Dellin Betances’ control issues are enough that he should never pitch in the ninth inning for the New York Yankees.
New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances is like a box of chocolates. When he’s on the mound, you never know what you’re going to get!
The tall righty has often found himself thrust into the closer’s role since Aroldis Chapman’s knee landed him on the disabled list, and gb the results have been mixed.
Issues Despite Dominance
Don’t get me wrong. Despite his well-documented control issues, Dellin Betances has not had a bad season. He has a 2.45 ERA in 58 games and has 104 strikeouts in 58.2 innings, plus a WHIP of 0.97. Pitching against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 1, he became the first relief pitcher in baseball history to have five consecutive seasons of 100 strikeouts or more.
But strikeouts matter a lot less than overall results, especially this late in the season. Since Chapman’s injury was re-aggravated against the Miami Marlins on August 21, Betances has posted a 3.80 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Granted, the ERA can be traced to his blown save against Detroit on August 30, when he gave up three runs and blew a 7-5 lead, and the overall sample size since Chapman’s injury is very small.
Just the same, Betances’ problems with finding the strike zone are well known. He posted a 5.59 ERA in September last season and allowed 6.64 BB/9. His control was so bad throughout the year that in the postseason, he could barely handle simple, low-pressure situations.
This brings the conversation to Saturday night’s 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners. Betances entered the ninth inning and had Yankee fans holding their breath from start to finish. After allowing a leadoff double to Mitch Haniger, the New York native struck out Jean Segura before hitting Robinson Cano and walking Nelson Cruz before striking out Denard Span and Kyle Seager to end the game. He required 26 pitches, 17 of which were strikes. That’s not a terrible ratio, but Betances’ reputation for being wild precedes himself.
Closer or Not?
Dellin Betances wants to be a closer. There’s no question about that. He has the strikeout prowess required for the role, as shown by his 15.95 K/9. Betances also has excellent velocity, with a fastball that often touches 100 MPH.
Except, because of his control, Yankees management has been hesitant to trust Betances as closer and it showed in his arbitration hearing ahead of the 2017 season. He famously asked for $5 million, received $3 million, and team president Randy Levine let it be known how he felt about such a request:
“Elite closers get X-amount. That’s the top. Then there’s a pyramid and it goes down,” Levine said. “It’s based principally on the ninth inning and saves. Dellin has been great but he doesn’t have the statistics in the ninth inning or the saves. He just doesn’t have it. At the end of the day, it was obvious that he was not getting $5 million unless it was a fluke.”
Betances, in response, implied after the fact that Levine’s comments could cause him to leave once he hits free agency.
"You look at it a little differently now. I think (free agency) will be a little easier when the time comes." – Dellin Betances
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
Now, consider that for Betances’ 35 career saves, he has 18 blown opportunities. Granted, he has done a great job of cutting down his walks this season, as his BB/9 has dipped to 3.38. Still, that number inspires little confidence in his closing abilities, especially with his career BB/9 at 4.01.
Look at it this way. If Mariano Rivera is the bar for New York Yankees closers, Betances is nowhere near clearing it. Rivera’s BB/9 for his entire career was 2.01. Save for his rookie year in 1995, when he posted a mark of 4.03, he never had BB/9 above 2.97 the rest of the way.
It’s also worth noting Betances only has a career groundball rate of 47.9 percent. That’s not at all bad, but the story of his career has been the same the past few years. It seems he’s either going to strike out everyone under the sun, lose the strike zone and issue a lot of walks, or give up a big hit and cost his team the game. Most of the time, it seems to be some combination of the two.
It’s too late in the season and there’s too much on the line to take such risks, and manager Aaron Boone has to do something about it.
Closers On Hand
The crazy part is that unlike the last few years, Betances isn’t the Yankees’ one best option in save situations when the regular closer is out. Zach Britton, prior to his trade from the Baltimore Orioles, was a closer for three years and owns a career groundball rate of 65.3 percent. His 4.64 BB/9 is a bit high, yes, but keep in mind he’s also coming back from a torn Achilles tendon suffered during the offseason.
New York also has David Robertson among its elite relief corps. He came up through the team’s farm system before leaving for the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in 2015 and returned to the Bronx last year in the Todd Frazier trade. Though he’s been used primarily as a setup man, let’s not forget Robertson has 137 career saves under his belt. 39 of them came as the Yankees’ closer in 2014.
Yes, Robertson’s 3.19 BB/9 this year and 3.55 for his career are a concern. However, unlike Betances and Britton, he actually has a year of experience being a Yankees closer. He has proven he can handle the pressure of playing in Yankee Stadium, in front of tens of thousands of fans who demand winning results.
Dellin Betances has not earned that status yet. With the Yankees all but certainly postseason-bound, it is best that the team not keep giving him opportunities in hopes he will suddenly become a great closer.
Dellin Betances is a dominant reliever. Nobody here is disputing that. When both his fastball and biting curveball are on point, he is borderline unstoppable. As the primary setup man this year and for his career, he has been at his absolute best. For context, he has a 2.05 career ERA in the eighth inning compared to 3.73 in the ninth.
Which is why until Chapman is ready to return, either Robertson or Britton should handle closing duties. The numbers imply Betances has problems handling the pressure of closing. The Yankees cannot risk waiting for a sudden change this late in the year.
Dellin Betances is a fine pitcher. He just isn’t a closer.