Yuniesky No Gets-ky

Over my years attempting to analyze this game I’ve come to accept that changing a player’s skill set is tedious if not bordering on the line of insanity. Players who come up through high school, college, and the minors swinging at pitches located outside the strike zone will probably continue to do so once they settle into the majors. If they’ve reached the majors with that approach and a good load of success, then it’ll probably work to varying degree.

There are, however, exceptions: if a batter is constantly bewildered by anything that isn’t a fastball then, yeah, there could be issues for him sticking in the majors. Or if a batter has a hole in swing the size of Arizona, then, yes, he’s probably not long for the bigs. But instead of wishing Carl Crawford would take on the patience of Ben Zobrist at the plate, I’ve come to accept his approach for what it is. I love watching Matt Joyce and John Jaso take close pitch after close pitch just off the plate or just highenough or just lowenough with such confidence in their recognition and discipline. But I’m also cool watching Crawford swing at a pitch half a foot above the zone and knock it through the middle on a line. My tolerance has grown, I guess you could say.

But in spite of that, I don’t get Yuniesky Betancourt at all. Betancourt is hitting .258/.282/.381 (not far off his career .273/.297/.389 line) and it’s not just the results that leave me with a blank expression, but his approach too. Tom Tango has written a few times that the great equalizer for horrible batters is to take as many pitches as possible and (presumably) draw walks or at least get a mistake pitch. Betancourt is a pretty horrible batter and he has been for years now. You couldn’t tell by his approach though, which, as best as I can tell, is to swing as much as possible at pitches that he designates as good pitches before the pitcher delivers.

Betancourt is swinging out of the zone 40.5% of the time. Now, over the years the league average for O-Swing% has altered quite a bit as a result of redefining what goes into the out of zone bucket and what does not, so that raw number isn’t as bad relative to league average as it would’ve been when Betancourt came up. But check out what happens when you divide his O-Swing% by league average:

2005: 1.32
2006: 1.21
2007: 1.18
2008: 1.33
2009: 1.23
2010: 1.42

Betancourt always swings more often outside of the zone than league average by at least 15% and usually more. He had his best seasons (which again, weren’t that great, .306 and .310 respectively) in 2006 and 2007, when he posted his best ratios relative to the league. Then he had his worst season last year when, again, he posted a decent ratio relative to the league. This isn’t something where you can point at it and say correlation is causation.

What kills me, though, is that Betancourt’s only legitimate skill as a batter seems to be making contact within the zone. This season alone he’s at 93.7% — almost identical to his career rate, which is actually quite good. Better than Jose Reyes, Erick Aybar, and nearly equal to Derek Jeter. This season he’s got one of the 30 best rates of contact within the strike zone in all of baseball.

So, if you can make contact within the zone and have few other skills, then wouldn’t it behoove that player to focus on mostly swinging at pitches within the zone? Evidently not. Here’s Betancourt’s Z-Swing% divided by his O-Swing%:

2005: 2.60
2006: 2.36
2007: 2.26
2008: 2.08
2009: 2.10
2010: 1.77

What this tells us is that over the years Betancourt is increasing his out of the zone swinging while mostly swinging at the same amount of pitches within the zone. Basically, he’s canceling out one of his best attributes thanks to an alarmingly indigent ability to recognize pitch location. Pitchers aren’t even throwing him a ton of strikes (48% of his pitches seen are in the normalized strike zone yet he has an absurd 69% first pitch strike rate) instead they just let him get himself out by making contact on a bad pitch or whiffing with godknowswhat going on in his mind.

Somehow the coaching staff isn’t telling him to hold off on a few extra pitches. Somehow he hasn’t realized that he’s seeing fewer balls in the zone lately, yet his overall strike rate is higher than it has ever been. He would almost certainly improve his chances of doing something good at the dish by simply altering how many times he swings. I mean, can he really be worse? Is there not a floor? Betancourt’s sponsorship on his Baseball-Reference page reads like such:

An Anonymous Supporter sponsor(s) this page.

According to one scout, well respected by the sponsor of this page, Yuniesky Betancourt is a serious dark horse in the American League MVP race

You know what else that scout thinks about Betancourt? He’ll only swing when the bat is in his hands and the ball is out of the zone.

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17 Responses to “Yuniesky No Gets-ky”

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  1. BrettJMiller says:

    Pretty sure I remember the M’s coaching staff trying to tell him to be more patient. He said something like he’d “give it a try”…not that he’d just do it. He wanted to see if it would work. I guess he didn’t think it worked. If you dig things up about how he responds to coaches, and managers, he seems not only like a bad player but like a total jerk.

    Also, I couldn’t find it in a google search, but there was an article a few years back where he basically hung the guy who helped him get out of Cuba out to dry. It’s really just sad that he’s a bad baseball player, and by all indications, kind of a douche.

