Betancourt’s defensive deficiencies are truly awe-inspiring. Of 21 qualifying shortstops since ‘08, Betancourt ranks last in Ultimate Zone Rating, at -41.8. The second worst qualifier, Jason Bartlett, is at -16.9. His Total Zone, Relative Zone, and Range Factor are also exponentially worse than anybody else’s.
As a hitter, he is equally atrocious. 148 players have gotten at least 1600 plate appearances over the last four seasons. Of those 148, Betancourt ranks dead last in OBP, BB, BB%, wRAA, wOBA, RE24, and WAR. He ranks second to last in OPS, wRC, wRC+, and WPA. It really doesn’t matter if you understand what all those acronyms stand for. The simple truth they reveal is that pretty much every time Betancourt takes the field, he’s the worst player on it, often by a long shot. Of those 148 qualifying hitters, Betancourt is the only player with a negative WAR. Even if you picked a AAA shortstop at random, there’s better than 50% chance he would out-produce Betancourt given the same number of opportunities. And there’s a 100% chance he’d be cheaper.
What’s amazing about Betancourt isn’t so much his talent (or lack thereof). Players of his caliber come and go from the majors every season. What’s amazing is that despite the extraordinary consistency of his failure, he has continued to hold down a job. He’s an incredible outlier in this respect. With a replacement-level player like Cesar Izturis gets a few more at-bats than he deserves, you can usually cite a skill or two which his manager or front office has accurately identified, even it they are overvaluing it. When a player like Derek Jeter or Miguel Tejada fades towards replacement level, we can at least explain his continued employment by virtue of his former glory, his marketability, or his leadership qualities. Betancourt has never been even an above-average player, has no superlative skills, and doesn’t get particularly high praise as a teammate (quite the opposite, in fact).
When Betancourt was included in the Zack Greinke deal and the Royals agreed to eat half of his remaining contract, it seemed likely the Brewers, who have a pretty great track record for assessing talent (unlike, say, Kansas City or Seattle), would finally be the ones to reconcile the miserable “shortstop” to the bench or perhaps even the waiver wire. But, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, for the first time in his career, Betancourt has been given the opportunity to bring a contender to its knees.
He’s doing his best. Through the weekend, he again had a sub-zero WAR (-0.2) and ranked 149th in OPS (159 players currently qualify for the batting title).
Give thanks for Eduardo Nunez, right?