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How Dellin Betances became indispensable in the Yankees bullpen

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Betances has turned a corner, largely because of his ability to remain effective with runners on base.

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Heading into the 2018 season, a major question for first year manager Aaron Boone was the condition of Dellin Betances, who looked completely lost on the mound at the end of last year. Boone insisted that Betances would be a valuable member of one of the game’s most highly vaunted bullpens. The new manager continued to hold that belief through April, when Betances allowed three home runs in the season’s first month, adding up to an unsightly ERA of 4.91.

Two months later, Boone’s faith is being rewarded in fantastic fashion, as Betances has returned to the form that earned him four All-Star appearances. Actually, Betances may be pitching even better than his early years in the majors. He has allowed just one earned run in his last 16 innings of work, while striking out 28 batters in that span. His ERA has dropped almost two full runs since his sluggish start; he has arguably been the best reliever in a bullpen full of quality arms. Betances’ turnaround was sudden and drastic, and could be traced back to one major improvement that has turned him back into an All-Star.

Over the past few seasons, even when Betances was on his game, Yankees fans would feel a spike in heart rate when the righty would allow a baserunner. Given Betances’ inability to hold runners on, a baserunner usually spelled doom. There would be the inevitable throwing error from the mound, an easy stolen base, or an immediately diminished version of Betances, one so concerned with the runners on the basepaths that his outcomes against the hitters at the plate would suffer. It has always been his Achilles Heel, at least up until the past month and a half.

So far in 2018, even with his shaky start, opposing hitters are slugging just .205 against Betances with men on base, over 100 points less than when the bags are empty. He has faced 44 batters this season with a runner on, striking out 21 of them. His overall K/9 this year is an impressive 16.31, a mark that holds strong when runners reach base.

When runners are in scoring position and the intensity turns up even more, Betances’ K/9 rises to 19.80. Where Betances crumbled in 2017, he has stood taller in 2018, especially in terms of his control. With runners on base in 2017, he walked 7.57 batters per nine innings. This year, that number currently sits at 3.09, and his WHIP in similar situations is a minuscule 0.94. Talk about night and day.

What used to cripple Betances has suddenly begun to make him better on the mound. The driving force behind it is unclear, but it is doubtful that Boone and the Yankees care where it came from. They just want it to remain the status quo for their big righty who has re-established himself as one of the most valuable arms in the Yankees’ impressive bullpen.