Will The M’s Miss Yuni?

Dave · June 25, 2009 at 7:49 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Last night, Yuniesky Betancourt pulled a hamstring, and Wak said after the game that there’s a strong chance he’ll land on the disabled list. Given how bad Yuni has been this year, both offensively and defensively, this looks to be an addition by subtraction thing. With a .270 wOBA and -8.6 UZR, Yuni has been worth almost a win less than a replacement level shortstop, so the M’s should actually hope for better production from Josh Wilson/Ronny Cedeno than they got from Yuni the first couple of months.

However, as much as we’ve bashed Betancourt for his reverse development, regressing every year since he got to the majors, over the last few weeks, it looked like Wak might have actually been getting through to the guy. There have been multiple plays recently where I found myself shocked that Yuni got to the ball – grounders up the middle, balls in the hole, slow rollers that he’s had to charge. He’s made plays defensively that he simply wasn’t even getting close to in April and May. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has spent the last few weeks saying “ahh, crap, base hi – wow, Yuni, where’d that come from?”

UZR agrees with my shocked eyes, too. After the May 24th update on FanGraphs, Yuni’s UZR stood at -9.1, on pace for a -30 season and easily the worst mark of any shortstop in baseball. A month later, he stands at -8.6. Yes, UZR is prone to noise in small samples, but it’s heartening that the best defensive metric we have thinks that he’s been making more plays at the same time we’re watching him and saying “hey, he didn’t make that play a month ago”.

It’s not just on defense, either. After swinging at nearly 40% of pitches outside the strikezone the first two months, he’s only chased 26% out of the strike zone this month. Yes, it’s small sample size, but after getting benched and lectured repeatedly about his lousy approach at the plate, an improvement in his decision making about which pitches to swing at shouldn’t be ignored. The results haven’t been what you’d hope for, but the process is more important than the results, and if Yuni’s process at the plate is taking steps forward at the same time that he’s putting a little more effort into his defensive play, well, that’s reason for optimism.

So, amazingly enough, I’m not convinced that Yuni to the DL is a good thing. Two months ago, it would have been a pretty big help, but I’d have been interested in seeing if he could keep showing improved range and discipline at the plate. Instead, now we get to watch Cedeno and Wilson fight over who can make more outs.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but hurry back Yuni.


30 Responses to “Will The M’s Miss Yuni?”

  1. Russ on June 25th, 2009 8:02 am

    The most interestint part about this post to me is the objectiveness. I’ve had some of those moments where Yuni made a play that I did not expect, cringing as I anticipated the ball rolling into the outfield for a hit and then being snagged for a quick toss to first.

    My emotion on those plays has been odd. I wanted him to make the miss the play to gather momentum for him to get benched but I was relieved to see the play made.

    No matter how much he has disappointed fans in the last couple of years, I still feel for a guy who is injured. Hope he recovers quickly.

  2. wabbles on June 25th, 2009 8:30 am

    Yes, there should no rejoicing when someone gets injured. I spent two months with arm and upper back injuries. Not fun.
    Anyway, I guess the question is whether the improving Yuni is enough better than a random journeyman or rising AA/AAA shortstop to make difference. Obviously either of those would be better than Yuni in April/May. Has he improved enough now and will he continue to improve enough, that he’s worth keeping?
    I know Wak seems to have reached him and he did have talent once upon a time, so…..

  3. Mike Snow on June 25th, 2009 8:31 am

    Betancourt may have been improving, but when you’re that far below replacement level, should we really consider it a loss? He was deep in the hole, and while he may have been getting closer to the top of the hole lately, as long as he’s in it he’s still hurting the team.

    I’m not convinced he’s done more than get back to replacement level, not above it, and I’m skeptical of further improvement. He can concentrate and put in better effort defensively, but the lost range is not coming back in the shape he’s in. And I don’t think it’s clear either whether the offensive changes involve an actual clue of the strike zone, or if he’s just swinging less across the board.

    Granted, Cedeno is way below replacement level too, so if Betancourt just gets back to that level, Ronny’s a downgrade by any standard. But Woodward is pretty much the definition of replacement level, and I would live with him until we can get a real shortstop. Maybe Betancourt can be a real shortstop again someday, but I don’t care to wait around for him to get there, nor do I think he can ever be a good one.

  4. argh on June 25th, 2009 8:33 am

    I agree. Night before last, I think it was, he charged a ground ball between second and third, scooped it and pegged it hard (and accurately) to first to make the out — all in one smooth set of motions that looked decidedly un-Yuni like. I was rubbing my eyes and saying, “Whaaaaaaa? Who is that masked short stop?”

