GAH! My “Someone is Praising Yuni Betancourt Sense” is tingling! Let’s see….Ah! Found it. It’s Nicholas Zettel writing at Disciples of Uecker:
“But, Brewers fans do not give Betancourt as much credit as he deserves for playing good situational ball. That doesn’t mean he’s a good ballplayer overall, but he was able to produce average SS run production thanks to his sacrifice fly and base-running ability”
Nicholas actually does a decent job in this post (though he consistently underrates the terribleness of both McGehee and Betancourt), and Yuni is an OK runner if you’re cool with Fangraph’s base-running metrics. But hitting Sac Flies? No, no, no, no, no. First of all, I’m not even sure hitting sac flies is a repeatable skill, and if it is there is no evidence that Yuni has it. He hit 10 last season, but that was the highest of his career by 4. Moreover, he had 0 “Sacrifice Hits” (which are apparently only bunts) per Baseball Reference when he’s usually around 5 or 6 on average (though really he’s all over the map).
Second, sacrificing in baseball may be better than making a plain old out, but it’s still often a negative play both in terms of common sense and WPA. Context is everything. Here’s every Yuni Betancourt sac fly from 2011 in context. I’ve also included his full game WPA.
APRIL 14th, 2011, Brewers defeat Pirates 4-1
In the first inning Weeks leads off with a single. Carlos Gonzalez strikes out, followed by Braun taking a walk. Fielder then hits an RBI single scoring Weeks and moving Braun to 3rd. Casey McGehee is then inexplicably walked by struggling Pirate starter Paul Maholm to load the bases with one out for Yuni.
Yuni hit a flyball to left scoring Braun. The atrocious Erick Almonte would strike out to end the inning. BR lists this as a 0% increase in WPA. It’s the first inning and while Yuni did drive in a run, he let a golden opportunity to drive in more slip away with the bases loaded. In a high leverage situation against a struggling pitcher, giving up an out is a win for Maholm.
Game WPA: (-.001)
APRIL 18th, 2011, Brewers defeat Phillies, 6-3 in 12 innings.
Yuni was 0-5 with no walks or strikeouts and 2 RBI, and hit into a DP in the 2nd. He also had a negative WPA overall. And he failed to advance Casey to 3rd in the 4th when he grounded out weekly to SS. (Casey would have scored on a Mark Kotsay flyball if everything else stayed the same).
In the 7th Yuni drove in Braun on a ground out to put the Brewers ahead 3-2 and net himself a cool 7% WPA, cutting in half the -14% he’d created to that point.
His Sac Fly would come in the 12th AFTER Braun had already put them up 1 with a sacrifice of his own. It was a weird inning featuring a Walk, an error, an HPB, a WP, 2 IBB, 2 sacrifices, and Casey dying at home.
Betancourt’s sac fly was mildly valuable in this game.
APRIL 23rd, 2011, Astros defeat Brewers, 9-6
Yuni actually hit pretty well in this game which gives him a positive WPA on the day, but his sac fly with the Brewers down 3-0 resulted in 0% WPA as it killed a potential rally. The Brewers had Kotsay on 1st and Fielder on 3rd with one out. Yuni managed to drive in Fielder with a flyball, but with two outs Lucroy walked and Marcum struck out, ending the inning. That was his only RBI, and much of his hitting was ill-timed.
MAY 7th, 2011, Brewers defeat Cardinals 4-0
Yuni pinch-hit in the 9th. After a Carlos Gomez triple which put the Brewers up by 2, Yuni hit a flyball deep enough to drive in the all-important 4th run, gaining a cool .006% WPA and driving the team’s expected winning percentage from 98% to 99% or so.
MAY 11th, 2011, Padres defeat Brewers, 13-6
Oh, thank god Yuni’s sacrificing ability was around in this game. He was actually a positive contributor with the HR ball, knocking out a solo shot in the 6th, but on this day his sacrifice was around -2%. In the 4th with the Brewers down 5-0 Braun led off with a single. Fielder grounded out moving Braun to 2nd, and Casey singled to LF, scoring Braun. Hart then doubled putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out and the Brewers in a 5-1 hole. Yuni hit a sac fly (5-2), Wil Nieves struck out, and danger for the Padres was averted. In a game that obviously needed a big offensive output, the sac was an obvious negative play. Would have been a nice time for the HR ball. Note that while this was one of Yuni’s highest WPA outputs, because of the Padres offensive outburst it was entirely meaningless. Such is Yuni.
JUNE 28th, 2011. Yankees defeat Brewers 12-2
In the 4th inning with the Brewers down 7-1, 1 out, Hart on 3rd and Gamel on 1st, Yuni hit a sac fly to RF. Hart scored, but Gamel was cut down at 2nd making this an inning-ending double play. A potential big inning was once again killed and the Brewers would never get close.
JULY 7th, 2011. Brewers defeat Reds, 5-4
Yuni opened the scoring in the 2nd with a sac fly adding 3% to his WPA.
JULY 27th, 2011. Brewers defeat Cubs, 2-0
Fielder gave the Brewers all of the cushion they would need with a leadoff HR in the 2nd (11% WPA for Prince). Weeks would then single, McGehee would double, and Yuni would drive in Counsell (PR for Weeks) on a sac fly which added 1% WPA, and was the first out of the inning. The Brewers would not score again.
AUGUST 9th, 2011. Brewers defeat Cardinals, 5-3
Yuni was 0-4 with a SO and no BBs. The play before his sac fly Casey hit an RBI double putting the Brewers up 4-3, with one out in the top of the 10th, good for 22% WPA. Yuni’s “insurance run”, a flyball which allowed Fielder to score, added 2% WPA. Felipe Lopez would lineout to end the inning.
SEPTEMBER 9th, 2011, Phillies defeat Brewers, 5-3
Yuni was 1-3 with 2 RBI, but his WPA was an atrocious -.134. Here’s why.
In the 4th inning with the bases loaded and 1 out, trailing 3-0 against Roy Halladay, Yuni strode to the plate. On the very first pitch he saw he hit a weak grounder to short for an inning ending, rally killing DP.
In the 7th down 5-0 he would sacrifice in McGehee, a negative WPA play. He would redeem himself slightly in the 9th with a run-scoring single that added 5% to his total, but it still left him hugely negative.
WPA – (-.134)
So there you go. I know sac flies are not the same as sac bunting, where you are expressly giving yourself up, but viewing Yuni’s “sac fly ability” as an ability is all wrong. Yuni is an out machine, and the fact is that when you make a lot of outs you’re going to have a lot of sacrifices because sacrifices always require that an out be made. In terms of sacrificing, Yuni is like a RB in football who gets a ton of carries and therefore can’t help but rush for a lot of yards. Yuni is a RB who makes a lot of outs. He almost can’t help being credited with a bunch of sacrifices.