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Yuni’s play in July? Sigh… August 7, 2008

Posted by Brad in news, stats.
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Here’s what I said about Yuniesky Betancourt’s play in June.

[He was] just awful.  Yuni didn’t hit, didn’t walk, and didn’t help his team at all.  He didn’t even play that much.

Aside from “didn’t walk,” those grievances apply to Yuni’s play in july, only moreso.  Here are the grisly stats:

.207/.233/.244 (slash stats-AVG/OBP/SLG), 3 2B, 5 RBI, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, 1 SB, .213 BABIP, -1 WPA, -0.05 Clutch

Ouch.  It’s hard to even write about how bad Yuni’s been.  He was even benched in favor of Willie Bloomquist toward the end of the month.  I thought Yuni would hit close to .300 this season, but instead he can’t even keep his job.  Newspaper writers and the Mariners’ broadcast announcers have started pointing out Yuni’s terrible plate discipline and inability to hit this season.  As I point out every month, Yuni’s offense is completely driven by his batting average on balls in play.  In July, it was .213.  That’s awful.

Here are his defensive stats (which do include some of August):

17 errors, .965 fielding percentage, .823 RZR, 18 OOZ

That’s a lot of errors (9 in the past 5 weeks), yet according to The Hardball Times, Yuni’s having his best defensive season since his rookie year.  That’s something I guess.

Aside from his slight uptick in walks and apparently decent defense, the only good news from July is that Yuni wasn’t traded by the Mariners.  (The way he played, no one would give up anything for him.)  At least he’ll still have his bobblehead giveaway tomorrow night.  My apologies in advance to anyone in the left field bleachers that wants to enjoy the game peacefully.

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Happy anniversary, Yuni July 28, 2008

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Tonight’s game against the Rangers marks the third anniversary of Yuniesky Betancourt’s debut with the Mariners.  On July 28th, 2005, Yuni tripled against the Indians.  Since then, Yuni’s scored 200 runs for the M’s, walked 49 times, earned three intentional walks, and provided countless exciting moments for me and other fans.  He’s also committed 62 errors, grounded into 34 double plays (a third of those are from 2008 alone), and had his range shrink like a violet  (violets, being stationary, have absolutely no range).

He’s been a bit too frustrating this year (his OPS+ is a career low), but Yuni’s still an exciting young player, that I usually enjoy watching.  I hope he lasts at least another three years with the M’s.

Go get ’em, Rikimbili!

What goes around, comes around July 19, 2008

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Top of the second inning last night, Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta hits a ball to Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Here’s what happens:

Always keep the ball in front of you!

Always keep the ball in front of you!

That play didn’t work out so well for Yuni. Peralta was safe at first. Yuni quickly rebounded, and made an awesome throw to ensure Peralta and Shin Soo Choo were doubled up on Choo’s weak grounder. That double play means Yuni’s error didn’t really happen and doesn’t count.
Except in statistics.

In the bottom of the second, right after Yuni gets on base without the benefit of swinging (Aaron Laffey hit his foot), Ichiro hits a ground ball to Peralta. Here’s what happens:

Turnabout!

Turnabout!

Jhonny Peralta let that ball pass right by him, too. The Mariners went onto score 5 runs that inning, and are now PERFECT (for at least the next two hours) after the All-Star break.
If Yuni can keep making errors that inspire other shortstops to goof, I think the M’s can sustain some success.

I’m glad we had this break July 18, 2008

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The All-Star break came at a good time for me and all 25 of the Mariners not selected for the All-Star game.  Not just because it gave me the chance to watch good baseball (caveats: Jose Lopez plays better defense than Dan Uggla and Josh Hamilton probably wouldn’t get into double digits if that home run derby was in Safeco Field).  It gave me the chance to realize that even Mariners baseball (and by association, Yuniesky Betancourt) is good.  Sure, I could harp on the team for not being as awesome as the A’s, or call on Yuni to stop swinging.  I could suggest that the M’s trade Ichiro or (god forbid) trade Yuni to the Dodgers for Andre Ethier and Chin-Lung Hu (phtew!).  Instead of wishing for excellence, I’ll accept this team and their shortstop’s mediocrity.

