In terms of Yankees relief pitching, the talk of this offseason revolved around Aroldis Chapman’s record-setting $86 million contract. The signing captured headlines and provided ample material for stories. It’s easy to fly under the radar after that. Dellin Betances did just that, having announced that he will pitch this spring for the Dominican Republic in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Betances made the decision to pitch for the Dominican Republic in late November, per George King:
Because the Yankees reliever was born in New York, he qualified to pitch for either the United States or the Dominican Republic squad.
“Both teams want me to play [for them], but I made a commitment to the DR,’’ Betances told The Post Wednesday. “That is where my family is from, and I want to make them proud.”
This year’s World Baseball Classic runs from March 6th - 22nd. That covers most of the Grapefruit League schedule. Should the Dominican Republic make a deep run, like their 2013 championship squad, then the Yankees won’t see much of their right-hander. While some high-end relievers require just a few tune-up appearances in March, that’s not the case for Betances. He’s a creature of habit and likes a regular spring training.
Heading into the 2015 season, he pitched only 8.1 innings during spring training. Betances, however, wasn’t ready come April. He didn’t get into a rhythm and spent his the early parts of the season wrestling with control. He walked six batters over his first three appearances in 2015.
Last year Betances pitched just 6.2 innings in the Grapefruit League, but he arrived to camp in stronger shape. “I don’t think I’ve felt like that in any spring,” he told Newsday’s Erik Boland. “Usually it takes a little bit longer for me to get it going.” Building up innings and arm strength is the key.
The question now is whether or not he will receive that opportunity in the World Baseball Classic. Fernando Rodney served as the closer for the 2013 Dominican Republic team. He logged 7.1 innings, which is right around where Betances has hovered in recent years. Should the team make the Championship Round in 2017, he could use the Classic as a spring training stand-in. If the Dominican Republic faces an early exit, however, he might need a few Grapefruit League tune-ups, which complicates matters for the Yankees.
On the other hand, there exists a concern for overworking Betances. He has a history of fading down the stretch. This became strikingly apparent last September.
As the season wore on, his strikeout rate dipped as his walk rate increased. That’s not an ideal combination. Betances might prefer a strong spring training, but the Yankees would rather have a dominant reliever in September. Overexerting himself in the World Baseball Classic might come at the expense of a Wild Card race down the stretch.
There’s also the question of injuries. They can happen anytime and anywhere. While Betances has been durable during his major league career, that wasn’t the case as a prospect. The Yankees, and all 29 other clubs, prefer to keep their talent under staff supervision. They believe that they know what’s right for a player. When an injury happens outside of the club, it always begs the question of if the injury would have occurred otherwise. Would Mark Teixeira have torn his wrist sheath during regular spring training in 2013? It’s impossible to know, but my guess is that the Yankees would have rather taken their chances with Teixeria spending the spring at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The wild card here is that Tony Pena will manage the Dominican Republic team. He knows Betances as well as anyone. He’ll have the national team in mind, but he also won’t forget about the Yankees. Pena serving as skipper is the best case scenario for a Yankee playing in the World Baseball Classic. There are a lot of questions surrounding Betances pitching in the WBC, but Yankees fans should trust Pena’s guidance.
Data courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and the World Baseball Classic.