It is May 9.
To date, the Milwaukee Brewers have played 32 baseball games.
In those 32 baseball games, Yuniesky Betancourt, the most stubbornly irremovable piece of flotsam that ever drifted into Major League Baseball, he of the career OPS+ of 83 and cumulative WAR of 0.0 and UZR of (roughly) negative-a-billion, who somehow bluffed his way into 57 games last season on the Royals’ glorified AA roster and then gacked up an OBP of .256 (TWO-FUCKING-FIFTY-SIX!), has hit eight home runs. He has driven in 24 runs. His OPS+ is a knee-buckling 121.
Naturally, given those circumstances: shit’s getting weird.
Witness the extended discussion of Betancourt’s place on the roster that took place during yesterday morning’s edition of the “Chuck & Wickett” program on Milwaukee’s least not-favorite* sports talk radio station, 1250 WSSP.
* At least that’s how I’m interpreting the Arbitron numbers, which show WSSP with like a 1.1 something or other number, which … you know what? Let’s not pretend either of us cares enough to figure out what that number means.
I’ll do my best to keep my editorial comments to a minimum.
(NICKELBACK INTRO, BECAUSE SPORTS RADIO)
WICKETT: There’s a lot of questions coming out of that ballgame yesterday, Chuck, and one of them that you and I are talking about: what do you do with Yuniesky Betancourt? I mean, the guy leads the team in home runs, he’s performing much better at the plate than I think anybody would have guessed, considering what we all know Yuniesky Betancourt to be. You know, Corey Hart’s going to come back, we assume, at the end of this month … But when Corey comes back, and we’ve heard Doug Melvin say “he’s our first baseman”; well, hell, what if Yuni B’s got 15 homers by that point? He’s got 8 already.
I’ll say this: if Yuni has 15 home runs by the end of May, I’m not wearing pants to work for a week. I’ll eat mustard — like, just mustard — for dinner for a week. I’ll start a blog that’s strictly Yuni fan fiction, about Yuni and his pet jaguar running a successful bed and breakfast and moonlighting as the crime-fighting duo of “Yuni and Spots” in their free time.
This has been a long way of saying: I’m relatively confident Yuni will not hit 7 more homers in the next three weeks.
CHUCK: Well, look at the first base job. It was supposed to be Mat Gamel’s, OK? Mat Gamel got hurt and never could answer the bell. Coming out of spring training, when you realized Corey Hart wasn’t going to be able to make opening day and he was going to be out for two months, it was going to be Alex Gonzalez at first base. He reluctantly decided, “OK, I’ll play first base,” he did a nice job there in spring training, but couldn’t hit his weight coming out of spring training and he still can’t. So he’s been reduced to kind of the role coming off the bench, and Yuni Betancourt, who they picked up late in spring training coming off the Phillies’ roster, he’s been the man.
WICKETT: I don’t see Alex Gonzalez lasting 162 games with this Brewer club. I really don’t. I don’t see “A-Gone” on this roster. I know that he’s pretty cheap, he can play a couple of positions, but Chuck: I mean, if you’re getting this out of Yuniesky Betancourt, and they throw Jeff Bianchi in there at third as a defensive replacement, and they’ve got these other guys they’re shuffling around – Lalli and Prince and all of that. … Do you need Alex Gonzalez? Because he came in yesterday and had one of the meekest swings I’ve ever seen a major league baseball player have that isn’t a pitcher. He flew out to right and that was it.
I fully recognize that Wickett was talking about Sea Bass here, but if ever there was a biography or a 30 for 30 on Yuni Betancourt, it would be called: “He Flew Out To Right And That Was It: The Yuniesky Betancourt Story.”
