As you might recall, earlier this spring we had a bit of fun with Yuniesky Betancourt, who didn't manage to draw even a single walk in his first 25 games, after which he boasted an on-base percentage lower than his batting average (which, as I observed at the time, is a neat trick unless you're trying to win baseball games).
Betancourt did draw a walk in Game No. 26 -- for both him and the M's -- and somehow he drew another one three days later. But on May 13 he sported a .259/.269/.336 line, and the Mariners benched him. From Larry Stone's story:
- Betancourt and Wakamatsu had a long heart-to-heart talk before the game. Wakamatsu said they've talked about these issues before, but never to the depth they did this time.
"The biggest thing is, is he playing to his potential?" Wakamatsu said. "When you go through a stretch that we've gone through, it's not so much singling him out. But obviously, to move forward where we want to go, he's got to raise his level of game both offensively and defensively."
Wakamatsu noted that Betancourt had played in the first 33 games, and started 31. Betancourt is hitting .259 and has committed four errors.
"As a manager, you can say, 'We've given you opportunities to make adjustments in what we've talked about since spring training.' The rest is up to him," he said. "But Yuni will be back out there."
And so he was. After a two-game absence, he's played in 15 of the Mariners' 17 games since.
In those 15 games, Betancourt's batting average has dropped three points ... but his on-base percentage has picked up 17 points, thanks to an amazing six walks. You don't think six walks is amazing? Prior to this season, Betancourt had drawn six (or more) walks in a month (let alone a half-month) just twice in his career; he drew seven walks in September '05 -- his first full month in the majors -- and he drew six last August.
Through it all, the Mariners just kept running him out there, month after month after month. I suspect that other managers talked about adjustments, too. In Betancourt's first full season (2006), he drew 17 walks in 157 games. In his second season, he drew 15 walks in 155 games. In his third season, he drew 17 walks in 153 games. Notice a pattern here? Betancourt was avoiding walks like a bad case of the flu, but the Mariners kept playing him. So why change?
It's not that Betancourt has the talent to maintain his batting average and draw 50 walks every season. I doubt if he does. But it seems to me that you can draw 17 walks per season only if you don't want to draw any walks at all. When it comes to intent, 17 might as well be zero. In the majors, anyway. I believe that a player who can hit .280-.300 has the pitch recognition and the hand-eye coordination to draw at least 30 walks per season. And Betancourt might actually do that, now that he knows his job may depend on it.
Unfortunately, simple desire may not be enough to raise the level of his defensive game, which simply isn't good enough to support his offensive game. Even with the new-found plate discipline.