Dellin Betances: Closer Of The Future?
For years the New York Yankees have had the unfair distinct advantage of marching Mariano Rivera out in the 9th to close out games. However, after the all-time leader in saves decided to retire after the 2013 season, leaving green-as-grass David Robertson to fill the void. However the Yankees might consider the 6’8″, 260 lb. Dellin Betances‘ closer experiment to fill the large shoes left by big Mo’ should Robertson falter.
The 26-year old former prospect has a legitimate shot to be a part of the bullpen this year in New York after a nice showing so far in spring training, only allowing 1 ER in 9.2 IP (0.93 ERA) while posting an 8:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowing 4 hits. The Yankees would have preferred to keep him as a starter, but 60 innings of relief appearances last year in AAA may have changed their mind.
An 8th-round pick in the 2006 June Amateur Draft, Betances peaked in 2011 (#32 overall at BP) after throwing 85 innings with a 11.8 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 across high-A and AA in 2010. With his large, workhorse frame and sinking fastball/changeup/power curve arsenal it was easy to dream about him as a dominating starter in pinstripes. However, injuries and inconsistent mechanics leading to command problems have limited his development and upside, resulting in a disastrous 2012 campaign which saw him post a 8.3 BB/9 ratio across 74 innings.
In 2013, the Yankees decided to shift Betances to the pen where he posted a 1.35 ERA a stunning 12.5 K/9 and a 3.9 BB/9 ratio, but probably a year before that our own Jeff Reese already pegged him for a move to the pen:
Betances’s fastball features sink and ranges from 89 to 97, typically sitting in the low 90s; the curve ball can be a power two plane breaker with good depth but they too often lose shape; and the changeup can feature good late drop. So the potential for a nasty arsenal of pitches is certainly there. Command just limits their effectiveness, and it seems much more plausible to envision him as a future bullpen ace. He should excel in that role.
In addition to the move, Betances has turned his inconsistent curveball into more of a slurve that has flashed impressive results so far. In spring training two weeks ago he threw it six times in a row to strike out to Matt Joyce on three pitches and get an 0-2 groundout by Wil Myers. Six off-speed pitches in a row is uncommon for a power-heater prospect who has only logged 7.2 innings in the majors since being drafted in 2006. However, the new pitch does have that nasty factor:
Betances seems to be reinventing himself as a pitcher, no longer relying merely on his fastball velocity but also utilizing his off-speed stuff to give hitters a different look. His role in the bullpen gives him the opportunity to take full advantage of that velocity and new-found command. The question is will the command hold up at the MLB level? Could this be the beginning of the Betances closer reign in the Bronx?
Betances Closer Obstacles?
Due to the relative lack of experience in the pen, 2014 would be the perfect chance for Betances to take the reigns if his stuff is up to the task. There are 32 career saves logged in the entire bullpen and no one has put up numbers last year that Betances cannot replicate:
2013 NYY Bullpen Numbers
SV K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB D. Robertson (RHP) 8 10.45 2.44 0.68 0.288 87.50% 50.90% 10.60% S. Kelly (RHP) 11.98 3.88 1.35 0.312 71.40% 33.10% 13.10% M. Thornton (LHP) 23 6.23 3.12 0.83 0.316 75.30% 50.70% 9.80% D. Phelps (RHP) 8.20 3.63 0.83 0.321 66.80% 42.50% 8.90% C. Cabral* (LHP) 14.73 2.45 0.00 0.429 80.00% 28.60% 0.00% A. Warren (RHP) 1 7.48 3.51 1.17 0.311 84.70% 45.30% 13.20% D.Betances**(RHP) 18.00 3.60 1.80 0.615 52.10% 35.70% 25.00% *3.2 IP **5 IP
David Robertson has put up stellar numbers the past two seasons learning from Rivera, but even the Yankees brass are wondering if he can handle closer duties (8 saves/10 blown saves). In fact, from 2009-11 Robertson posted huge strikeout numbers (12.3 K/9) but struggled with his command (4.77 BB/9). After studying Rivera’s mechanics and his devastating cutter, the walks decreased and ground balls increased but there’s no telling what pitching in the 9th will bring for the newly minted closer. With their 3rd place finish in the AL East last year, it’s hard to believe that his leash will be very long if he starts blowing games.
The rest of the bullpen is not particularly intimidating either. Shawn Kelley is slated for setup duty in the 8th, although none of the projection systems expect him to replicate his 25% increase in strikeouts from last year. Furthermore his extreme fly ball rate and above-average HR/FB numbers don’t suggest that he’ll be given a shot should Robertson falter. Matt Thornton is the most experienced member of the pen, and would probably be next in line for saves, but his three-year decline in K-rate suggests that his better days are already behind him. The Yankees didn’t sign him to close games. The rest of the pen consist of role players (Warren), swing men (Phelps), and LOOGYs (Cabral). It looks like there is little standing in the way of Betances’ closer aspirations within the Yankee bullpen.
Additionally let’s look at the state of relief pitching in general the past few seasons to see what the benchmark is to be an elite reliever. To start I looked at the top 30 relief pitchers (min. qualified innings) by WAR and looked at their averages from 2010-13. Then, of that group I took the top 10 reliever and averaged their numbers together to see the difference between being a top 10 closer and merely an above average reliever:
2010-13 Top Relievers By WAR
K/9 BB/9 HR/9 LOB% GB% HR/FB Top 30 WAR 9.97 2.99 0.67 78.61% 43.60% 8.05% Top 10 WAR 11.61 2.70 0.59 80.79% 43.40% 7.67%
To be a top tier reliever one needs to be able to strike out a little more than a batter per inning, and his command should be around league average (3.06 BB/9 in 2013). It is obviously important not to give up the long ball although that doesn’t necessarily mean one has to be an elite ground-ball artist either. However, elite territory supposes that the strikeout rate increases (+14%) more than the walks decrease (-10%). Interestingly enough, the current top 4 RPs in fantasy (Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Greg Holland) average 14 K/9 and 3.58 BB/9.
Taking a quick look back at Betances’ AAA bullpen numbers last year (12.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9), it is clear that—given the small sample size and minor-league caveats—he may indeed have what it takes to be the new sandman for the Yankees. If the new slider, along with confidence to throw it for strikes, coupled with the fastball, and prospect pedigree come together, there’s definitely a chance for Betances’ closer career to begin…even as soon as 2014.
Breaking news as of 3/23/14 (just after publication)
Birthday news for Betances:
Dealin’ Dellin: 10.1 IP, 4H, 1R, 1ER, 4BB, 9K. A Killer B has earned a roster spot.
— Yankeesource (@YankeeSource) March 24, 2014
24 Mar 2014 / Joseph Pytleski /
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