CHUCK: I brought this up a couple of weeks ago, and this is when Yuni wasn’t hitting as well as he’s hitting right now; he was OK, but he’s just on a major tear right now. I think this was after week 2; I asked this to Adam McCalvy, I said: “Is Yuni or Alex Gonzalez going to be designated for assignment?” And of course, every time Yuni hits a home run, I hear about it on Twitter. Because everybody thought Yuni was going to be this good. … Nobody saw this coming from Yuni, so don’t kid yourself. But Gonzalez, Mike; Bianchi played third last night, Gonzalez does not have any range anymore, coming off that knee surgery, mid-30s. They really like Bianchi, he’s back again, he filled in for Aramis Ramirez at third base. Made a nice play behind the bag … I don’t know if Gonzalez makes that play.
WICKETT: I don’t think he does. Well, let me take that back. I don’t know if he does or doesn’t. I don’t want to make this a “bash on Alex Gonzalez.” … He looks slow, when you’re 36, 37, it’s different than when you’re 25 coming off ACL surgery. But the bigger question, and we’d love to hear from Brewers fans … when Corey Hart comes back, what do you do with Yuniesky Betancourt? I’m not gonna lie, five weeks ago, I didn’t think we’d be having this conversation. But he’s got 8 homers, assuming he stays warm – I don’t expect him to ever stay this hot – but what can you do with him? Let’s say he’s got 10 home runs, 12 home runs by the end of May; what do you do with him? Does Corey automatically get his job back at first?
We’ve heard Doug Melvin say that before. Is that still the policy?
Cuz you can’t take that bat out of the lineup.
You can. And you should.
But there is a bat you can take out of the lineup, if you like: if Rickie Weeks is still struggling, can you move Yuniesky Betancourt to second to keep his bat in the lineup, if Corey gets his job back at first? Does Corey get Wally Pipp’d? Does Corey get dealt? What do you do? Can’t believe we’re saying this, but can you do without Yuniesky Betancourt’s bat in the lineup?
CHUCK: You’d have never thought you’d say those two words in the same sentence, Mike, or those two phrases, but no, you’re right: you almost have to keep him in. And when you picked him up, you didn’t expect to have to use him in the everyday part of the lineup. But you ended up having to do it anyway. And sometimes he’s batting in the cleanup spot, when Ramirez isn’t in there. He’s been excelling. He’s been great. I don’t know how you take him out of the lineup, but still, I’m not the biggest Corey Hart fan in the world, but the guy who’s gonna hit 25 home runs and hit .270 and be as good defensively as he is at first base, it’s hard not to put him back into the lineup.
WICKETT: Do you think Betancourt can play second base?
He can, for sure. It’s much the same way that, say, Martin Maldonado can play second base, in that: it would be a terrible, terrible fucking idea and anyone who thought that it was a viable long-term option at second base should be immediately and irrevocably sterilized, but yeah: he’s got two arms, a head, and legs. He can play second.
CHUCK: I don’t know.
Gratuitous, but whatever: there’s a goddamn Google machine right there, champ.
WICKETT: Can he be any worse than Rickie? I mean, since Willie Randolph took over years ago as the instructor for Rickie Weeks as a bench coach, Rickie Weeks became a better second baseman.
CHUCK: Are you talking defensively? Rickie’s still a better second baseman defensively, but hitting-wise, Betancourt is on a different level than Rickie. He had a hit last night, but he hasn’t been very good.
WICKETT: I don’t even know if Rickie’s that much of a better defensive second baseman than Yuni B at this point.
CHUCK: We don’t know about Betancourt playing second base, that’s the thing.
WICKETT: I don’t know if he’s ever done it.
Oh, for God’s sake.
CHUCK: I think he did for a little bit in Kansas City last year.
WICKETT: Betancourt is hitting .276 but he’s got 8 home runs. And here we are in the first week of May, second week of May. Meanwhile, Rickie Weeks is batting almost a hundred points lower, at .193.
