Positive early returns from Betances in the ‘pen

Yankees need to continue shaking up the roster
Injury Updates: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Pineda

It has been seven years (seven years!) since the Yankees bought local right-hander Dellin Betances away from Vanderbilt with a $1M signing bonus as their eighth round pick. He was a consensus first round talent who fell due to signability concerns, and the Bombers took advantage under the old system. It was a great get at the time.

Unfortunately, the now 25-year-old Betances has made very little improvement in those seven years. The 6-foot-8, 260-pounder still struggles to repeat his delivery because he isn’t a great athlete, and the result has been just awful strike-throwing ability. In almost 600 career minor league innings, he owns a 4.9 BB/9 and 12.4 BB%. Last season it was 6.8 BB/9 and 15.7 BB%, which is why he was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason.

During the first month of this season, there was still no improvement. Betances walked 16 batters in 24 innings across his first six starts (6.0 BB/9 and 15.0 BB), which prompted the team to move him to the bullpen full-time. Brian Cashman admitted the move had as much to do with Betances’ lack of minor league options — he used his final option this year, meaning he will not be able to go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers starting in 2014 — as it did his poor performance.

“This is the problem with the development clock,” said the GM. “If he had two or three more options, we would keep working with him as a starter. But with him being out of options after this year, it is becoming more obvious that if he is going to help us, it is going to be out of the ‘pen … Every reliever is a failed starter. Mariano Rivera is a failed starter. He is going to the Hall of Fame, but he is a failed starter. We will see what we have here.”

Relieving isn’t completely foreign to Betances, who did it in the Arizona Fall League last year. That led me to believe he would open this season in the bullpen, but the team decided to give him that one last chance as a starter. He’s been doing the relief thing for a little more than five weeks now — he did spend eight days with the big league team as an extra arm, but he didn’t pitch and I don’t even remember him warming up — and the early results are positive:

2013-05-10 2.1 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 32 17 7 3 2 1 1
2013-05-14 2.0 2 1 1 0 1 0 0 32 18 6 1 4 3 2
2013-05-25 2.1 5 3 3 3 2 1 0 51 26 9 5 1 8 2
2013-05-29 2.1 2 1 1 0 3 0 0 37 26 5 10 4 2 0
2013-06-01 1.0 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 23 14 5 4 0 1 0
2013-06-04 3.0 1 0 0 0 4 0 0 43 27 7 6 2 4 0
2013-06-07 1.2 3 2 2 1 1 0 0 32 17 6 0 4 1 0
2013-06-11 (2) 2.0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 28 16 5 1 2 2 0
2013-06-14 2.0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 29 21 8 6 1 2 0
2013-06-16 0.1 0 1 1 2 0 0 1 17 7 1 2 0 1 0
Total 19.0 13 8 8 8 22 1 0 324 58% 18% 12% 20 25 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/17/2013.

Yesterday’s outing — his first on less than two days of rest — was pretty rough, which uglifies the overall pitching line a bit. Otherwise Betances has thrown an acceptable amount of strikes (58% compared to 55% last year) and gotten plenty of swings and misses (12%). He had walked only six batters before yesterday, including just two during one 12-inning stretch, which is substantially better than his career norm. Of course, we’re talking about 19.0 innings. Given his history, it’s impossible to trust that walk rate at this point.

According to Donnie Collins, Betances was sitting 93-95 mph with his fastball while topping out at 98 in his last outing over the weekend. That is a tick better that his velocity as a starter but not a huge spike. Besides, raw stuff was never the question here. Betances always threw hard and missed bats. The problem was staying around the plate, like basic strike-throwing. I’m not even talking about being pinpoint and dotting the corners, just getting around the general area of the zone was an issue.

I do wonder about the mental aspect of going from starter to reliever as well. Perhaps Betances has a hard time focusing and pacing himself as a starter — Tim Lincecum said that was the case for him a few weeks ago — and the bullpen makes life easier. He can focus on his two best pitches and adopt a simple grip it and rip it mentality without worrying about being efficient or having to turn a lineup over multiple times. I have no idea if this is the case, I’m just spit-balling here. There is a mental aspect to this that has to be considered though.

Relievers can survive with below-average command, especially when they can pump mid-to-high-90s heat with a swing-and-miss breaking ball. They aren’t ideal late-inning guys, but the middle innings need love too. Betances has another two and a half months to get acclimated to the bullpen and show the Yankees — and the other 29 teams, for that matter — he is worth keeping on the 40-man roster over the winter and carrying as a sixth or seventh reliever at the outset of 2014. The odds are against it working, but Betances has shown some improvement as a reliever. He’s gone from no-shot to long-shot.

