Another year, another bullpen, and another year of Joe Girardi playing favorites. This season the Yankees went in with a bullpen a little lighter than usual. Mariano Rivera retired and no one with much relief experience replaced him. Joe Girardi is an excellent bullpen manager, but he also has people he trusts and people he doesn't trust. Logically, I suppose it makes sense. He doesn't know what they might do if given too much of a leash too soon. As a fan it's annoying to watch because I want to see the best player in the most important situations. The latest victim of the Joe Girardi trust-watch club is Dellin Betances and it's time for it to end.
The big six-foot-gigantic reliever came into spring and impressed his way onto the team, striking out more batters (11) and giving up less runs (1) than anyone currently in the bullpen not named Cabral or Robertson. He earned his spot and as a pure reliever (now), he should be given more consideration in high leverage situations over the likes of Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno. Yet it's clear that the exact opposite is happening.
Yesterday, Joe Girardi went out of his way to not use Betances when the game was on the line. In the seventh inning against the Red Sox, Matt Thornton was brought in to face the lefty David Ortiz with two on and one out. He struck him out, did his job, and that should have been the day for him. Instead, Girardi chose to keep Thornton in the game, so he could pitch to the right-handed Mike Napoli. While not exactly nuclear waste against righties, like Boone Logan and Clay Rapada have been before him, Thornton's job is to be the LOOGY and nothing more. He did his job to get Ortiz out, and though there was another lefty coming up, let someone else get the righty out. That's why we have three lefties in the pen, right?
Thornton went on to hit Napoli and give up a two-run single to Mike Carp. In the end, Girardi had to go with Betances anyway. Dellin only ended up throwing three pitches before Carp ran Boston out of the inning. The amazing thing was, though, that when the eighth inning came around, Betances wasn't back on the mound. Adam Warren was in the game and that was it for Dellin.
Game-Entering Leverage Index measures the pressure a pitcher faces when they're in the game. A 1.0 is average, over 1.0 is above-average, and under 1.0 is below-average. As you can see, Dellin Betances currently ranks second-to-last behind Nuno over the five games he has been used in. According to Baseball-Reference, he has also pitched to 14 batters under "low leverage" and only one batter designated as "medium leverage."
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It's certainly early in the season, and Joe Girardi might just be easing him into a big league job, but it has to stop. Right now, he has a higher K/9 (16.62) and lower FIP (088) than anyone else in the bullpen other than Cabral. He has also yet to give up a run and has an impressive 80% ground ball rate. Adam Warren has been surprisingly impressive and David Phelps had that good seven-out save, but how legitimate are they as high-leverage relievers? With an average fastball velocity of 95.1 mph, Betances is the high-velocity strikeout specialist on the team, good for tough situations where only a strikeout will do.
You might think Dellin is simply feasting on lesser competition in low-leverage situations, but that's actually not what's happening. He and Warren actually have the highest Runs better than Average score in the bullpen. RAA quantifies the number of runs a pitcher is over the average player and is weighted against quality of opposition.
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According to this, he looks good enough to be trusted when it's late and close. It's early. Things are going to change. This isn't how it will be forever; for all we know, Betances will end up walking the entire universe if given the opportunity. All I'm saying is that there's not reason not to throw him into the deep end. He looks like he could be a strong swimmer.