A couple of years ago, Yuniesky Betancourt was a valuable asset. At age 25, he’d established an offensive level of ability that made him an okay hitter for a middle infielder and he’d flashed defensive abilities that few others possessed. In 2006 and 2007, he was worth +1.7 wins per year, making him essentially a league average player. When you have a league average player on the roster making next to nothing, you should be satisfied.
The Mariners should no longer be satisfied with Yuniesky Betancourt. His offensive abilities haven’t really changed while his defense took an absolute nose dive last year. This has all been well chronicled, of course. Betancourt was worth just +0.3 wins last year, making him essentially a bench level player. Given Betancourt’s struggles in ’08 and the team’s lack of depth at SS, the M’s went out and traded for Ronny Cedeno. Both Jack Zduriencik and Don Wakamatsu spoke about challenging Betancourt to improve on the areas of the game that he’s weakest, and they spent a significant amount of time working with Yuni during spring training.
It hasn’t worked at all.
Despite the lectures about patience and adopting a better approach at the plate, Yuni’s spent the first two weeks of 2009 hacking away more than ever. He’s swung at 46% of the pitches he’s been thrown that were outside of the strike zone – the fifth highest total in the majors. He hasn’t drawn a walk yet and continues to get himself out on pitches he has no business swinging at. Every at-bat is like a giant middle finger to efforts to get him to improve. But that’s not a big shock, honestly – Yuni’s never struck anyone as the most teachable guy around, and significant improvements in plate discipline are pretty rare.
But, there was still some hope for his defense. Despite the suckfest that was 2008, it was the only year he’s been a total disaster in the field. In 2007, his UZR was -1.1 in 1,300 innings. That’s basically league average. League average defense from Yuni makes him a decent player again. That’s not too much to ask, right?
Apparently, it is. We all saw the train wreck that was Betancourt’s defense last week, as balls rolled into center field that should have been routine outs. His UZR for last week was -2.8, by the way. Yea. He was an absolute abomination in the field, whether you go by your eyes or advanced defensive numbers. Just ridiculously bad. And, of course, he booted a couple more balls today. Improvement? Hardly. He actually appears to be getting worse.
If we extrapolate Betancourt’s performance so far out over a full 2009 season, he’d finish the season as a -1.1 win player. And everyone who has watched him knows it.
The team is 8-5 and off to a terrific start, but this is not a time to rest on your laurels and play the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” crap. The Mariners shortstop is broken, and he apparently refuses to let anyone fix him. It’s time to give Ronny Cedeno some regular playing time at shortstop. They’ve tried encouragement, coddling, motivation, threats… at this point, the only thing left is a stint on the bench.
The AL West is not good. The M’s are a flawed team that has a chance to contend despite some glaring problems with the roster. Some of them, they can’t do anything about, but this is one that they can. Yuni entered the year with a play-better-or-fear-for-your-job ultimatum, and he’s responded by taking a dump on the field. The M’s have an alternative, and it’s time they used him.