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Yuniesky Betancourt

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The young Cuban infielder about whom we knew very little when he came over has a quantifiable background, after all. Today's Clay Davenport article (BP subscription required) contains a link to a website for Cuba's Serie Nacional, complete with individual, team, and league stats. So, instead of going with "flashy shortstop with speed who's hit over .300 in some arbitrary timeframe," we can put some numbers to the kid.

00/01: .261/.289/.406
01/02: .286/.315/.437
02/03: .311/.362/.496
03/04: .211/.238/.316 (just 21 PA's)
Total: .287/.324/.449

Throw in 37 steals.

Doesn't look too bad for a guy who couldn't legally buy a drink (in the US) until the tail end of his Cuban career, does it? Of course, there are some concerns; yeah, he stole 37 bases, but he also got nabbed 31 times (an awful 54% sucess rate), and he drew a walk just once per 19 plate appearances. Betancourt makes some decent contact and flashed some power in his last full season, but he's got poor discipline both at the plate and on the basepaths.

It doesn't end there, though, and this is where Davenport's article comes back into play. He wanted to establish some kind of league context, and this is what the Serie Nacional website provided for him. Check out these league averages:

00/01: .295/.372/.441
01/02: .293/.368/.425
02/03: .297/.379/.439
03/04: .288/.361/.415
Total: .293/.370/.430

In the author's words, Betancourt played in a "rocket-fueled offensive environment." In 2003/2004, the Cuban league had the highest batting average of any professional league in the world, and this was the league's worst BA in the last four years. The average OBP has also been at or near the top of the worldwide list. While the power numbers aren't particularly impressive in an international context, the BA and OBP are way up there, and they serve to make individual statistics from the Cuban league that much less impressive.

Think about it; Betancourt hit .311/.362/.496 in the 02/03 season, but this line was only a small fraction above the league-average standard of offensive productivity.

Based on the small sample that he has, Clay Davenport compares the skill level of the Cuban league with the low-A, short-season New York-Penn league; he offers an estimate of Yuniesky Betancourt's career peak at .275/.310/.416. While we could argue all day about the validity of this comparison, given the small sample of players to come out of Cuba to play ball elsewhere, the message is clear: the ability level is low, and we should be more skeptical about Cuban immigrant athletes than we have been in the past.