February 14, 2014
The Search for Yuni's Successor
The year was 2007, and America’s outlook had never been brighter. A young Arkansas governor named Bill J. Clinton had just been elected president with promises of universal hearth care for everybody’s hearths. An inventor named Steve Jobs was tinkering in his garage on a machine that would one day be called the Splash-Proof Thermapen Thermometer. And a shortstop in Seattle named Yuniesky Betancourt was doing amazing things that we would never see again: Topping replacement level.
That year was undoubtedly Betancourt’s best. He attempted nine steals and was successful five times. He played defense only five runs worse than the average shortstop. He drew 15 walks, in just 559 plate appearances. And among players with at least 250 plate appearances, his isolated power was a lofty 210th, tied with a 41-year-old Jeff Conine. In recognition of his contribution to the nation’s baseball, Congress awarded him two WARs, the highest honor ever received by a Yuniesky.
But like Robert Moses building a parkway to Jones Beach, Betancourt was only beginning his life’s work. Over the next six seasons, he would never top replacement level again. And he would never stop working tirelessly at it:
2008: 153 games, -0.2 wins*
Betancourt was not the first to compile so many worthless seasons, but he was the first (at least in our lifetimes) to compile them in such a condensed career while maintaining full-time status. In a span of six years, he had five in which he batted at least 400 times with negative results. Joe Carter is the only other player since 1980 with as many 400/-0.1 seasons in his career, and his came over the span of nine years—nine years in which he was actually a cumulative six wins above replacement.
Now Betancourt has abandoned us to play sub-replacement baseball in Japan. Where will we find our Yuniesky? The player just attractive enough to play almost every day for six consecutive seasons, yet so poor that he couldn’t even once fluke his way to a level deemed easily attainable, and yet also good enough that two GMs would each choose to acquire him twice, before the burning from the first infection had even subsided?
To appreciate what a rare skill set this is, consider: Your first answer to the question was almost certainly Christopher Getz. Christopher Getz, in his seemingly Yunieskian career, has never had a sub-replacement season. Never above 1.0, but never below 0.0, either. And as omnipresent as he seems to be, he has never had the plate appearances to qualify for a batting title. This is somebody who has to be much worse than Getz, and play much more often.
The search begins: