Christian Bethancourt Positional Comfort Index

Tuesday afternoon, the Mariners clobbered the Padres, and this happened:

bethancourt-positions

The Bethancourt in question is Christian Bethancourt, the only major-league Bethancourt, and as you can see, he finished the game hitless. Bethancourt, though, has finished a lot of games hitless. He’d never finished a game at second base, and he’d definitely never finished a game at second base after having caught, pitched, and played left field. Sometimes the whole structure of baseball collapses when a blowout gets blowout-y enough, and on Tuesday, Bethancourt became the fifth player we know of in big-league history to play all those positions in a game. He’d still be the fifth ever even if you took away the pitching appearance. The four previous times this happened, the player played literally every position, the manager clearly just having fun. Bethancourt stumbled upon a brand new box-score line. Baseball still has its firsts.

The question of the day, which means nothing: all right, so, Bethancourt appeared at four different positions. How comfortable was he at each? Time to analyze some body language. Sure, bodies can lie, but they don’t know how to speak in cliches.

Catcher

We don’t need to analyze anything here. Christian Bethancourt is a catcher. It’s the thing that he does. You have a thing that you do, and Bethancourt has a thing that he does, and he’s exceptionally well-trained, which you know because he’s a catcher in the major leagues. Odds are he’s better at catching than you are at your thing, and when you’re good, you’re comfortable. People have long questioned whether Bethancourt would ever hit. That’s still a valid question. People haven’t questioned the defensive work, because Bethancourt has been something of a defensive specialist. Good catcher, is the point. It’s why he started. This is dumb.

Positional Comfort Index: 10

Left Field

Here we go! Bethancourt was a catcher in the minors, so he never played in the outfield. Yet Tuesday wasn’t his outfield debut, because that occurred a few days earlier. The Padres are in the unenviable position of believing that Bethancourt’s is a bat they can’t afford to lose from the lineup, so he got an outfield inning in a lopsided game in Arizona. He wasn’t involved in any plays, but he was briefly discussed by Mark Grant and Don Orsillo.

Orsillo: Left field action for Bethancourt.

Grant: Well remember he took fly balls and grounders back at Petco in right field prior to a game.

Orsillo: Yes. And they decided to scratch that idea after that happened.

Fast-forward to Tuesday. A fly ball!

If you just looked at the play by itself, you wouldn’t think anything of it. Bethancourt seems natural, at least as natural as Matt Kemp. He glides on over, he deals with the sun, and he one-hands the catch, free of complication. Bethancourt, I’m sure, has casually shagged flies before, and this is what that looks like. First test: passed.

Second test: less passed.

Every outfielder has probably been there at some point, caught in between on a sinking liner. But when it happens, you’re almost guaranteed to look stupid and clumsy, and Bethancourt looked the part here of a non-outfielder. To his credit, a little later he would make another routine catch. Yet this play leaves an impression. Bethancourt has kind of made a career of not letting baseballs get behind him, but apparently those skills don’t necessarily translate.

Positional Comfort Index: 6

Pitcher

Bethancourt has been a light-hitting catcher with an outstanding throwing arm. There’s probably been talk about converting him before. Scouts have presumably wondered. If you can throw, you can throw. Bethancourt can throw.

That wasn’t even his fastest pitch. That’s just a casual 94, with an all-arm delivery that didn’t seem to draw much from the lower body. Not satisfied? Bethancourt generated a swinging strike against one of the game’s more talented bat-to-ball hitters:

The man’s got heat. But wait, there’s more. A fastball wasn’t the only thing in Bethancourt’s bag of tricks:

Sure, the reduced arm speed is a tell, but Bethancourt mixed in some extremely slow curves. That takes a certain amount of confidence, as does shaking off the catcher:

What else? Signals? Bethancourt’s got signals.

bethancourt-signal

To review, Christian Bethancourt showed a mid-90s heater. He also showed a mid-50s breaking ball, and he seemed to have a plan for each hitter, and he was able to communicate with the infield. Bethancourt smiled from time to time without looking like a happy idiot, and you only smile like that if you’re comfortable. The only drawback here is performance — Bethancourt was wild, and he was lucky to escape without a run to his name. The catcher got good relief on the mound from the backup shortstop, which is a weird sentence to write. But Bethancourt looked okay! We’ve all pretended to be big-league pitchers. We’ve all messed around with different pitches. Bethancourt faked it until he made it. Swell.

Positional Comfort Index: 9

Second Base

Bethancourt got some action as a catcher. He got some action as a left fielder, and he was at the heart of all the action as a pitcher. He didn’t get any action as a second baseman, since he was a second baseman for all of one pitch, but that doesn’t mean we can’t examine how he looked. He looked out of place, is how he looked. Here is some nervous chewing and looking around, Bethancourt failing to blend in because he was too worried about trying to blend in.

Here’s Bethancourt shifting alignment in response to instruction from a coach or teammate.

You wouldn’t expect Bethancourt to know the right alignments, his not being a second baseman and all, but he couldn’t have looked less certain and less cool. He couldn’t have looked more like a non-second baseman playing second base, and it was pure good luck the grounder that followed went to the shortstop instead.

bethancourt-second

But look at that! Bethancourt did break toward the hole. He did do his best to cover second base, even with the throw going to first. When the ball was in play, Bethancourt obeyed the fundamentals, at least. He’s got the generalized baseball instincts. It’s just that as a second baseman, he didn’t have a good presence.

Positional Comfort Index: 3

Summary

Christian Bethancourt looks comfortable as a catcher, because he is a catcher. He looks moderately comfortable as a left fielder, because everyone has taken time to shag flies. He looks very comfortable as a pitcher, because a lot of players mess around with pitches on the side, and because we all know how to act like pitchers just from cameras spending so much time lingering on them. We all know the gestures, and we all know the mannerisms. Pitchers get air time, so they’re easy to mimic. Second basemen don’t get air time. Bethancourt didn’t look comfortable at all at second base. He didn’t do anything wrong, but you feel like, if given the chance, he would’ve. The catcher-to-second-base transition is awkward. Maybe the Padres will try it again. Maybe they’ll have Bethancourt take more grounders, because they’ll so highly value his bat. Probably that is not what will happen.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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carpengui
Member
carpengui

Setting aside the tongue-in-cheek nature of this piece for a moment, the reason Christian Bethancourt is no longer an Atlanta Brave is actually due to a combination of defensive skills as a catcher, plus work ethic and pitcher handling issues.

While yeah, he definitely has a cannon for an arm, it’s the routine things that trip him up. Excess passed balls especially… he’s among the worst in the league in that category (per inning played) over the past couple of years (comp: Swihart).

So HE may be comfortable with the position…but the Padres aren’t exactly rolling him out there every day, either. I suppose there’s some frustration as a Braves’ fan showing though here as his absence – for valid reasons – has pretty well messed up many of that club’s plans for the position he was expected to fill for multiple years.

Jim Lahey
Member
Jim Lahey

Swihart isn’t nearly as bad as Wright made him out to be…

Goldsteins_Tool_Fedora
Member
Goldsteins_Tool_Fedora

He would probably be the Braves #3 starter right now.

Casper
Member

“comp: Swihart”

Swihart’s also been spending time in left field lately, so that’s interesting.