable and feel better when I have company.

ron
Guest
ron
3 years 7 months ago

The owners are not nearly the worst. They are not good and are mostly indifferent. The problem could be Armstrong and Lincoln in that they hired Bavasi. The hiring of Jack Z is still being evaluated. The team has been willing to spend at times but it just hasn’t been good. Lately the handling of the arena issue has been unfortunate. Still as ownerships go if the team is in a window to win I don’t think they will not be willing to spend. I think as a Mariner fan we should be careful what wish for in ownership. This group has seen the best times of the franchise after saving the team from moving.

Gomez
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Didn’t Portland just lose their AAA team because they converted their only ballpark into a soccer-friendly layout untenable for baseball?

Voice of Reason
Guest
Voice of Reason
3 years 7 months ago

This is like when in government somebody messes up and they put together a commission to get to the bottom of it, and the commission meets and puts together a report, and the report comes out, and it basically says, in fancy words, that somebody messed up, but that only seems to aid doing nothing of substance being done to correct what caused the failure in the first place. The Phillies assembled a bad team last year, but the analysis of why the team was so bad has, for some reason, aided and abetted the Phillies assembling an even worse team.

Terry Ryan
Guest
Terry Ryan
3 years 7 months ago

Something wrong with that?

joser
Guest
joser
3 years 7 months ago

They got rid of minor league baseball to get major league soccer. (Major league as it’s defined on this continent, anyway). So not only did they upgrade a tier of play, they switched from a sport popular with older people to a sport currently popular with bearded, fixie-riding PBR drinkers, which apparently is a demo coveted by advertisers like Apple.

mkt
Guest
mkt
3 years 7 months ago

Yup, although this season the suburb of Hillsboro is going to get a minor league team. They’re reconstructing their baseball stadium and I think getting the team from Yakima.

Last year was sort of strange, the first time in decades that I’ve lived in a city or town that lacked not just MLB, but minor league baseball as well. And it’s not as if Portland is some dinky village in the middle of nowhere.

mkt
Guest
mkt
3 years 7 months ago

Joser’s description of the Timbers is very good, except I don’t recall Apple being a major sponsor. Their webpage has logos for Alaska Airlines and Adidas. Plus some regional names such as Root Sports, Key Bank, and PGE. And some local names Widmer Brothers, Burgerville, Providence Health, and the weird-sounding Jeld-Wen (a local company that IIRC makes windows and doors, but they made a mint off that stuff during the building boom, and thus the soccer stadium is now called Jeld-Wen Field). But yeah Joser has has the general idea correctly.

The Party Bird
Guest
The Party Bird
3 years 7 months ago

I think this may be the first time in a while Jeff Sullivan hasn’t prefaced a statement of a player’s ability with something along the lines of “as a major league player, this person is astoundingly good at baseball in the grand scheme of things”*. Instead he outright called Yuni bad at baseball. If he was ever going to move away from using that pet phrase, Yuniesky Betancourt was the perfect example to begin.

* Or maybe I’m completely insane for thinking that was a trend

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 7 months ago

I agree that Jeff is very caveat-heavy; it’s just part of his style. I think Betancourt can safely be thought of as the exception that proves the rule.

joser
Guest
joser
3 years 7 months ago

Cameron gets grief for not hedging or qualifying his statements; Sullivan gets grief for doing so.

The internet has the same three laws as thermodynamics: you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
3 years 7 months ago

“The player with 30 career steals and 30 career caught-steals. Betancourt is 30…”

See, I told you all Yuni was in the 30-30-30 club!

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
3 years 7 months ago

So you are saying he fields well enough that the Tigers should have taken a look?

Shauncore
Member
Shauncore
3 years 7 months ago

Yuniesky Betancourt or “Batter Nine You Sucky”

Tomcat
Guest
Tomcat
3 years 7 months ago

Mather has been worth -2.5WAR in his last 390PA wow

cpebbles
Guest
cpebbles
3 years 7 months ago

Guy apparently puts on quite a show in BP. Someone needs to hook him up with Jose Bautista for an offseason to see if he can ever learn to hit a baseball.

Brent
Guest
Brent
3 years 7 months ago

Ask Endy Chavez how Yuni is as a teammate. Jeff probably can find the .gif somewhere.

