Since being promoted from AAA, Wilson Betemit has been a pleasant surprise for the Royals. Betemit hit .265 in the minors before his callup, but hit .297 for the Royals last season and has a .311 BA so far this season. This level of success for Betemit isn't completely unprecedented. The switch-hitter was an above-average hitter for the Yankees and Braves in 2005-2006, but struggled for the Yankees and White Sox in 2007-2009. Has anything changed in Betemit's numbers that would suggest he has improved?
The first thing to check is Betemit's Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP) to see how much luck has helped Betemit. Currently, Betemit has a .394 BABIP, and had a .361 BABIP last season. So Betemit is due for some regression, but not as much regression as you might think.The ZiPS projection system used by Fangraps projects Betemit to have a .355 BABIP for the rest of the season, and it thinks he will have a .283 BA for the rest of the season. Betemit has a career BABIP of .336, so it's not unreasonable to think he could sustain one slightly higher.
Luck is not the only reason Betemit has a high BABIP, he is hitting more line drives so far this season than he has in the past. Wilson has a line drive percentage of 21% this season, which is higher than his career average. Betemit is hitting less groundballs the past two seasons, his groundball percentage as a Royals is around 40%, compared to a career average of 43%. His flyball percentage this season is also higher than his career average, 38.9% compared to 36.2%. So Betemit's increase in BA and SLG since joining the Royals can be attributed to the fact that he is hitting more line drives and flyballs.
Wilson has actually hit for less power this season than he normally has in his career, his Isolated Power (SLG-BA) is only .131 this season, compared to his career average of .178. So even if Betemit loses some value when his BA drops, he should compensate for some of it by hitting for more power. Betemit looks like he has gotten unlucky when hitting home runs, he has a HR/FB ratio of 2.7% in 2011 compared to a 13.8% for his career. As the temperature heats up, look for more of Betemit's balls to leave the park.
Wilson changed his approach at the plate since becoming a Royal, and it appears it is paying dividends. Betemit is swinging more, making more contact, but still drawing walks. His swing percentage this season is 47.1% compared to a career average of 45.2%. His contact percentage is 80.9% this season, compared to a career average of 75.4%. His walk percentage is 10.7% compared to a 9.5% career average, so his increased swing percentage has not damaged his plate discipline. Betemit is most likely fouling off more pitches in his at-bats, causing him to see more pitches. Right now, Betemit looks like he is at the plate with a plan; he is willing to attack pitches he thinks he can hit, lay off those he can't, and foul off tough pitches.
The rise in Betemit's line drive percentage also appears to be related to a better recognition of pitches. Betemit, like most major league hitters, has always been able to hit fastballs. He has improved dramatically since coming over to the Royals on hitting off-speed pitches. Before coming to the Royals, Betemit was only an above-average hitter against fastballs, he was a below average hitter against all breaking pitches. Since wearing a Royals uniform, Betemit has been above average against fastballs, cutters, curveballs, and changeups. Sliders appear to be the only pitch that still give Betemit problems, but he is clearly showing an improved ability to recognize and hit off-speed pitches. The fact that Betemit is hitting off-speed pitches much better than he has in the past suggests that his improvement is sustainable.
At this point in the season, Wilson Betemit should be playing third base every day. Getz and Aviles can split time at second base, but neither of them should be taking any time away from Betemit. The Royals should play Betemit every day to build up his trade value, and then be willing to trade him when they think Moustakas is ready to be called up. I don't think Betemit should move over to second when Moustakas is called up, because I don't think his defense is strong enough to consistently handle the position. Third base is a fairly weak position this season; Betemit would be an upgrade at third for a few contenders, or could be a strong bat off the bench for an NL team. Dayton Moore made a smart move by signing Wilson Betemit last year, and has reaped the benefits of his improvement. Now Moore and Yost need to make another smart move and play Betemit everyday to help the Royals now and in the future.