Let’s be honest here: Alex Gonzalez is not a world-beater. He likely won’t be an All-Star for the Brewers. We’re likely going to be just as frustrated with his bat as we were with Yuni’s. But he isn’t Yuniesky Betancourt, and just for that, there will be some that will love him.
Of course, that isn’t totally fair, and probably will set those people up for some disappointment. Gonzalez and Betancourt are remarkably similar offensive players. Gonzalez hit .241/.270/.372 last season for Atlanta, putting up a .281 wOBA. For his career, he’s hit .247/.291/.399 with a .285 wOBA. Betancourt hit .252/.271/.381 with a .278 wOBA last year, and has hit .268/.292/.391 for his career with a .294 wOBA.
The difference comes in the defense. I’ve harped on Betancourt’s defense to the point of beating the topic into the ground (and getting “HOW DO YOU LIKE HIM NOW, YUNI HATER?!” tweets whenever he’d do something positive), but I’m not sure I can emphasize just how big the difference between the two is when it comes to glovework.
Betancourt has never had a positive single-season UZR at shortstop. Ever. His career high is 0 in 2006. I’m not a big fan of single-season UZR samples, but you’d think he’d stumble upon one fluky season at some point. He has a career UZR (a cumulative stat, for those unaware) of -48.8 in 8225 career innings played. To compare, in 2011 Gonzalez had his first negative UZR since 2005, and it was just barely below average (-0.3). He has a career UZR of 44.3 in over 13,000 innings at short. That seems like a pretty solid sample size.
Furthermore, Gonzalez is +41 in Defensive Runs Saved for his career. Yuni is -66 (!!). Gonzalez hasn’t just been good in DRS the past two seasons, he’s put up mind-boggling totals of +16 and +15. Yuni is coming off a career-best season in DRS, but he was still at -6.
Gonzalez is getting older (he’ll be 35 in February), and it’s possible that he’s declining. But this isn’t just a minor defensive upgrade. This could potentially be a night-and-day difference. For his career, Gonzalez has converted 84.3% of balls hit into his zone for outs. Yuni has only converted 78.1%. When you have Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson in the starting rotation, the infield is going to see a lot of ground balls.
Gonzalez may be Betancourt’s equal with the bat. He may only make an extra play or two a game. But he will help the Brewers keep runs off the board with his glove, and in the post-Prince Fielder era, that’s going to be as big as putting runs on the board with the bat.