BalkingHeads
Member
BalkingHeads
3 years 7 months ago

I went to a Brewers-Mets game at Citi Field in 2011 and was ripping on Yuni for the first few innings, until he made a diving stop and throw in the field and then crushed a homer. Baseball!

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

In Astros spring training 2012, I explained to a friend that Brian Bixler was a no-bat defensive substitute who would hit .210 and maybe pinch-run every so often, and then as soon as I was done talking, he hit a grand slam.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
3 years 7 months ago

Dont forget to add chad Durbin to the list of awful players the phillies have added.

Fetus
Guest
Fetus
3 years 7 months ago

sabermetrics are just stupid. I know a good player when i see it, so yuniesky betancourt. Everyone on this website is just stupid because they believe in sabermetrics.

Jaack
Guest
Jaack
3 years 7 months ago

Preemptive don’t feed the troll warning.

joser
Guest
joser
3 years 7 months ago

I think they have to be a little less obvious to get any response. It’s one thing to be a troll, it’s another thing to be lazy and bad at it.

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 7 months ago

The guy above at least made a decent attempt at trolling.

Or maybe that’s your point and I’m feeding the troll by pointing out how bad he was at trolling?! OH GOD I’M STUCK IN A LOOP!

Cus
Guest
Cus
3 years 7 months ago

Can we see a graph of Yuni’s weight rising as his fielding declines? What are the chances that Yuni faked his age? He was a Cuban defector and could have been 30 in 2005 for all we know. That would explain a lot.

Josh
Guest
Josh
3 years 7 months ago

Yuniesky Betancourt, the phillies are doing a great job so far of assembling the worst defensive team in the history of baseball. This could be something to watch boys. How many players do they have that are 30 or older Jesus.

Side note: does anyone else think Yuni looks like a Cuban Al Roker?

That Guy
Guest
That Guy
3 years 7 months ago

For as bad at major league level baseball as Yuni is, he’s likeable in ways that Al Roker can only wish he was.

Or maybe I just think that Roker’s self effacing style that appeals only to fat stupid housewives to be an affront to humankind.

Calvin
Guest
Calvin
3 years 7 months ago

Should have given some actual metrics for his defense. It looks like he was overrated early and his drop to dog poop was only from average and not from actually very good.

Dave S
Guest
Dave S
3 years 7 months ago

As a Phils fan I could sort of understand taking a flier on Delmon Young. He’s 27, low cost, was once highly regarded, and he has something to prove.

I could sort of understand the Michael Young deal. Stopgap, and he has been successful… maybe he can eke out one more good season.

But Yuni Betancourt? Yuni Betancourt??? How does a fan delude himself about Yuni Betancourt? “Minor league deal”… who cares? He serves absolutely no purpose. Why bring a guy like that to camp?

Za
Guest
Za
3 years 7 months ago

IronPig depth?

lausan
Guest
lausan
3 years 7 months ago

Why no one see yubi rbi and homerun offensive stats? in 2011 his last full season was the 6 player with 68 rbi´s in all mlb, was 8 in homerun with 13, 7 in 2b with 27, 14 in hits with 140 thats stats are not to bad

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 7 months ago

please remove the sharp object from your frontal lobe.

lausan
Guest
lausan
3 years 7 months ago

that is the only u have to say, his offensive numbers still there, Those stat are between all SS, if u dont want see it, then u are the guy that has to remove the sharp object from your frontal lobe.

LarryM
Guest
LarryM
3 years 7 months ago

Hey, it’s easy to mock lausan. I mean, really, really easy. But the joke’s on you – lausan is the screen name for Reuben Amaro, and HE has a major league GM job. I don’t see them paying YOU to run a major league franchise, amiright?

WillieMaysField
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

To complete the Phillies off season they need to sign Aubrey Huff!!

jim garman
Guest
jim garman
3 years 7 months ago

Remember those 83 Phillies. Just kept on getting older.

Toasty
Member
3 years 7 months ago

As long as he keeps kitting dingers, teams will keep paying him. Sigh.

Toasty
Member
3 years 7 months ago

HITTING dingers, that is. Oops.

Fatbot
Guest
Fatbot
3 years 7 months ago

Yuni is so bad all that’s left for him is to become the World Series MVP after the Giants sign him.

nilbog44
Member
nilbog44
3 years 7 months ago

If he could hit then it would be ok. Defense hardly even matters in baseball

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