Andrew Brackman. Manny Bañuelos. Dellin Betances.
For Yankees fans of a certain vintage, those three, dubbed “The Killer B’s,” were going to be a trio of homegrown pinstriped aces. Sadly, it never turned out that way. Heck, it never got within a thousand miles of turning out that way.
As the calendar crept toward Opening Day 2014, Brackman was long gone from the Yankees system, after throwing 2.1 innings in 2011. Meanwhile, “ManBan” was still in the organization, but had missed all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and his prospect shine subsequently lost a lot of luster.
That left Betances. The towering right-hander had debuted with New York, but certainly had not done anything to suggest he had a promising future. The former consensus top-100 prospect (Baseball America had him as high as No. 43 and Baseball Prospectus as high as No. 32, both in 2011) had allowed eight runs in 7.2 innings that straddled the 2011 and 2013 seasons and often struggled to find the plate.
In 2014, everything changed. Betances had moved to the Triple-A bullpen during the 2013 season and slowly began to find his groove, even if the results weren’t there in his September MLB cameo. He made the team in spring training 2014 and quickly set about showing manager Joe Girardi that he could be a new, not-so-secret weapon. That year, “Dealin’ Dellin” put together a performance that was as scintillating as it was unexpected.
2014 Statistics: 70 G, 90 IP, 1.40 ERA, 274 ERA+, 135 K, .442 opponent OPS, 3.7 bWAR
That stat line is outrageous. Betances was absolutely on another level. He basically turned MLB hitters—the best in the world at what they do—into John Smoltz at the plate for an entire season. The Hall of Fame hurler retired with a career .159 BA and a .433 OPS. Opponents hit .149 against Dellin in his breakout campaign, with a .442 OPS.
Betances looked good to start the season, though the free pass bugaboo was an issue in an early appearance against Toronto. But in consecutive appearances against Baltimore and Boston, he surrendered one hit total, walked none, and struck out six, all in 2.1 innings. There was something there.
Starting on April 17th, Betances put his full faculties on display as a multi-inning weapon. Seven of his next eight appearances were multi-inning affairs, with him tossing as many as two full innings at a time. And he recorded multiple strikeouts in each appearance, putting the baseball world on notice that merely making contact against him was no easy task.
Girardi gave Betances a bit of a break on May 10th, only sending him out to record two outs. The next night, however, he threw two scoreless innings, earning himself three days to breathe before Girardi deployed him in the bottom of the fifth to escape a jam against the Mets. Vicious breaking balls, one after the other, left devastation in his wake. If Betances hadn’t already opened anyone’s eyes before, after that tour de force, there was no excuse.
Beginning that night against the Mets, Betances struck out 18 opponents over his next 10.1 innings. Not a single batter made his way via the walk, and one lonely run crossed the dish. After two scoreless frames on June 1st that left five Twins fecklessly flailing against him, Betances’ ERA was down to 1.38. For the rest of the season, it never rose above 1.69.
From July onward, Girardi changed how he used Betances, specifically in the context of when he used the towering righty fireballer. Before, Betances had entered numerous games in the fifth or sixth innings, as the situation dictated. After June 29th though, he became a late-inning weapon, entering in the seventh stanza or later in every appearance except one. Notably, Girardi continued to trust him to pitch beyond an inning at a time. Betances pitched at least two innings on several occasions, as he had when entering games earlier.
The baseball world took notice. Betances’ first half brilliance earned him a spot on the American League roster for the Midsummer Classic, the first of his four consecutive All-Star Game selections.
Betances was magnificent down the stretch. On August 5th, he overpowered Miguel Cabrera, the reigning two-time American League MVP. After falling behind Miggy, Dellin made him look awful with a 2-0 breaking ball. A 99-mph heater evened the count at 2-2, and Betances put Cabrera away, and kept the game tied, with a fastball that touched 100 on the gun. Cabrera looked like he didn’t stand a chance.
Betances allowed a single run thrice once the dog days of August arrived, and never more than one. Three runs allowed in 26.2 innings – a 1.02 ERA down the stretch, with 40 strikeouts and four walks. The Yankees finished the season 84-78 and missed the playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine what more he could have done to get them there.
2014 Betances was a revelation. His brilliant campaign was enough for him to finish third in Rookie of the Year voting, though Chicago’s José Abreu ran away with all 30 first-place votes. The following season was more of the same, as Betances pitched to a 3.9 bWAR over 84 innings that spanned 74 appearances as the Yankees returned to postseason play.
From 2015 onward, Betances was never quite the multi-inning destroyer of worlds that he was in 2014, but all told, his 2014-18 tenure was all the Yankees could have hoped for — especially considering the dire state of his career prior to the onset of the 2014 campaign.
One final addendum: Betances compiled a combined 7.6 bWAR in 2014 and 2015. 7.6 bWAR in 174 innings, with 266 strikeouts. Ungodly numbers. For comparison, Mariano Rivera had three distinct two year stretches that topped Betances, at least by bWAR. But in a way, that’s all that needs said to describe Dellin’s dominance at his peak (though Esteban provided plenty of other excellent words upon his retirement). When you can be mentioned in the same breath as the GOAT, even for a short time, that says something.