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Despite minor setbacks, Dellin Betances is better than ever

In his third full season in the Yankees bullpen, Dellin Betances has run into some trouble. But there is reason to believe that he is actually better than ever before.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

For pitchers on the 2016 Yankees, head-scratching results have been a part of the deal. Peripheral stats love the Yankees, as they lead the American League in K%-BB%, and are second in FIP and WHIP. Still, they have the fifth-worst ERA in the AL, largely due to their problem with home runs. Two-time All-Star Dellin Betances has not been exempt from this phenomenon. Despite a 1.30 FIP, he has an uncharacteristic 3.24 ERA.

But despite his inflated ERA, there is reason to believe that Dealin' Dellin is actually better than ever. So far, he has an incredible 16.7 K/9, to go with a career-low walk rate. The only sign of regression has come from opposing hitters' exit velocity, which has spiked from an average of 84.8 mph to 87.8 mph, which is still very low.

If someone wanted to force a reason to worry about Betances, he or she would probably point to his four-seam fastball. In 2014, his heater was considered to be as much of a weapon as his deadly knuckle curve. He famously dialed it up to 100 mph against Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, striking out the two-time MVP with a fastball down and away (skip to about 1:40 for the pitch):

Despite his elite velocity, hitters have feasted on Betances' fastball in 2016, to the tune of a 1.099 opposing OPS. Needless to say, things like a .571 BABIP against his fastball will not hold up over a larger sample size, but a further look into how hitters have fared against Betances can show just how helpless they are if he is on his game.

For the last couple of years, a hitter's only hope against Betances has been the occasional hanging knuckle curve in the middle of the strike zone. Looking at his exit velocity distribution since 2015, it is easy to see why:

Making contact against Betances is hard enough. Last year, hitters had a contact rate of just 63% against him, compared to the league average of 78.8%. However, when he spots his pitches on the outside corner against righties, or in on the hands of lefties, hitters are simply out of luck.

To make matters worse, Betances has been working on a pitch specifically designed for that location. According to Fangraphs' Pitch F/X algorithm, Betances has thrown a cut fastball since he first broke into the big leagues in 2011. This year, he has done what flamethrowers like Garrett Richards and Kenley Jansen never did, hitting 100 mph with his cutter. According to Baseball Savant, only six cutters have been clocked at 100 mph or more since 2008, with Betances having thrown five of them.

Due to a few hard luck hits and misplaced pitches turned home runs, Betances has faltered a bit in his third full season, but between his increased strikeout rate and his sound barrier-shattering cutter, Dellin Betances might actually be better than ever. Furthermore, the return of Aroldis Chapman has allowed Joe Girardi to bring Dellin's workload down to normal levels to avoid overworking him. Whether it is this year or in the distant future, Dellin Betances will certainly be an integral part of the Yankees' bullpen.

Data is courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant and is current as of June 19.