The Yankees sure love to poach ex-Colorado Rockies. From hits (DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle) to misses (Troy Tulowitzki, Rex Brothers) to veteran depth (Chris Iannetta), if you played for the Rockies in the 2010s, there’s a good chance you’ll find your way on to the Yankees.
This brings us to Chad Bettis, the latest former Rockie to join the club on a minor-league deal. Is he just pitching depth in case of emergency, or is there something more to the Yankees’ interest in Bettis?
First off, Bettis makes for the feel-good story of the spring. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer after his best year in the Majors in 2016, and missed most of the next season as a result. However, in his first game back, Bettis pitched seven scoreless innings. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Bettis hasn’t been quite as good since then, though. He was demoted to the bullpen in 2018 and stayed there for most of 2019 before undergoing bilateral hip surgery. After being outrighted to Triple-A, Bettis elected free agency and earned a late contract with the Yankees. He would make a $1.5 million base salary at the big-league level.
The right-hander’s profile doesn’t seem to fit what the Yankees’ like in a pitcher. A pitch-to-contact sort of guy, Bettis doesn’t strike out many (career 6.46 K/9) and walks more than you’d like (career 3.15 BB/9). That manifests itself into an unsightly 1.47 career WHIP.
So, Bettis isn’t a strikeout pitcher. Instead, his potential value comes in the kind of contact he induces. He doesn’t give up an abnormal amount of home runs despite having pitched in Coors Field for his whole career (career 1.18 HR/9), and that’s due to his ability to get groundballs. Bettis had an absurd 60.8 percent ground ball rate last year, which is basically the only way to succeed in environments like Coors Field and Yankee Stadium. If Bettis can keep inducing grounders, he might be able to help the Yankees in a long relief role.
Since moving to the bullpen, Bettis has mainly emphasized his changeup. He throws it almost as often as his fastball, and it’s his best out pitch for both righties and lefties. He’ll mix in a cutter and curveball on occasion, but Bettis mostly rides-and-dies with his fastball and changeup, looking to fool hitters by mixing speeds. The changeup is particularly effective at getting those groundballs, with its -3 average launch angle and its 32.3 inches of vertical drop, which is nine percent better than average. When it’s on, Bettis’s changeup can be a real buzzsaw. When it’s off, it’s hanging in the zone, waiting to be hit.
There’s not much to lose for the Yankees in signing Bettis to a minor-league, non-guaranteed contract. If he has a good spring, he can compete for a role in the back of the bullpen, an area rife with openings. If not, he can either be stashed for minor-league depth or let go for very little cost. Bettis has been through a lot to earn this chance with the Yankees in his age-31 season. Here’s to hoping it’ll work out.