Say what you want about Wilson Betemit, but the reality is that he served an important purpose for the O’s in 2012. Betemit was also expected to play a small, but pivotal role for the 2013 Orioles. Specifically, he would be the Left-handed side of a DH platoon, while giving Buck some roster flexibility and a potent pinch-hitting bat off the bench.
In 2012, the Orioles were 19th in MLB with a wRC+ of 95 against Right-handed pitching. That is to say, offensively they were roughly 5% below average compared to other MLB teams against righties. This largely stemmed from a poor batting average (.245) which ranked 22nd in MLB. To some degree, their ranking of 19th is inflated by the 3rd best ISO in the league against righties, which meant that at least they scored some runs via the long ball, even if they weren’t getting on base very often. With an OBP of just .308 against right-handers, the O’s outperformed only the Cubs, Pirates, and Mariners last season.
Wilson Betemit, for all of his flaws, is an excellent left-handed hitter. In 2012, he had a .302 batting average from the left side of the plate, which helped him post an OBP of .357. His wRC+ of 133 suggests that he’s much better than the average hitter against righties. This isn’t an aberration either. Betemit has a career wRC+ of 117 as a left-handed batter.
Betemit’s injury today suggests he’ll be out for at least the beginning of the season, though the full impact of it is yet to be seen. Regardless, the O’s will have to find a way to replace his production. For the sake of this argument, let’s assume they decide to stay in-house to replace Betemit’s production. Where can they turn for help?
Only 8 players can be said to have been above average against righties last season. Jim Thome is no longer with the team, and all of the rest save for two are starters. Those two are Nolan Reimold and Nate McLouth.
Reimold played in only 16 games last season, but posted an offensive line that was roughly 47% better than average against righties in that time. Over his career he’s posted a slightly above average offensive line against right-handers. Reimold getting back in the lineup on a regular basis will certainly boost the chances of the Orioles recouping some of the lost production from Betemit.
McLouth has also traditionally been better against righties (which makes sense as a left-handed batter). For his career, McLouth has posted a wRC+ of 110 against righties. Once again, that means he’s been 10% better than the average batter against right-handed pitching.
The only other possible solution could be to bring Chris Dickerson north. Dickerson has posted respectable numbers against righties, albeit in just 439 plate appearances over multiple seasons. Really, the only reason I bring up Dickerson is because he seems like a prototypical Duquette/Buck call-up who produces semi-decent numbers over a short stint.
Unfortunately, that’s about it. The rest of the options are either significantly worse against righties, or would be a waste of a roster spot. The Orioles might be stuck hoping that a mix of Nolan Reimold and Nate McLouth at DH and LF respectively, can provide good enough offense.
The biggest takeaway here is that Wilson Betemit is more than just a lousy third baseman and bench bat. Betemit’s bat, specifically against right-handed pitching, is a huge asset for the O’s. Unfortunately, they will have to figure out how to replace that production and fill out the roster given Betemit’s injury. That means Dan Duquette and Buck will have to work their roster juggling magic, and find some production elsewhere.