After all:
-Yuni had a much better second half of the season last year.
-It’s exciting to know that just about every time Yuni steps up to the plate, he’ll put the ball in play. Walks are good for baseball, but aren’t that exciting. Who knows where Yuni will hit the ball? (Well, he probably won’t hit it over the fence.)
-Yuni’s exciting on the basepaths. (Exciting does include getting doubled up on routine fly balls to right field, however.)
-Yuni’s got a bobblehead giveaway in less than a month. I still maintain that this potential draw to fans (August 8th! Get your Tickets!) will prevent Yuni from being shipped off before the July 31st trading deadline.

I’ve decided to stop being optimist and stop hoping for good things to come. I’ll just accept the Mariners for the rest of the season, and try to label as much of it as I can as good or fun.

Yuni’s amazing RBI from Sunday July 8, 2008

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The Mariners have scored 4 runs in 32 innings since Sunday.  That’s shockingly awful.  The ways that they manufactured those runs are, also, a bit awful (or at least surprising).  Three runs came on Monday from a Richie Sexson home run, which is becoming as rare as the buffalo.  The other run came on Sunday, off the bat of Yuniesky Betancourt:

What stellar baserunning

That… that… is some aggressive baserunning by Yuni.  Aggressive and foolish.  Ivan Rodriguez was catching for the Tigers, and he’s the best defensive catcher of our era.  Yuni had no business rounding that base, trying to snag third.  Still, Yuni’s driven in a run this week, which only one other Mariner can claim.

To add a bit more delicious misery to what’s been a very miserable season, earlier in the game, Yuni made an awesome defensive play in about the exact same spot he ran himself out.  In the top of the third, Yuni picked up a Carlos Guillen line drive that bounced off Adrian Beltre’s glove and gunned Guillen out at first.  To reiterate, it was awesome.

Rodriguez and Yuni share another link besides predator-prey: over the past three calendar years (so, going back to early July 2005), they’re the two worst hitters in baseball, according to FanGraphs‘s WPA.  Rodriguez is a lot worse than Yuni, though.  Even though I-Rod’s had 81 fewer at bats, he’s almost a full run worse than Yuni (and every other player in baseball).  The third worst hitter?  Jose Lopez.  Keep in mind that these stats go back to before Yuni made his major league debut with the M’s.

On a cheerier note, Replacement Level Yankee’s Blog lists a whole slew of AL shortstops who are worse than Yuni based on total offensive and defensive runs above average.  The pack includes chumps like Tony Pena, Jr., but also mildly reputable shortstops like Edgar Renteria and John McDonald.  The morale of the story is that if you find stats that depress the heck out of you, just look for other stats that make you feel better.  The cost of gas may be going up, but the price of Seattle SuperSonics’ memorabilia is at an all-time low… doesn’t that make you feel better?

July’s been good for the Betancourts July 3, 2008

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Two games is too small to draw a conclusion, but Yuniesky Betancourt is starting July off right.  Here are his lines:

7/1: 2-4, 2 RBI
7/2: 1-2, 1 R, 1 BB

You read that correct: Yuni got a 4-pitch walk last night.  Astounding.  That’s as unlikely as Miguel Cairo getting two doubles in a game or Willie Bloomquist getting an extra base hit.  Yuni’s last walk was on May 30, against the Tigers’ Nate Roberton (who faces the M’s on Sunday).  So Yuni’s already bested his walk total from June (0), and has one third his RBI count (6).  I’ll take it.

One Betancourt’s having a better July than Yuniesky, though.  Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was freed yesterday after being held hostage in the Colombian jungle for six years by the FARC revoluntionary militant group.  She promptly embraced her children:

“Nirvana, paradise — that must be very similar to what I feel at this moment,” Betancourt said, fighting back tears as her son reached over to kiss her. “It was because of them that I kept up my will to get out of that jungle.”

Ingrid’s June was probably a bit rougher than Yuni’s, and her July’s already a bit better.

