The Yankees’ bullpen was widely considered to be the best in the business heading into the 2018 season, but Dellin Betances was considered a bit of a wild card. Despite earning a fourth-straight All-Star selection in 2017, Betances posted a 5.59 ERA in the final month of the regular season. His struggles carried over into the postseason, where he quickly became a non-factor as control issues continued to plague him. Nobody knew what to expect when Betances took the mound in 2018.
Those concerns reached a boiling point heading into May, but suddenly, they vanished. Betances turned a corner and provided the Yankees with his most productive season since 2015, and became one of Aaron Boone’s most trusted arms in a bullpen full of dangerous weapons.
2018 Statistics: 66.2 innings, 2.70 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, 2.47 FIP, 115 strikeouts, 26 walks, 15.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 162 ERA+, 1.7 WAR
2019 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible, free agent in 2020
Even with Betances’ slow start that left some questioning if Betances would ever be the same again, the big righty flipped a switch and dominated the rest of the way. He ended the season with his highest WAR since that unbelievable 2015 season. Betances allowed a run in two innings of work on May 23rd against the Blue Jays (leaving his ERA at 4.71), and responded with an insane stretch that nobody expected, allowing just two runs and 12 hits over his next 33.2 innings, while striking out 58 batters. The first 17.2 innings of that stretch were of the shutout variety, as Betances looked completely unhittable.
The big right-hander put a stamp on his drastic turnaround by making his mark on the record books as well. On May 29th, Betances struck out a pair of Astros in a scoreless inning, and would record at least one strikeout in his next 44 appearances, setting an American League record and finishing just one appearance shy of the major league record set by Corey Knebel. The wild stretch lasted 120 days, and even when the streak ended, it was during a perfect frame where Betances threw just 10 pitches. His streak ended because he made things TOO easy on himself.
He might have fallen short of that major league record, but Betances set a different one. This year he became the first reliever in MLB history to strike out at least 100 batters in four-straight seasons, as he has been one of the most consistent bullpen arms in the major leagues since 2014.
Part of what made Betances so valuable this season was his ability to raise his efficiency when the stakes increased. When the bases were empty this season, opponents posted a .338 slugging percentage against Betances. With runners on base, that dropped to .245. With runners in scoring position, it dropped again to .213.
His ability to come through in the big moment was never more prominent than when the Yanks were clinging to a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning of the Wild Card Game, after back-to-back singles by the A’s ended Luis Severino’s night and endangered the Bombers’ narrow lead. Many clamored for David Robertson, who had navigated through plenty of jams in his postseason career. Still, Aaron Boone went to Betances, and three strikeouts and two scoreless innings later, it proved to be a great move.
Betances checked all the desirable boxes in 2018. He was dominant, clutch, and filled in seamlessly to take over for Tommy Kahnle, who was a disaster this year after being a crucial cog in the bullpen down the stretch in 2017. The Yankees needed someone to step up, and Betances answered the call by returning to his All-Star form.