  5. Typical Idiot Fan on June 25th, 2009 8:53 am

    Hamstrings, though. If he just tweaked it a bit, he should be okay. But if he pulled it… well hamstrings have a habit of being easily injured again.

  6. terry on June 25th, 2009 8:57 am

    Lets just assume for the sake of argument that a couple of weeks of UZR data could be reliable.

    At best, UZR is suggesting that Yuni was roughly a neutral defender over the last several weeks.

    Replacement level players are roughly neutral defenders too.

    Weep for Yuni?


  7. Utah911 on June 25th, 2009 8:58 am

    I hate to say it Dave, but I agree with you that Yuni has been playing better defense. Let’s hope he man’s up and sits long enough for the hammy to heal, and not say everything is ok and ends up dragging this injury through the season, hurting hsi defense and hitting.

    But I’m actually gonna miss seeing him in the lineup, even if it is just to yell at the tv and blame him for any Mariner frustrations I have.

    Scapegoats are great to have when you need them.

  8. joser on June 25th, 2009 9:12 am

    Hamstrings, though. If he just tweaked it a bit, he should be okay. But if he pulled it… well hamstrings have a habit of being easily injured again.

    Edgar. Junior. The history of Mariners semi-permanently diminished by hamstring problems is thick and disappointing… much like Yuni.

  9. Corey on June 25th, 2009 9:29 am

    I empathize with any ballplayer who has to deal with an injury like this one. Hammy’s are just so fickle in terms of healing.

    That being said, I like terry’s comment. I will shed no tears with him being gone. At least the remaining outfielders don’t have to worry about being taken out.

  10. Lauren, token chick on June 25th, 2009 9:45 am

    There’s nothing I like better than an underdog. So I hope Yuni uses this time off wisely and miraculously becomes the very model of a modern major general league player. Go Yuni!

  11. Jay R. on June 25th, 2009 9:49 am

    Hopefully this will trigger a move by the organization to find a more permanent solution. I would love to see them bring someone in to Wally Pipp ol’ Yuni.

  12. djw on June 25th, 2009 9:58 am

    Replacement level players are roughly neutral defenders too.

    What are you talking about? League average (or “neutral”) is well above replacement level.

  13. terry on June 25th, 2009 10:11 am

    What are you talking about? League average (or “neutral”) is well above replacement level.

    Not defensively. As a group, replacement level players are probably even a little above average defenders.

  14. Mike Snow on June 25th, 2009 10:16 am

    That’s a point of ongoing debate over the proper definition of replacement level and how much to focus on hitting or defense. Some players are at replacement level because they can’t hit, some are there because they can’t field their position well. When they can’t do either, like Betancourt, they end up below replacement level. But there’s arguably fewer of the bad fielders in the replacement level pool, because they get moved off the position.

  15. DMZ on June 25th, 2009 10:20 am

    Yeah, the ongoing debate about replacement level defense. Really, the bat determines the range of defense. If all you wanted was a glove, you could find a major-league-average defensive outfielder by signing undrafted high schoolers who play great defense, have great arms, and can’t hit a lick. The problem is that once you dial the bat requirement up to anything (say, hit .200 with no power, no walks) you so limit the population that the range of defense narrows considerably.

    It’s a complicated balance, and i don’t think sabermetrics has really solved for this dynamic.

  16. djw on June 25th, 2009 10:20 am

    Got it, thanks.

  17. joser on June 25th, 2009 10:41 am

    I agree. Night before last, I think it was, he charged a ground ball between second and third, scooped it and pegged it hard (and accurately) to first to make the out — all in one smooth set of motions that looked decidedly un-Yuni like. I was rubbing my eyes and saying, “Whaaaaaaa? Who is that masked short stop?”

    That’s the frustrating thing. We saw that kind of performance when he debuted and celebrated. And we’ve seen flashes of that throughout his long decline (though the decline may not have been as steep as it seemed, since it could be we were misled by a few sterling plays early on and thus pegged his average too high). And yet for every one of those spectacular hard-made-to-look-easy plays, there’s three or four more where hes seems caught flat-footed, unable to record what should be an ordinary out. Or he downright boots it in some fashion. Last year’s throws into the 1st base dugout and stands haven’t reappeared this year, but the other inconsistencies remained (though the benching did seem to restore some of his focus, it was unclear if that was real and/or if it would continue).