June was a painful month for Yuni July 1, 2008

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June was a rough month for Yuniesky Betancourt.  Let’s start with the numbers:

.220/.220/.308 (slash stats), 6 2B, 1 3B, 6 RBI, no walks, 6 strikeouts, 1 CS, .235 BABIP, -1.15 WPA, -0.22 Clutch

Those numbers are just awful.  Yuni didn’t hit, didn’t walk, and didn’t help his team at all.  He didn’t even play that much.  His 23 games were as few as he’s played in any month since I started this blog last September (he had a leg injury then), though he only missed three of the team’s games, including last night because he had dental surgery.  Still, Yuni managed to rack up the second worst WPA among shortstops in June.  Only the shell of Miguel Tejada played worse.  Ugh.  If you want to point to a reason why Yuni’s been awful (besides lack of ability in playing baseball), look to his BABIP.  Since he doesn’t walk (seriously, he didn’t get a base on balls all month), his offensive production is based on his balls in play dropping for hits.  In June, they dropped less than one out of every four times.  Again, ugh.

To add injury to insult, June was also the month that Yuni was spiked by Brandon Inge and mitt-punched by Mike Napoli.  I bet his dentist didn’t treat him gingerly, either.  Even his soccer-playing friend Maykel Galindo was sidelined by a “sports hernia” surgery.  And, to add a bit more insult, this month also had Michael Lewis’ story in Vanity Fair calling out Yuni for not being very forthcoming about how he came forth to the U.S.

It’s been really, really bad.  Here are some defensive numbers (for the whole season):

9 errors, .973 fielding percentage,  .811 RZR,  12 OOZ

These stats from The Hardball Times actually show some improvement in the field.  Yuni only made two errors in June (the fewest in any month this year) and raised his RZR by 30 points, probably due to making five out of zone plays.  Yuni’s leapfrogged Bobby Crosby, and is only the third-worst defensive shortstop in the AL.  Julio Lugo is still chilling in the cellar.

When the 2008 season began, I was genuinely hoping and believing that it would be Yuni’s ascent into a legitimate major league baseball player.  I’ve pretty much given up that dream.

Go M’s!

Yuni’s pal Maykel Galindo June 30, 2008

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Yuniesky Betancourt is good friends with Cuban defector soccer player Maykel Galindo. This is a story that’s been widely reported, but I was completely unaware of until the Mariners’ website posted a story on the two reconnecting in Los Angeles. Here now, is a timeline of Yuni and Maykel:

January 28, 1981: Maykel Galindo is born , one year and three days before Yuni. Both are born and grow up in Villa Clara.

1991-1992: Yuni and Maykel allegedly first meet and become friends.

1994: Maykel leaves Villa Clara to train for soccer in Havana.

2003: Yuni defects on a speedboat (or so the story goes).

July 9, 2005: After scoring his country’s lone goal in a 3-1 CONCACAF Gold Cup loss against Costa Rica in Seattle, Galindo defects from Cuba. ESPN’s Andrew Winner tells the story best:

He found himself alone in the team hotel. The otherwise omnipresent team chaperones were nowhere in sight. Galindo looked left and right and saw space.

At that moment, Galindo made the snap decision to leave his team and try to defect.

He pressed a button for a random floor of the hotel, made his way out of the hotel through the parking garage and jumped onto a Metro bus outside the hotel.

Frantically trying to communicate in Spanish, he used the driver’s cell phone to dial the only local phone number he had — to one of the team’s Seattle-based liaisons, a high school Spanish teacher named Alex Zahajko. Zahajko picked Galindo up and, not long after, helped him contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Galindo then announced his intention to defect.

Wow. That’s probably a bit less daring than a speedboat, but relying on the kindness of a Metro bus driver AND a high school Spanish teacher takes a bit of guile and charm.  Zahajko just so happened to play in a rec soccer league with Adrian Hanauer, one of the owners of the Seattle Sounders, and helped get Galindo a tryout with the team.

July 28th, 2005: Yuni makes his debut with the Seattle Mariners.  Shortly thereafter, Yuni and Galindo reconnect. Here’s a quote from Yuni on that meeting:

“It was just like always, especially when you first come here, you don’t know anybody and you don’t have your family… You stick with each other, and give each other a hug, and start reminiscing about old times.”

September 9, 2005: Galindo makes his debut with the Seattle Sounders in a game against the Montreal Impact.  Two weeks later, he’d score his first goal for the Sounders, also against the Impact

October 1, 2005: In the USL Championship, Galindo scores an equalizer goal that helps send the game into penalty kicks.  The Sounders win on PKs, 4-3.  Maykel fist pounds Roger Levesque at some pointFans wave their signs.  Yuni attends the game.  Maykel says, “He attended that game, and it was very beautiful for me to have this guy [there] that I spent my childhood with.”

