I remember seeing a quote a while back by a former baseball player, and while I can’t recall who exactly he was and thus can’t give the necessary credit, he said that one of the toughest things to admit is that the players in today’s game may be as good as they’ve ever been.
This quote can and is valid for any period. I often like to say that is easy to overlook the present and be nostalgic to a fault when evaluating ballplayers from different eras. Because of that, I always like to nominate at least a player or two from the current generation in lists such as the Complementary Greats squad and the All-Supernova team. This phenomenon is different with every sport, some do a poor job of recognizing and acknowledging the past, but not baseball. That’s not to say it doesn’t have specific aspects that need work, but in general, the greats of the past receive the proper recognition.
For the lefty reliever in the All-Supernova squad, we went way back with one of the first actual closers in the history of the Yankees in Joe Page. The shutdown right-hander who’ll join Page in the pen is someone from our time, and while his career was derailed by injuries his prime showed something unique in the history of Major League Baseball.
The third member of our pitching staff is old friend Dellin Betances.
358 Games, 2.36 ERA, 381.2 IP, 177 ERA+, 2,31 FIP, 40.1 K%, 1.04 WHIP, .170/.275/.260
Opening statement: Regardless of how great you thought Betances was, I’m willing to wager he was underrated. I can certainly say that at least for me, going back through his numbers, that it is the case.
Betances was born on March 23rd, 1988 in Washington Heights, Manhattan. His family was from the Dominican Republic, so the tall right-hander grew up with Spanish as his first language. Betances had committed to Vanderbilt University, which caused him to fall in the draft, but a signing bonus significantly above the slot value from the Yankees compelled him to sign with the organization.
Originally a starter, that’s how the 6-foot-8 righty came up through the minors, but after continuous struggles with command, the Yanks moved him to the pen, and the rest was history. Betances made his debut in 2011, but his first full season didn’t come until 2014. Right from the jump in the big league bullpen, he was exceptional:
Between 2014 and 2015 it is a fact and not an argument: Betances had the best two-year stretch to open up his career of any reliever in the history of the sport. How? There are 27 seasons ever where a reliever pitched at least 80 innings to the tune of a 200 ERA+ or better. Of the 26 pitchers to accomplish that feat, Dellin Betances was the only one to do it twice:
Betances 2014: 274 ERA+ (90 IP) / 2015: 271 ERA+ (84 IP)
*Those seasons rank sixth and seventh all-time
Betances’ prime came in a bit of a transitional period. After he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014, the Yankees missed the playoffs with a disappointing squad. The next year, he was incredible again while teaming with new closer Andrew Miller, but the Yankees were unceremoniously knocked out at home in the Wild Card Game by the Astros.
Although those two campaigns set an impossible standard, the following three seasons were very noteworthy in a vacuum, Betances pitched nearly 200 innings from 2016 through 2018, had a 2.50 ERA, and made another two All-Star appearances.
At the end of the 2018 season, Betances’ high strikeout rate helped him achieve a unique feat in the rich history of Major League Baseball — he became the first reliever ever to strike out 100 or more batters in five consecutive seasons.
Total strikeouts over five seasons: 607
Recurring issues on his right shoulder started derailing his career in 2019 and he’s yet to return to form since then. After a two-year stint on the shelf with the Mets, Betances is now a free agent and we hope to see him back and well, sooner rather than later.
The word “great” gets thrown around with way too much liberty these days, but Dellin Betances was by all accounts a great reliever. Maybe if Betances had pitched a century ago, the perception around him would be different. Regardless, he was an extraordinarily valuable setup man for Joe Girardi’s mid-2010s Yankees ballclubs.