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  2. Casper says:

    Living in KC I’ve been subjected to lots of Anti-Yuni articles over the last 12 months, but few of them have ever supported their argument this well. Nicely done.

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  3. Salty Dog says:

    As a Mariners fan, I’ve seen more than enough of Betancourt to know the problem. He just doesn’t care about getting better. He’s perfectly content to keep doing the same thing he’s always done. With his tools, if he had dedicated himself to improving his pitch recognition and keeping fit, he could have been a quality player. But, he let himself get stocky, he showed no interest in improving his batting approach, because he’s basically lazy and just wants to punch the time clock for his paycheck.

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  4. Random Guy says:

    There was a time in May 2009, shortly before his trade, when Yuni started drawing more walks — he collected 8 between May 4 and May 29, after getting zero up to that point. But his overall productivity declined during that period, as he posted lines of .303/.299/.421 in April and .214/.277/.274 in May. (Yes, an OBP that was less than his BA, that’s not a misprint.)

    As it turns out, his O-Swing% declined significantly during that period, but so did his Z-Swing%. Someone told him to take more pitches and he complied, which had the effect of him drawing more walks but did not improve his pitch recognition by one iota. He didn’t get the part about how he was only supposed to take more *bad* pitches. He continued to be completely ineffective, but in different ways.

    I think it was during this period that the Seattle front office realized he was unsalvageable. In June he went back to being the same old Yuni, and a couple weeks later he became a Royal.

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  5. B N says:

    Sadly, with that kind of hacking, he’s probably even a worse player than the stats indicate from a team perspective. By not taking many pitches, he decreases the burden on opposing pitchers- both in the number of pitches they throw and the amount of control they need to get through the at bat.

    I’m not sure what the marginal benefit of that ends up being, but I would imagine it would be about the opposite of being a team like the Red Sox or the Yankees if you extrapolate it over a line up. So a guy like Youkilis sees 4.4 pitches per at bat while a guy like Yuniesky sees 3.2, approximately. This would mean over the course of 25 at bats, a guy facing all Youks would have thrown 30 more pitches. (Compounding this, the 100 pt difference in OBP would probably result in at least that many extra pitches to finish 7 innings)

    Especially against tough, efficient pitchers this can mean a lot. I recall the Red Sox in some games basically just outlasting Halladay. They might not score runs, but they’d take enough pitches to make sure he couldn’t finish up the game- letting them take a crack at the relievers.

    Alternatively, if you have guys like Yuni in your line up you’re going to basically just save the other team’s bullpen. I can’t imagine that’s exactly beneficial.

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  6. RR says:

    Really? An article about Yuniesky? Slow day I guess.

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  7. mcneo says:

    Yuniesky is bad, you don’t need numbers to tell you that he can’t hit. It’s easy enough to see that by watching him bat for one game. In four PAs, you can tell he sucks. He’s like the bad version of Vlad Guerrero, Yuniesky can take any pitch and hit it weakly.

    Mike Aviles, who should be at short, isn’t exactly captain plate discipline either. Aviles’ career O-Swing is actually worse, but it’s better this year than Yuniesky’s by 10%. And Aviles’ makes contact in the zone at 93.2% of the time. So he’s still pretty good there. It’s hard to figure out why Yuni gets the playing time over Aviles. Although Dayton Moore has, in several interviews, apparently claimed that Yuni is doing everything he has been asked by the team; which means to play even worse, apparently. Aviles is even a plus defender at short, as opposed to Yuni. I expect Yuni to be out of baseball after this year, or moved to a utility role.

    The guy who would actually be taking Yuni’s PAs is Chris Getz. His O-Swing is 8% better than Yuni this year (although for his career he is actually better than average). And his Z-Contact Rate is fantastic at 95.8%.

    Why is Yuni playing everyday? Because Chris Getz has been unlucky on Balls in Play. And we all know that the Royals think RBI is the best advanced statistic. Chris’s old school Batting Average is still worse than Yuni: .234 compared to .258.

    Who would you play?
    Chris Getz .234/.303/.270 (Career:.256/.319/.329 )
    Yuni Betancourt .258/.282/.381 (Career: .273/.297/.389)

    Did I mention that Chris Getz stole 25 bases last year and was caught only twice? (he’s got 8 this year with 1 CS) Getz is also about average on defense.

    But here’s the interesting question. If you have a very successful base-stealer like Getz, should you bat him before Butler so that he can steal before Butler hits into a double play?

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  8. Ben Hall says:

    that was fun.

    but i don’t think indigent works in this sense of poor: “alarmingly indigent ability”

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  9. TJ says:

    His name can be made into the following anagram. Batter Nine You Sucky

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  10. Mike Green says:

    Or, So Yucky Batter Ennui.

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  11. Mike says:

    Can someone explain to me how your OBP is lower than your BA?

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  12. Cidron says:

    Waaay off topic etc.. but the title of article – Yuniesky No Gets-ky.. no gets KY? and i dont mean kentucky

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