  18. robbbbbb on June 25th, 2009 10:51 am

    DMZ: Look at it empirically, and you see that sabermetrics has replacement-level pretty darned well figured out. Take the Fangraphs WAR data, and sort by reverse value over hitters for 2008.

    For all 147 qualified players, you only have six that have a negative WAR. Teams are pulling the plug on guys who aren’t replacement level.

    Or, let’s look at all AL players, min 100 PA. (I’m excluding the NL, so I don’t have to look at pitchers.) Out of 212 players, you only get nine who are at or less than -1 WAR. You get another 34 who are less than 0 WAR, and most of those are in the -0.2 to -0.1 range.

    I think you could make a credible case for shifting replacement level down ~0.5 wins, maybe, given the data that’s there. But it’s pretty darned close.

    That’s a quick overview of 2008. I’d want to look at multiple yers, &c, but I think it’s a good first look at what’s going on.

  19. DMZ on June 25th, 2009 11:30 am

    This would be a whole other argument, but I don’t mean to imply that (say) the Fangraphs WAR isn’t a decent measure, or close enough to make no odds.

  20. Breadbaker on June 25th, 2009 11:42 am

    One question is whether anything Wakamatsu and the coaching staff were doing with Yuni was making a difference, and then whether they can work the same magic on Cedeno. Stats won’t help us there, but it would be nice if it happened.

  21. SequimRealEstate on June 25th, 2009 12:32 pm

    From Jack Zuriencik Chat yesterday.

    3:11 pm We need more LH bats. Have you looked at Ryan Langerhans, currently in the Nats organization?

    3:11 pm Good suggestion.

    I will add now more that every.

  22. SequimRealEstate on June 25th, 2009 12:34 pm


  23. rsrobinson on June 25th, 2009 12:45 pm

    Cedeno has been awful so I’d rather see what Josh Wilson can do.

  24. jordan on June 25th, 2009 12:47 pm

    What about Wilson Valdez that we had for awhile? I know he isn’t much with the bat, but his defense was outstanding if I remember correctly. Might be a good temporary solution.

  25. BillyJive on June 25th, 2009 12:51 pm

    I think I’m more concerned with Beltre’s shoulder than I am Yuni’s hammy…
    Geez..and to think the M’s are still in it with all these injurys ect.

    Go M’s!

  26. joser on June 25th, 2009 12:59 pm

    Well, Cedeno is way underperforming his career averages (.192 wOBA this year vs .269 career, and .305 last year in 99 games with the Cubs). ZIPS is projecting him to regress to his mean (ie do much better) over the rest of the season. Part of that is a ridiculously bad BABiP of .161. Hitters have some control over BABiP, but you have to ascribe a fair bit of that to bad luck (his career number is a far more normal .292). I don’t think there’s any indication he’s “broken” in some fundamental way, so if there is something he’s doing wrong it’s presumably fixable. And he may just need some more time to have his luck turn around. I know Dave was suggesting the M’s send him down to fix himself in Tacoma (and be prepared to lose him if he doesn’t pass through waivers) but the one silver lining in the ongoing MI situation is that this might give him the regular starts he needs to start turning things around. I’m not optimistic, but I’m a Mariners fan so that’s my standard mien for everything.

    Perhaps the other silver lining is if Zduriencik is forced to go out and acquire another piece like Brignac… but the dark cloud wrapping that lining is that if such a trade were easy it likely would’ve happened already, and the lack of a good obvious match for the Rays (who almost certainly aren’t interested in half-season rental starting pitcher) means the M’s would be overpaying with pieces they’d rather keep (like Aardsma plus Saunders, or something). But maybe there’s a third team out there who could close the circle.

  27. joser on June 25th, 2009 1:15 pm

    I think I’m more concerned with Beltre’s shoulder than I am Yuni’s hammy…
    Geez..and to think the M’s are still in it with all these injurys ect.

    Well, the Angels are even more in it and they had a worse April than the Mariners’ June. This is just not a strong division.

  28. Bodhizefa on June 25th, 2009 1:42 pm

    Yeah, Beltre’s injury is much more of a concern to me at this juncture, and yet I feel like it’s getting very little press. If we are to have an iota of a chance at contending, Beltre and Bedard have to be healthy and producing. I don’t think we have a rat’s chance in hell otherwise.

  29. wabbles on June 25th, 2009 2:23 pm

    (like Aardsma plus Saunders, or something)

    YIKES! That’s WAY overpaying for a stopgap shortstop.

  30. leon0112 on June 25th, 2009 6:45 pm

    [amazingly ridiculous rosterbation]

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