Dellin Betances
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Dellin Betances has been a shutdown reliever for the New York Yankees since 2014, but his role could change once he returns from the IL.  

The New York Yankees have been without one of the best weapons in their bullpen all season long. Dellin Betances has been on the injured list with multiple arm injuries since the beginning of the season. The four-time All-Star is reportedly on track for a mid-September return.

While the Yankees have had one of the best bullpens in the AL this season, they definitely need Betances to be back to full health for this October. One way for the Yankees to ensure that Betances won’t reinjure himself again would be to change his role in their bullpen.

Since he arrived in 2013, Betances has primarily been utilized during the eighth inning. The 31-year-old currently owns a 2.18 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, 14.9 SO/9 and a .160 OPP AVG through his 219 career appearances in the eighth inning.

Coming in from the bullpen during the eighth inning is usually a high-leverage situation. Normally, it wouldn’t be long before Betances would be placed back into high-leverage situations. But the Yankees should attempt to limit the number of high-stress situations Betances encounters during September to best preserve his health.

One of the ways for the Yankees to monitor the number of high-leverage situations Betances faces would be to use him solely during the seventh inning. Pitching during the seventh instead of the eighth would allow Betances to ease himself back into his normal routine. That role would also help the Yankees better contain the number of pitches Betances would throw in each of his outings as well.

Ideally, once Betances is first activated from the IL, the Yankees will likely want to pitch him once every three games. They’ll likely also want to keep his pitch count down to just ten to 15 pitches a game. The Yankees also have a lot more pitchers they could go to during the seventh inning opposed to the eighth if Betances’s pitch count rises too high.

Tommy Kahnle has been the Yankees’ best reliever during the seventh inning this season. The 30-year-old is pitching with a 1.59 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 12.2 SO/9 and .135 OPP AVG through 28.1 innings in the seventh inning this season. Along with Kahnle, the Yankees have also heavily relied on Adam Ottavino during the seventh inning this season.

Ottavino has pitched 20.2 innings during the seventh inning and has recorded a 1.74 ERA, 4.5 BB/9, 13.3 SO/9 and a .194 OPP AVG this season. The Yankees also have the option to utilize Luis Cessa and Chad Green during the seventh inning as well. If the Yankees were to immediately use Betances during the eighth inning once he returns, they would really only have just one reliable option to use if he got into trouble.

The eighth inning has been an area where the Yankees’ bullpen has struggled at times this season, which is another one of the reasons why they desperately need Betances back and healthy. Ottavino has pitched much more effectively in the seventh inning than the eighth inning this season. As he owns a 3.60 ERA, 7.2 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9 and .228 OPP AVG through 15 innings in the eighth inning this season.

Zack Britton has been the only reliever who the Yankees have been able to completely depend on during the eighth inning this season. The two-time All-Star currently owns a 2.18 ERA, 5.0 BB/9, 7.5 SO/9 and .196 OPP AVG through 41.1 innings during the eighth inning.

Once Betances records somewhere around ten innings of work during the seventh inning, then he could theoretically return to his regular role in the eighth inning during the postseason. Obviously, the Yankees likely won’t need Betances to pitch during the ninth inning. But they could certainly platoon between Britton and Betances during high-leverage situations in the playoffs.

If Betances regains his All-Star form, then he could also be a candidate to take over as the closer for next season if Aroldis Chapman opts-out of his current contract. There was some speculation earlier this season that Chapman had already made up his mind about exercising his opt-out clause at the conclusion of this season.

Those reports were later denied by Chapman, so we’ll all have to wait and see if that becomes a reality this offseason. Betances has pitched effectively during the ninth inning in his career. Through 83 innings in the ninth inning, Betances owns a 3.69 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, 15.0 SO/9 and a .188 OPP AVG in his career.

Betances will become a free agent at the end of this season. The Yankees may very well have to choose between Chapman and Betances this offseason. Whoever they choose will likely be the closer for the foreseeable future. Betances is coming off an injury-riddled season where he made just over $7 million.

If Chapman opts out, then he’ll be looking to receive a contract that would pay him more than the $30 million he’s guaranteed over the next two seasons in his current contract. Betances’s extension will very likely come significantly cheaper than an extension for Chapman would.

So, a successful performance from Betances through the rest of this season could determine a lot for the Yankees’ bullpen heading into next season. Although, the first priority for the Yankees will be to make sure Betances is healthy before they add any more to his workload.