2016 Statistics: 73 G, 73 IP, 3-6, 3.08 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 1.12 WHIP, 15.53 K/9, 3.45 BB/9
2017 Roster Status: Arbitration eligible, under control through 2019
This season was a tale of two Dellins. On one hand, we have the Dellin we all know and love—he of the 2.12 ERA through August 31st. This, by all accounts, is normal Dellin. Then, there’s the Dellin we all fear. The one who tires down the stretch, loses complete control of his fastball, and frequently finds himself down 3-0 in the count. This, alas, is September Dellin. September Dellin is terrifying, and September Dellin delivered us the treat of ten runs in eight innings, two losses, a blown save, and the reminder to never skip PFPs.
Although nobody was shocked that Betances had a drop off from the first five months to the last one—he also struggled some down the stretch last season—the extent of his struggles were certainly unexpected. After a perfect ninth inning on September 5th, in which he struck out two batters, Betances went on a downward spiral unlike anything seen before by him. From September 6th to September 26th, the 28-year-old had a 15.00 ERA and just two of his eight outings were scoreless.
The most worrisome part of Dellin’s slump was that the majority of the damage he suffered was self-inflicted. He allowed just one home run in those six innings, instead watching many of the runs cross the plate because of wildness or defensive struggles. On September 26th, one of his two runs was unearned, but the latter came after his own error. On the 14th, both runs were unearned, but, yet again, the crushing loss came after an error from Betances.
In addition, Betances walked eight over the six innings (compared to nine strikeouts), and clearly had little control over where his pitches were going. This wasn’t simply the Yankees’ closer struggling under the pressure or coming down with a small case of wildness, though. This was either fatigue, injury, or a combination of the two. The best guess would be to say he was tired after a taxing season, though Betances strangely didn’t lose velocity in the same way he did at the end of 2015, though he did have the same lack of control. In all likelihood, though, we can attribute September to Betances being tired, and avoid getting too concerned.
Despite a brutal end to the season, Betances is still getting an A- grade for the season. While some may be quick to disagree because of his (comparatively) high ERA of 3.08, after two straight seasons with a mark of 1.50 or lower, Dellin looked great. He recorded a career-high 15.53 K/9, which is the 7th highest ever, while also dropping his BB/9 from an inflated 4.29 in 2015 to 3.45 this season. To make it better, the righty brought his groundball rate up by 6%...a very big deal in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium. The higher ERA is dually a result of his rough September (Betances had a 2.12 ERA before the meltdown) and some bad luck, as his .353 BABIP indicates.
Ignoring ERA, Betances had the best season of his career. Of course, we can’t just ignore his run prevention abilities, so 2016 won’t be recognized as a career year. Still, for the majority of the season, he pitched better than ever.
While Betances did see his fastball get hit harder this season, it’s hardly anything to worry about. Where he placed the four-seamer in the strike zone barely changed, and the pitch actually gained barely a mile per hour from last season (up to a gaudy 98.42 mph average). He did use it less throughout the season, though, instead opting to throw the nasty knuckle-curve more than half the time. This adjustment explains the increase in strikeouts and groundballs, and by all accounts was a wise choice.
If there’s one thing Betances can improve upon, besides luck, it’s his ability to field his position. This season, the 6’8” pitcher had the highest steals per IP rate in baseball (min. 25 innings), which is noteworthy since steals are more often a pitcher’s fault than the catcher’s. His slow delivery and poor pickoff move make steals easy to come by, even when a catcher like Gary Sanchez is behind the plate. Betances’ three errors were also tied for the second most among relievers.
Still, there are bigger problems to have than a dominant reliever who struggles to control the run game. Betances’ fielding problem rarely becomes an issue because he’s remarkably good at limiting contact and baserunners, and the Yankees are extremely fortunate to have him patrolling the late innings.
There will probably be plenty of buzz surrounding Betances going into next season, and much of it will be for reasons not directly related to the former top prospect. The free agent market is thin, but it does feature top closers in Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen (the first two won’t cost a draft pick). Should the Yankees sign one of the three, which would be far from surprising, Betances would once again be relegated to set up duties.
If this is the case, it will be interesting to see how Joe Girardi deploys Betances. He’s ideally suited for pitching in high leverage moments, potentially in multi-inning stints, but this may be easier said than done given Betances’ previously steep workloads. Girardi may be inclined to limit how much Dellin throws each time out, which would keep him to just four or five outs at the most.
Either way, Betances figures to play a key role in the Yankees’ bullpen next season. Barring an injury, there’s no reason to think Dellin won’t be as dominant as usual (I’m not as worried about his September as some). Remember not to fret too much about decreased velocity in spring training (yes, that will probably happen), and enjoy Betances’ dominance next season.