CHUCK: If it wasn’t for Betancourt, he’s one of the big reasons why they’ve hung around the .500 mark, with some of those injuries. And when they picked him up and they put him in the starting lineup and they had to put him in there, you didn’t want him to be bad. You didn’t want him batting .150. Well, he’s not hitting .150. He’s actually been a major contributor, he’s held his own and been better than he’s ever been.
WICKETT: What do you do when Corey Hart comes back, Brewer fans? Can you move Yuni B?
CHUCK: Well, when they picked him up, Mike, you know there was a groan among Brewer fans. “Oh no.”
WICKETT: I laughed. I didn’t groan. … Your calls coming up next.
(AD FOR BUTCHER’S SHOP, BECAUSE WISCONSIN)
WICKETT: Nobody expected Yuni B to be this good. Leads the Brewers in home runs. He and Braun are tied in the National League for seventh, with 24 RBI. His home runs: 8 on the year, he’s tied for fifth. So the question is on the table right now: what do you want to do with Corey Hart when he comes back at the end of the month? This all, by the way, it just might be way too early to be talking about this, because if we know anything about Yuniesky Betancourt, he could go 1 for his next 25.
CHUCK: Yeah. Do you believe this guy could actually ride it out, keep this thing going for an extended period of time? It’s a hot streak for him: eight home runs, great, but he’s hitting .276. It’s not like he’s hitting .340. It’s not like he’s putting up GoGo numbers right now, .364. … But our expectations for Betancourt aren’t very high. He’s a scrap heap guy, you know, 30-year-old, 33, whatever it is. You didn’t expect him to do anything but he’s going beyond what we expected this far.
WICKETT: But if he stays this hot, how do you take his bat out of the lineup in favor of a guy coming off of the injury like Corey Hart? Do you think about moving him to second? Rickie’s been warm as of late. I just don’t know what you do. Rickie’s average has gone up about 30 points, 25 points in the last 10 games. And people still want to bag on him, because he’s not hitting .285, he’s hitting .193.
Oh no. I see where this discussion is going.
CHUCK: One-ninety-three. But if you get a hit every eight at-bats or so, your average is going to go up.
Math is not my strong suit, but I believe if you get a hit once every eight at-bats, you’ll be hitting .125.
WICKETT: He has been playing better, there’s no doubt. He has been seeing the ball better. Rickie’s walked in, what, seven of the last eight games? I didn’t think I’d say that ever. Ever since that 3-strikeout game against the Pirates, he’s been getting on base.
CHUCK: I still think, though, when Corey Hart comes back, the job is his. I don’t know if you want to trade him. At that point, you’re putting all your cards in Betancourt. You just want a bigger sample size of what Yuni can do. It’s only been six weeks of the season. Almost have to check back to see where we are Memorial Day weekend, when Hart’s gonna come back. It’s interesting, though: Betancourt’s ridden it out this far, and he’s been good, he’s been consistent out there, hitting the home runs, you mentioned the RBI, home run totals are up there among the major league leaders. You can’t take him out.
WICKETT: If he cools off, it’s a different story.
When (not if) he cools off, it will be the same story that we’ve seen each of the last eight years with Yuni. In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence it’s already the same story, and Yuni’s just inexplicably squaring up the ball like he’s never done before and, in all likelihood, never will again.
But let’s try to stay positive. You hope that Yuni B does stay this warm. Over on Facebook, I’ll give you one guess what the overwhelming reaction is when we asked this question, what to do with Yuni B: Yuni to second, Yuni to second, Yuni to second, Weeks needs to sit for a long time, trade Weeks start Yuni at second, Yuni to second, and I can go on and on and on and on. Again, people aren’t really looking at what Rickie’s done in the last week-and-a-half. Rickie’s been pretty good getting on base. He’s not tearing the cover off the ball. …
WICKETT: Let’s talk to Zack, on the North Side. Good morning, Zack, you’re on 1250 WSSP.
ZACK: Hey, what’s going on?
WICKETT: Not much.