May 7, 2006:  The awesomely-named goalie Preston Burpo, Galindo’s once-and-future teammate, knees Galindo in the face.  Burpo get a yellow card, but Galindo gets a cheekbone fracture and can’t play again until July.

August 23, 2006: Galindo throws out the first pitch at a Mariners game.  Yuni catches it.  That had to be a nice moment.  The Mariners are then crushed by the Yankees, 9-2.  Yuni does get an RBI single, though.

September 9, 2006: Galindo finishes his injury-shortened season with 4 goals and four assists in 9 games.  That’s a lot of scoring for soccer.

February 17, 2007: Galindo moves up to Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA.  Playing in Southern California opens up new opportunities for Galindo, like living in Torrance and getting to do photo-ops with Nomar Garciaparra.

April 7, 2007: After just a few games in the MLS, The Offside declares Galindo “the fastest man in the MLS.”  I’m not sure if Yuni is the ______est anything in baseball.  Maybe the Awesomest Shortstop Nicknamed Rikimbilli.  Yuni wins that contest hands down.

July 19, 2007: Galindo’s Chivas USA gets spanked by the (lower league) Sounders 3-1 in the US Open Cup.

October 2007: Galindo leads Chivas USA with 12 goals in the regular season, and wins the team’s Golden Boot, which sounds kind of harsh, but is actually soccer-speak for MVP or best scorer.

June 11, 2008: Galindo has a second hernia surgery (his right groin’s been hurting), and is not likely to suit up again until August. (Does the MLS have disabled/inactive list?)

June 27, 2008: Galindo last logs onto his ridiculous, flash-filled MySpace page.  His current mood is “stressed.”  Hernia surgeries will do that to you.

In summation, Maykel Galindo’s been profiled on ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and The Beautiful Game.  He’s a legit (North American) pro soccer player, and occasionally hangs out with Yuniesky Betancourt.  I wish him all the best.

The trident is good, the powder blue is evil. June 29, 2008

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On Friday, the Mariners and San Diego Padres decided to wear the ugliest jerseys in their collective histories, relying on questionable fashion choices of the late 1970s. I’m a firm advocate of the Mariners’ iconic trident cap–I frequently get compliments when I wear mine and “tridents” and “poseidon god of the sea” are two of the top 3 Google searches that lead hear. That said, the M’s powder blue jerseys lack a certain… viewability.  Here’s a gallery of Yuni’s style from Friday’s game:

The uni is different.  Is the bat the same?

Yuni examines his bat to make sure that it also isn’t a product of shoddy 1970s planning.   Yuni went 0-5 and left an untold number of runners on base.  The team stranded 18 runners.  I’d say Yuni was responsible for five fourths of them.

rocking the cap

Yuni’s mouth is agape.  That hat looks marvelous.  Also, note that in the first photo, the M’s used their standard navy blue “compass rose” batting helmets.  The Padres had special brown-and-yellow extra-ugly helmets made specially for the game (or discovered in the catacombs of Jack Murphy Stadium).  The clashing helmets had a jarring effect that reminded me that, despite high oil prices and terrible Seattle baseball, the game was not, in fact, played in the late 1970s.

Here, you can see that the stitching and letters on Yuni’s jersey were flawless, as was his balanced swing.  Yuni successfully executed his plan to hit a weak pop up in foul territory.

Flashin\' that smile.

Yuni is pleased after successfully throwing to Richie Sexson.  He does this all the time, I swear.

Mmmmmm

To celebrate the M’s 4-2 victory (in which he played an almost insignificant role) Yuni eats his blue jersey.  Electric blue is definitely the tastiest color of food not found in nature.

Cuba, revisited June 19, 2008

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I’ve written about Yuniesky Betancourt’s defection from Cuba before, and was left with a dim view and lots of unanswered questions surrounding Gus Dominguez, who orchestrated Yuni’s flight, and Jaime Torres, Yuni’s agent once he was legal to play in the States.  Torres was in the news earlier this month for representing a shiny new Cuban defector, Dayan Viciendo.  Coincidentally, Viciendo played for Yuni’s old Cuban team, Villa Clara and has a funny name (go on, say it out loud). But Dominguez has gotten some better press.

