Detroit Tigers third baseman Wilson Betemit was an offensive star last night in a 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles. The switch-hitter collected three hits, including a home run, and knocked in a pair of runs. His great game, coupled with a 4-for-4 night by Andy Dirks and a strong game on both sides from Austin Jackson, gave the Tigers enough offense to hold off the O’s.
Betemit, who was used sparingly when he first arrived from Kansas City on July 21, has started each of the last three games at the hot corner. He has recorded multiple hits in each of those games and has hit safely in five straight. In 50 at bats since joining the Tigers, Betemit has a line of .360/407/.540/.947 with three doubles, two long balls, and 10 RBI.
There is no question that his bat is hot right now, so manager Jim Leyland is doing the right thing by getting him in the lineup. Betemit does strike out a lot, fanning 21 times as a Tiger this year, and he is bound to regress to something closer to his career norms at some point. He has benefited from a BABiP of .593 during his time in Detroit. Obviously, that won’t hold up.
We shouldn’t have any misconceptions about the kind of player that Betemit is. He’s a guy that has shown good enough power in the past, and shown the ability to hit for a fairly high average. He doesn’t play good defense, but his bat can get hot (as it is right now) and carry his glove for a stretch. If we expect that Betemit will continue to be a guy with an OPS pushing .950, we are only fooling ourselves.
That said, the Tigers don’t need Betemit to carry the club offensively, they merely need him to be a league average hitter and hopefully to make most of the plays on defense. His career has been so spotty in terms of regular playing time that it’s difficult to ascertain exactly what we should expect from him when he’s given regular at bats. When he was recalled by the Royals last year, Betemit became the regular third basemen in about mid-June. From that point to the end of the season, Betemit played in 77 of the Royals’ final 95 games and put up some very solid numbers.
His line over those 77 contests was .289/.370/.477/.847. He did this with a BABiP of .353, so there is some history with him and higher-than-average BABiPs. Over the course of his major league career, Betemit has a BABiP of .342, so this does appear to be something that he can sustain. Certainly not a BABiP of near-.600, but we shouldn’t expect that when his bat does cool off that the drop will be extreme.
Betemit has been more “lucky” than usual of late, but he’s shown himself to be someone who can produce a pretty high BABiP, so it’s not all luck. There is something to be said for a player on a hot streak. While a BABiP of .593 is extremely high, I doubt (without looking it up) that you can’t find others who has benefited from a similar number during a hot streak. That is, after all, what makes a hot streak and hot streak. Betemit’s is just hotter than we might have expected.
Players get hot and players slump. This isn’t news. By getting Betemit as many starts as possible right now, Leyland is putting his club in a better position to be successful. When the time comes that Betemit slumps, there will be options to pick up the slack. For now, however, Betemit should be getting every possible chance to ride out his hot streak.