Apparently, it is not just chicks that dig the long ball.

Last night, Yuniesky Betancourt hit his 12th home run of the season and ignited a wave of love and affection throughout the world of Twitter and beyond.   We were instantly told how Yuni is now third among American League shortstops in slugging and fifth in OPS.      To be fair, those numbers do mean something and Betancourt has been on quite a streak at the plate as of late (.406/.406/.813/1.219 over his last 9 games).      The educated, unbiased, in-the-know followers (or maybe that should be contrarian or organizational employee) of the Royals will tell you that Betancourt has been unjustly skewered, that those defensive metrics really are a lie and, besides, who else is going to play shortstop better for the Royals right now?   C’mon everyone, love Yuni!

Well, I cannot argue with the second to last statement above:  there really is no one else to man the position at the current time.   Mike Aviles v.2010 is not the same guy who patrolled short in 2008.   That, by the way, is the answer to the ever more prevalent question ‘how long has it been since the Royals had a shortstop play as well as Betancourt?’.  It’s has been exactly two years – you know the year Aviles posted a WAR higher than any Royals since Beltran (yes, I know I have used that line five times this summer).

Let me digress I minute and offer a thought on Aviles.  In the field, he has reminded me of Mark Teahen prior to his shoulder surgery.   You might remember, Teahen was a mess at third base (Bill James’ words not mine) in 2005 and 2006.   His arm was erratic, there was a hitch in his throwing motion – both of which can be attributed to a bad shoulder, but Mark also had horrific footwork.   Sometimes he looked to me to be playing the game on skates out there.   While Teahen did not play a ton of third base once he returned from surgery, I thought he did look, if not better, at least more fluid in the field.

Flash forward to Aviles this year, coming back quickly from Tommy John surgery.  What had been an above average defensive shortstop in 2008 no looks like a BELOW average second baseman in 2010.   The errors, like Teahen, are no all with the arm, but also with the glove.   Is Aviles rushing, knowing or at least not trusting that he has the arm strength to the make the play?  Is that causing booted grounders and bad decisions?   Hey, I don’t know, just a thought.

Okay, back to Betancourt.   Let’s get a feel for what being 3rd in slugging and 5th in OPS among AL shortstops really means.   There are thirteen players who have logged 300 our more plate appearances while playing shortstop this year.   Here they are in order of OPS:

  • Alex Gonzalez
  • Alexei Ramirez
  • Derek Jeter
  • YUNIESKY BETANCOURT
  • Cliff Pennington
  • Marco Scutaro
  • Jhonny Peralta
  • Erick Aybar
  • Elvis Andrus
  • Ramon Santiago
  • Miguel Tejeda
  • Jason Bartlett
  • Cesar Izturis

What the heck has happened to the shortstop position?!!   Ranking high statistically among American League shortstops is much like, well, leading the Royals in home runs or being the fastest guy on your slow pitch softball team.   It’s nice, but it does not mean much.   Trust me, I was the fastest guy on my slow pitch team and no matter how many people I told that to, not one of them seemed to be impressed!  What are the odds?

Sarcasm aside, it truthfully is better to rank high in a bad pool than not.  However, it should be noted that Betancourt’s on-base percentage is second worst only to Izturis and his OPS+ is still a below average 93.   That number, by the way, is equal to his career high set in 2007.   Five and one-half seasons into his major league career, Betancourt has  never posted an OPS+ that is even close to average.

Here is another way to look at Betancourt’s production.   Let’s compare Betancourt’s 2010 batting line prior to the birth of his child to that of Angel Berroa in 2004 and 2005 (the two years after his ROY campaign):

  • Berroa 2004 – 262/308/385
  • Berroa 2005 – 270/305/375
  • Betancourt 2010 as of Aug 4 - 257/281/393
  • Betancourt 2010 total – 269/290/426

Hey, at least we finally found the next Angel Berroa.

Okay, I know I am being overly cynical.  Especially since the Royals are on a three game winning streak and Yuniesky Betancourt has been a major part of that.   However, can we at least admit that this ‘game saving’ play two nights ago came with a gigantic assist from Kila Ka’aihue on the other end?   And can we also remember that for every ‘great’ play in the field, we can all remember a botched double play ball or simply lack of range that led to a ‘bad inning’.     You can debate defensive metrics, but this is a shortstop with close to six years of everyday play who does not own a defensive number that does not begin with a negative sign.

In the end, I can live with Yuniesky Betancourt:  he really is the best option the Royals have at the current time.   Chances are, he might well be the everyday shortstop for the entirety of 2011 as well.        Betancourt will likely give the Royals something very close to his career line of .274/.297/.396 with spectacularly inconsistent defense.  

There is nothing on his resume to make you think this hot streak is a precursor to great things.   This is a player who has not been jerked up and down between the majors and minors.  He has not had a catastrophic injury, nor has he been moved around the infield.  For six years, Yuniesky Betancourt has been an everyday shortstop and, for six years, has virtually the exact same player.       His 23 doubles and 12 home runs this year is not really all that different from the 38 doubles and 9 home runs he slugged in 2007.

Betancourt is how he is and right now he is a player on a great hot streak.   Enjoy it, give him credit for it, but let’s not get carried away.