ZACK (talking very loudly, with his mouth apparently pressed against the phone’s microphone): This shouldn’t even be a topic. HOW YOU CAN YOU JUSTIFY SITTING YUNI B, AND STARTING RICKIE WEEKS? Yuni B has been the spark. (Pause for effect.) Rickie has been the flameout.
Zack is upset.
WICKETT: Do you know what Rickie’s done in the last 10 days?
ZACK (still very upset): WHERE WOULD THE BREWERS BE RIGHT NOW WITHOUT YUNI B?
Zack will not be distracted by your data.
CHUCK: You got some numbers on Rickie in the last 10 games?
WICKETT: In the last 10 games, he’s raised his batting average 27 points.
CHUCK: That doesn’t take much at .150.
ZACK (not letting go): WHERE WOULD THE BREWERS RECORD BE RIGHT NOW WITHOUT YUNI B IN THE LINEUP?
Zack is persistent.
WICKETT: Probably not 15-16.
ZACK: They’d be well under .500 and probably at least 8 games back.
Zack hasn’t looked at the standings this morning.
CHUCK: Raising your average from .170 to .193 doesn’t take much.
WICKETT: It does if you’re Rickie Weeks.
CHUCK: When you’re hitting that low, .193 is still .193.
WICKETT: I’m just throwing things out there. Zack, we appreciate you telling us what to have as topics and what not to have as topics. That’s really great. The other question I have for you is: how do you know Yuniesky Betancourt can play second base?
Maybe he has a computer.
ZACK: I thought he could play any position in the infield.
Zack is befuddled.
WICKETT: I don’t know that.
Now Wickett is befuddled.
ZACK: He’s multi-talented in the infield, I don’t know what positions he’s played in his career, I know shortstop and first, but I’m assuming he’s spent some time at second and third.
Maybe Zack doesn’t have a computer.
CHUCK: Yeah, I think they brought him in to be a corner infielder, fill-in, at this point.
WICKETT: I mean, he’s 31. He didn’t exactly have the greatest range at shortstop two years ago.
ZACK (emboldened): Can I just make one more point, guys?
Zack has one more point to make, guys.
WICKETT: I love this phone call so far, so let’s knock it out of the park here, Zack.
ZACK (exasperated): How much is enough from Rickie Weeks? I mean, wouldn’t you call it quits on this guy?
Zack is at the end of his rope.
ZACK (forging ahead): I mean, I think what he needs is a fresh start somewhere else. I think they just need to pull the plug, and I think what’s good for Rickie is just a fresh start with someone else.
Zack likes to swap a dollar for a quarter and two dimes and three pennies.
WICKETT: What frustrates you the most about Rickie Weeks?
ZACK: He’s never lived up to his potential. He’s never even gotten close to his potential. His inconsistency. His, just … the guy can tear the cover off the ball one game, and then the next four games, he can’t … he swings right through it!
CHUCK: Mike, have you turned a corner on Weeks, because I thought a couple of weeks ago you were done with him.
WICKETT: I mean, where he was a week-and-a-half ago, sure, but what he’s done … he’s warmed up. He’s getting on base, which we didn’t see a lot. Rickie Weeks has walked. He’s gotten on base via walk seven of the last eight games. Got a hit last night, so he was on base twice last night. Is that Hall of Fame material? Is that All-Star material? No. But I don’t know what people want out of Rickie Weeks.
At several points during this discussion, I found myself nodding in agreement with Wickett, which at first confused me because, as a sports radio host, he is a professional troll who isn’t prone to making arguments based on logic and data, and instead looks to stoke “debate” by taking contrarian positions. And then I got sad, because I realized: Rickie Weeks is apparently so unpopular amongst Brewer fans that it’s a contrarian position to defend him.
CHUCK: Well, better than .193. Although it doesn’t, some of these numbers you’re throwing out there are below expectations for a guy who’s a starting second baseman.