Michael Lewis, the greatest sportswriter out there, wrote a story for the July issue of Vanity Fair profiling Dominguez’ relationship with Cuban baseball.  Where I was only left to wonder, Lewis interviewed guys like Dominguez, Rene Arocha and Henry Blanco, and traveled to Cuba (through Canada).  He spent a lot of time around the Villa Clara team, especially their manager, Victor Mesa.  That’s where Yuni’s name first pops up:

Mesa’s Villa Clara team vies for the lead in an important stat: player defections. Live through a season with Víctor Mesa and a few days on a raft surrounded by sharks doesn’t seem so terrifying. Mesa’s shortstop and catcher were banned from baseball for speaking on the phone with Cuban defectors. His shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt hopped a boat to Florida one night in 2003. Established as Seattle’s starting shortstop two seasons ago, Betancourt was asked if he had problems adjusting to big-league managers. “We have a manager in Cuba, and that manager is worse than anything you have in the major leagues,” Betancourt replied. “His name is Víctor Mesa.”

An invisible line runs from Víctor Mesa, yelling from his dugout, to Gus Dominguez, in his cell inside a California prison. For the one thing that the U.S. attorney general and the jailed sports agent agree upon is that all the trouble began when Yuniesky Betancourt fled Víctor Mesa’s ball club.

That’s a intriguing set up.  Lewis quickly jumps to Dominguez’s trial, when the government relied on the word of drug dealer Ysbel Medina-Santos to convict Dominguez:

Medina-Santos told Dominguez that Betancourt had promised to pay his smugglers 5 percent of his first major-league contract. They heard he had a deal with the Mariners, and they wanted their money. Now. The contract was unenforceable, but the smugglers were prepared to collect on their own. If Dominguez didn’t pay them, Medina-Santos threatened, they’d break Betancourt’s legs and end his career. What point would there be in that? Dominguez asked. Break his legs and you’ll never get your money.

Sheesh.  I’m glad Yuni’s legs are fine.  Maybe people should stop pressuring him to leg out more stolen bases.

As I hypothesized before, Yuni may have not been an angel in these dealings.  At the very least, he lied unnecessarily, and he probably didn’t do right by Dominguez, who, as you just read, helped saved Yuni’s legs from massive breakage.  Lewis, who like the court in Dominguez’ case, didn’t hear directly from Yuni, says the same, more plainly:

Betancourt then stiffed the agent who had fed and housed him for six months. He signed the contract with the Mariners that Dominguez had negotiated on his behalf, but paid whatever commission he paid to someone else…. The Dominguez side never called him as a witness, mainly because they had no idea what he might say. He’d already told three different stories, two of them to immigration agents, about how and when he’d come to the United States. He declined to return phone calls, and slammed the door in the face of the private eye they’d hired to track him down.

Yuni blowing off reporters and being silent about his trip from Cuba is one thing, but staying mute when the guy who helped him earn boatloads of cash (and protected his legs) is facing hard time?  That’s rude, Yuni.

Yuni doesn’t come off as completely heartless.  During one of Lewis’ conversations with Mesa (who’s general craziness adds another funny layer to The Onion story), he shows some affection for Yuni:

Even now in Cuba, ballplayers who defect are officially forgotten. Their stats are stricken from the record books, and their names aren’t meant to be spoken. And yet here stands Víctor Mesa with his arm draped over the shoulders of the kid who is now the Seattle Mariners’ shortstop. “He was like my son,” says Mesa. “My very, very difficult son.”

So even that’s a bit of a dig.  Side note: the whole “he who shall not be named” thing in Cuba may partly explain why people call Yuni “Rikimbilli.”

I’ve excerpted almost every substantial reference to Yuni (you should go read the whole thing, though; it’s awesome), and Yuni comes off as the most misguided guy in the story; even the drug dealer doesn’t seem so bad.  Clearly, Yuni’s first few months in the U.S. weren’t his finest moments.  I hope he can find a way to atone for any mistakes he’s made.

(hat tip: I Want to be a Sports Agent)