There are few shortstops out there hitting the ball as well as Yuniesky Betancourt is right now.
Talk about a sentence I never thought I’d type.
It is true, though. Over the past four weeks, the much- (and rightfully-) maligned Betancourt is hitting .388/.405/.575. He’s been a big part of how the Brewers’ offense has continued to put up some good numbers despite the absence of Rickie Weeks.
Of course, half the problem with Yuni is that even with this hotstreak, his season numbers are still a rather ugly .268/.286/.391. The .268 batting average would be his highest since he hit .279 with Seattle in 2008, but that .286 OBP is still two points worse than last year’s mark of .288. He’s never going to walk as much as your average (or even below average) batter, which is still the case during this hot streak.
What is happening, though, is that more balls are falling in for hits.
During this four week span, Yuni’s average on balls put into play is .412. That’s almost absurdly lucky, but the craziest part is that this hot month hasn’t even boosted his overall season BABIP to normal levels quite yet. It’s quite possible he was getting unlucky for much of the year, but a part of that was not hitting the ball with authority.
That has changed since July, which may explain the rise in BABIP. In June, Yuni was only hitting a line drive when he made contact 14.6% of the time, and he hit a fly ball 46.3% of the time. In July, the LD% rose to 18.8%, and the FB% dropped to 32.5%. In August, those numbers have improved even more — he’s posted a LD% of 25.0% and a FB% of just 29.2%.
With his contributions in the Brewers’ most recent series in Houston, Betancourt has finally pushed his WAR into positive territory (at least according to FanGraphs, which has him at 0.1 WAR — he’s still at 0.0 in the Baseball Reference version). The defense hasn’t been much different during the past month or so (if using a small sample of 882.2 innings is your thing, his UZR is down to -11.5, building a lead of over 3 runs for worst shortstop UZR), but at least the contributions with the bat have made him more tolerable lately.
Betancourt’s true ability is somewhere between how bad he was to start the year, and how good he is now. I think most people would be confident that he won’t be able to ride this hot streak through the end of the season. Even if the production takes a dip, though, he’s put himself in a position to end the year where most of us thought he would end up — a bad defender whose bat is at least good enough to bring him up to or slightly above replacement level.
Worry that the Brewers will be “tricked” into picking up his option seems to be growing in online communities, but for now, that worry seems to be unfounded. For now, we should just be able to continue being pleasantly surprised. We’ll worry about crossing that option bridge if we get to it. I’m just happy the “Sub-Zero WAR” Yuni I made is temporarily obsolete.