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:
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%:
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.
Print This Post