Yankees fans understandably aren’t happy with closer Dellin Betances. He is usually a fan favorite, a young and dynamic reliever whose value is derived from his ability to save the game in any late inning. With Betances blowing both the final game against the Dodgers at home with a sloppy play at home, and an easily winnable game against Boston on the road, the scrutiny is somewhat justified.
There’s obviously the stigma associated with closing instead of just relieving, which modern sabermetrics has largely debunked. Nonetheless, the fan anger is still interesting. Betances is a diminishing asset, and fans, rightfully so, worry that he can’t be effective forever.
That doesn’t mean his movement to closer had anything to do with his recent struggles. Instead, these troubles are usual, something we’ve seen from Betances since he became a big league regular. For a pitcher used in almost one of every two games, this is to be expected.
In the first half of the year, Betances is otherworldly. In the second half he is still excellent, but there is a nontrivial decline in performance.
It’s clear that this is a pattern in Betances’ career, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see him struggle like this down the stretch. He has thrown the most relief innings of any pitcher in baseball since 2014, and he’s nearly 20 innings above the pitcher behind him on that list, Jeurys Familia.
To top it all off, Betances has also been overworked lately. This wasn’t supposed to happen. With Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman out the door, the Yankees were supposed to fold in early August, and instead they surged. That put Joe Girardi in the precarious position of having to compete, but without the same relief depth that he had a couple of months prior. This has forced Girardi to work Betances in consecutive games more often. He’s used him on two consecutive days six times in the second half, and on three consecutive days three times, twice in the past two weeks.
Combine those three things—notable second-half declines, a ton of innings under your belt, and quite a few outings in a row—and this is the result. Do people have the right to be upset? Of course. The Yankees are in a tight Wild Card and division race, and every loss counts; they had a chance to take two games from the Dodgers and Red Sox, and dropped both in brutal fashion. The ultimate lesson, though, is that Betances is in a really bad spot.
There’s no way we see first-half Betances unless he really dials it up, and the games don’t get easier. I’m not entirely worried that he won’t rebound—there’s no way every game is as bad as these past couple—but these times should just be a reminder to the front office that this team can’t go into 2017 without more relief depth. Dellin Betances is a valuable long-term asset to the franchise, and he needs arms around him to give him time off. Without that, we’ll be seeing more games like the one at Fenway in the future.