(Image: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
It’s no secret Yuniesky Betancourt has turned about to be who fans thought he was, his uncharacteristically hot April notwithstanding. While no one expects much from Yuni at this point, a recent blog post by NBC Sports columnist Joe Posnanski really put Betancourt’s lack of productivity in perspective:
Betancourt is well under replacement level again — 1.1 wins under replacement already. And he has a chance to do something. If the Brewers will just keep playing him every day, and he can maintain this pace, he will become the first player since Bill Bergen more than 100 years ago to score SIX CONSECUTIVE SEASONS of negative WAR.
Since Posnanski isn’t local, he seems astonished at how Yuni has been used so far this season, like playing him at first base, and batting him fifth or fourth in the lineup. (In fairness, Yuni went 2-for-5 his first time batting cleanup.) The Brewers have had a number of key injuries, and the middle of the lineup was underperforming in the first two months of the season, so throwing Yuni out there had a certain “well, why the hell not?” quality to it. Still, anyone trying to make the case that Betancourt isn’t an ineffective player would have their work cut out for them.
It is interesting to consider how Yuni has been a beneficiary of circumstance. He’s been re-signed by two teams – Kansas City and Milwaukee – that both knew he was average at best. With his current stint in Milwaukee, Betancourt seems to have a job primarily because Aramis Ramirez has been struggling with a bum knee, and Alex Gonzalez was somehow even less productive. Betancourt’s a survivor.
What does Yuni have going for him (obviously not baseball skills like fielding and getting on base)? When it was revealed in spring training that Betancourt was coming back for a sequel with the Brewers, Doug Melvin had this to say: “[T]he guy does good things. There are a lot of things we look at. He’s versatile, has good, strong hands; good strength. He’s good in the clubhouse and is a good teammate.”
Is being a good teammate enough given Yuni’s historically poor WAR? I did some googling to find evidence that the Royals or Mariners said anything about Betancourt’s positive clubhouse influence. Sure enough, when Kansas City brought him back after in the 2011 season, general manager Dayton Moore said, “He brings a right-handed bat with some power and is a guy we know fits in well in the clubhouse.” What do you know?
On the other hand, at the end of his tenure in Seattle, Yuni was benched due to lack of effort. One of his teammates at the time said, “You can't play a guy who doesn't work hard on a team where everyone else busts their ass.” So apparently Yuni the good teammate only started coming around in the last four years or so.
Hopefully, Brewers fans will one day hear the fabulous details of Betancourt’s endearing clubhouse antics. Until then, this much can be said in Yuni’s defense – for a guy with a negative WAR, at least he’s not as expensive as Josh Hamilton.