With 2019 being a year of high hopes for the Yankees with a dominant bullpen, what should they expect from Dellin Betances?
This past June, I wrote an article about Dellin Betances’ whirlwind first few years as a Yankee and what fans should expect out of the 6’8″ flamethrower. Now that we’re entering the 2019 season and Betances figures to play a primary role in the bullpen, I figured this would be a good time to revisit some of what I had to say eight months ago and see if it still holds true.
The Yankees enter 2019 with what many believe is the strongest bullpen in the whole league, perhaps one of the strongest bullpens ever assembled. Despite losing David Robertson in free agency, the team brought back midseason acquisition Zack (formerly Zach) Britton and also signed former Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino to a three-year deal. These two, grouped with Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder, form a six-header bullpen monster with hurlers capable of throwing 100 m.p.h. as well as other devastating pitches like Ottavino’s biting slider and Britton’s hard sinker.
With other arms like Tommy Kahnle, Stephen Tarpley and Jonathan Loaisiga having shown flashes of talent in the past, this behemoth of a bullpen has the possibility to get even stronger as the season progresses.
Other than Chapman serving as the primary closer, the team hasn’t had true set roles for most of their relievers over the past few seasons. With that being said, Betances figures to serve as a setup man and pitch mostly in the 8th inning or potentially in the seventh. One of my main points in the June article was that Betances has shown that he isn’t effective as a closer and that manager Aaron Boone should keep him in his role as a setup man instead of tinkering with him in the ninth inning. When looking at his career stats, this is definitely still true as we enter 2019.
When pitching in the seventh inning, Betances has a career 1.78 ERA with 118 strikeouts and only three home runs in 97 appearances. He has 219 career eighth-inning appearances, by far his most in an inning. In those 219 appearances, he has pitched to a 2.18 ERA while also punching out a whopping 322 batters, which translates to a ridiculous 14.91 K/9 ratio.
However, when he sees the mound during the ninth inning, his numbers take a turn for the worse, as he has pitched to a 3.69 ERA and given up eight home runs in his 97 appearances. For a reliever who has pitched to a career 2.36 ERA, it’s clear that the 9th inning just isn’t Betances’ forte and that Boone should continue to keep letting Betances do what he’s best at: preventing damage in the 7th or 8th innings so that Chapman can get the job done in the 9th.
Betances’ worst stretch of his career was the second half of the 2017 season. After pitching like his usual effective self in April and May, his June and July ERA’s were an ugly 4.26 and 4.50, respectively. After pitching effectively in August with a 1.50 ERA and allowing only six walks in 12 appearances, he finished off the regular season with an abhorrent 5.59 ERA across 9.2 innings in September and October.
The team’s manager at the time, Joe Girardi, rarely used Betances in the playoffs, pitching him occasionally in blowout games or extra-inning games when the bullpen was already taxed. There were even rumblings that the team could have potentially left him off the World Series roster had they advanced past the Astros in the ALCS.
With his bitter end of the season leaving a bad taste in fans’ mouths, Betances’ role on the 2018 team was unclear coming into the season. Some even flirted with the idea of trading him, suggesting that a change of scenery could be ideal.
He silenced his critics with a more than stellar season, as he struck out 115 batters in 66 games and recorded a 2.70 ERA. He also improved greatly from 2017’s control issues, as his 3.5 BB/9 in 2018 was just over half of 2017’s abysmal 6.6 BB/9 ratio. One cause of concern was that he allowed a career-worst seven home runs, though, for a reliever who basically only throws fastballs, a decent amount of home runs shouldn’t be very unexpected.
Even with the team reinforcing their bullpen by bringing back Britton, a former league-best closer, as well as one of 2018’s breakout relievers in Ottavino, Betances should get more than his fair share of innings at the setup man, especially after solidifying himself as a superb reliever despite skepticism coming into 2018.
Also worth noting is that Betances will is due to hit the free agent market following this season, so the idea of a fat paycheck should provide an extra incentive for him to put together another elite season. One of the main criticisms of Boone last season was that he didn’t know how to handle the bullpen, and his failed experiments with Betances in the 9th inning were certainly a part of that.
With a year of experience under his belt, Boone should know now not to fool around with trying Betances in the closer role and to let him stick to what he’s proven he can do at an All-Star level. Baseball seasons are a tumultuous 162-game ride full of breakout players, injuries, hot streaks, and slumps. Betances, like all the other players on the team, will have his ups and his downs. We’ll see him look unhittable at times, and we’ll probably see a few appearances where he can’t find the strike zone.
As the season approaches, the team should put all their faith in him and hope that they get the pitcher they’re used to without his 2017 form resurfacing.