Dellin Betances was once dismissed as a closer by the president of the New York Yankees, but is now proving to be fully capable of the role.
In the wake of Betances’ understandable arbitration loss in mid-February, Levine took to the media to explain how he didn’t receive a considerable increase in pay because he’s not a closer. The most memorable line was: “It’s like me saying, I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut. I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer.”
I’m sure Mr. Levine is happy with Betances’ performance on the mound with closer Aroldis Chapman on the shelf due to shoulder trouble, but he might not be ready for his impending trip to the moon or wherever the three-time All-Star’s astronomical play is about to take him.
Since moving from the eighth inning to the ninth inning on May 14 — when New York placed Chapman on the 10-day disabled list with left rotator cuff inflammation — Betances is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities with 10 strikeouts in 5.1 innings of work. Opposing batters (17) are slashing a mere .059/.059/.059 thanks to only one hit off the right-hander.
His latest save came on Saturday against the Oakland Athletics, a five-out save that included two strikeouts in the eighth with two runners in scoring position and a perfect ninth inning. It marked his third career save of 1.2 innings or more for Betances, who also accomplished the feat on June 17, 2015, against the Miami Marlins and against the Cleveland Indians on July 7, 2014.
Among qualified relievers, Betances’ 0.52 ERA ranks third among qualified relievers while his strikeout rate (16.62) trails only Tommy Kahnle of the Chicago White Sox. The best part about this performance coming after Levine’s comments, however, has to be that entering this season, there have been very few more valuable players on the roster.
From 2014-16, Betances’ WAR of 8.5 ranked third to only Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka among Yankees’ pitchers, per FanGraphs. His 9.04 win probability added led all pitchers in that same time frame.
Furthermore, no relief pitcher in major league baseball has more strikeouts than Betances (424) since he became a reliever three years ago. The second-most belongs to former teammate Andrew Miller, who has fanned 359 batters since the start of the 2014 season.
This, joined by his stellar showcase since stepping in as closer, should provide the last bit of proof that not only were Levine’s comments a little “half-baked” — another wonderful comment from the Yankees’ president — but that Betances has firmly established himself as one of the better relievers in the game. The inning in which he dazzles won’t, and never will, misrepresent his dominance.