WICKETT: I got a tweet here from Jeff Rogers, @82Brew, writes at Mike Wickett: “Over the last 10 games, guys, he’s hitting .265, with a .390 on-base and slugging .412.” I mean, that’s Rickie’s numbers. There you go.
CHUCK: OK, it’s not .350. It’s .260.
With a .390 OBP. Please don’t lose that number. It’s very valuable (small sample size, obvi).
WICKETT: But it’s also not .089.
CHUCK: But I mean, still, that’s not good. Two-sixty over 10 games is not great. You can’t brag about that one at all.
You lost the OBP, didn’t you?
WICKETT: See, that’s the thing: this pisses me off what people do sometimes with this kind of stuff. Guys can be in a terrible slump the first 6 weeks of the season. Does anybody remember what Rickie Weeks did the last two months of the year last year? His overall numbers last year were terrible, but he hit .285 the last two months of the year. It’s like a football team that’s .500 through the first 12 games of the year, they’re 6-6, and then all of a sudden they get hot. Yeah, their overall record doesn’t look great, but damn, they got hot when they got into the post-season.
CHUCK: Ok, Mike, when you’re talking about a guy who hit .285 over the last two months of the season, it’s not like I’m like: “Oh, really? .285?” Now, .385, or .330.
WICKETT: Two-eighty-five is pretty damn good!
CHUCK: Over two months? Shouldn’t that be expected from Rickie Weeks?
No, because: (1) batting average is dumb, and (2) Weeks’ value has never been tied to his batting average.
WICKETT: That’s too high for an expectation for Rickie.
CHUCK: Well then, he shouldn’t be an everyday second baseman in baseball if .285 is too high for somebody. I mean, if you’re saying .285, shouldn’t that be the norm for a guy who’s playing second base for a team that we think is going to be a contender?
This is the list of second basemen who hit over .285 last season: Robbie Cano, Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Dustin Pedroia, Jose Altuve.
WICKETT: I think it’s a bit high to expect that, but alright, I’m not going to argue about that.
CHUCK: What should you expect from a starting second baseman on a team that’s a contender? On this team, a guy that’s going to be a leadoff hitter, a 1-2 hitter, what’s the bar?
WICKETT: Just slightly below that, .270 or .275. Are we nitpicking five, ten batting average points? Sure.
CHUCK: OK, .270, then he better hit 20 or 25 home runs.
This is the list of second basemen who hit over 20 home runs last season: Robbie Cano, Aaron Hill, Rickie Weeks. (Also Ben Zobrist fits in there somewhere.)
WICKETT: OK, we gotta get more on this coming up. I think people have to take a look at the way things are trending. I mean, guys go through slumps. Braunie’s average was done to two-fifty-something the other day, people weren’t talking about … and I know the bar is set pretty high for him, I get that. But I can’t believe I’m sitting here having to defend Rickie Weeks.
CHUCK: Yeah, it sounds like you are.
WICKETT: What the hell is wrong with me?
CHUCK: It sounds like you are. So I don’t know where you are, because a couple weeks ago, with Weeks, it seemed like you were done with him.
WICKETT: Well, because a couple of weeks ago he was done.
A couple weeks ago it was April 20.
CHUCK: You were saying, “A .240 career, has he really been all that good?” Outside of one season?
WICKETT: Half a season.
WICKETT: Yep. When he was the All-Star. That’s it.
That’s not it, but whatever.
It’s Chuck and Wickett. How the hell we got onto this side … we were talking about Yuni B and what to do with it.
CHUCK: Rickie plays a factor in it because people want Yuni to replace Rickie Weeks at second base. I don’t want to go that far. I’m riding Rickie out. I’m still on the Rickie train.
WICKETT: But you’re fighting me on Rickie Weeks!
CHUCK: I’m fighting you because I don’t know where you stand.
Sports talk radio, as summarized in 10 words.
My head hurts. I’m going to take all the Advil now.