Yankees need to continue shaking up the roster
Injury Updates: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Pineda
  • Nick

    I seem to remember Dellin warming in a game and I think they sent him down the next day.

  • Crime Dog

    I have a feeling that Betances will turn into a decent reliever next season. Hopefully the 40 man crunch doesn’t leave him out of the mix in the offseason.

    • trr

      Yeah, at this point I’d be OK with that.
      Things don’t always work out the way you plan, do they?

  • Pseudoyanks

    Erik Plunk 2.0.

  • hey now

    A reliever who has a hard time throwing strikes is a tough sell. I get his potential upside (menacing figure throwing heat), but when the game’s on the line the last thing you need is a guy struggling to find the strike zone.

    • trr

      Yup. His being on the MLB roster at all is based on his developing better control/command. Maybe he’s a bit of a late bloomer….or maybe’s he not. At this point whatever we get from him is gravy, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

      (Cam u tell I didn’t have lunch today?)

    • jjyank

      It’s an easier sell than a starter who can’t throw strikes. Maybe he can never be an elite set up man, but as Mike said, middle relievers need love too.

      • trr

        bloggers need lunch too

    • The Doctor

      Robertson has trouble throwing strikes. It’s gotten better in recent years but its never really been his strong suit. He was always a good reliever and as his command has improved, he’s become elite. While the path he took to the MLB is much different, Betances could follow a similar path now that he’s on the cusp.

  • WFAN Caller


    God all of these posts are depressing me. Can we check in on Jeff Marquez? Or Andrew Brackman’s blossoming career at Walmart? What about Alan Horne??

    • nycsportzfan

      We’ve had quite a bit of success with bullpen arms though. But ya, I get your point.

  • Hassey

    Betances and Joba should both don Nacho Libre masks and barnstorm North America as a star tag-team. The point is to GET rich and famous, not HOW you get rich and famous.

    • WFAN Caller

      I like this idea. They can also include Hungry Hungry Humberto Sanchez as the third man in their trio. He can perform his patented “eat my way out of the farm system” finishing move, too.

    • trr

      I smell a movie deal here! “Deli & The Fat Man”! Get us a 3 page outline, STAT

      • Hassey

        Yeah, Nicholas Cage and Vin Diesel are free

    • Robinson Tilapia

      It’s too bad tag team wrestling isn’t what it used to be.

  • RetroRob

    There was always a high probability that Betances’ future was in the pen. Seven years and no improvement? I think Cashman is being kind, or blind. It wasn’t working, so maybe the fact Betances is out of minor league options is a blessing, forcing him into the role he is best made for.

    With Joba almost assuredly becoming a free agent (unless they convince him to return for a shot as the closer) and Mo retiring, the Yankees could certainly use another power arm in the pen. Might as well see if Betances can help fill one of the bullpen slots.

    And who knows. Maybe just focusing on one or two innings of work and one or two pitches will help him develop better body command.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I still just want the kid to succeed in pinstripes.

  • Jim Lahey

    “Every reliever is a failed starter. Mariano Rivera is a failed starter. He is going to the Hall of Fame, but he is a failed starter.”

    It’s quotes like these that still get me upset about the Joba starting/relieving controversy all those years ago

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      I’m not sure which side of the starter/reliever fence you’re on but Joba has thrown about 60 innings combined in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and he’s been god awful in the few innings he’s thrown in 2012 and 2013. He also can’t seem to keep his fat ass off the DL.

      I used to be in favor of giving him a chance to start but at this point, I think that ship has sailed long, long ago.

      • WFAN Caller

        I used to stand firmly on the “Joba should have stayed a starter” until I realized he is as durable as a pretzel rod. He would have continued to tease and tease and weave in some lengthy trips to the DL only to show up in the bigs 40 lbs heavier and reeking of chicken parm…

      • Jonathan

        I think his point is that Joba NEVER FAILED as a starter. He hit the wall after they started jacking with his innings at the end of 2009 but he was an above average MLB starter in his early 20s in the AL East but guys like Nova and even Hughes haven’t been as good but have been given endless rope. Joba was just relegated to the pen. Quite honestly he should have started 2008 in the rotation and this probably wouldn’t be a starting point but they kept him in the pen and when their grand 2008 plan exploded they had to build his arm back up and then he tweaked his shoulder. Even if his shoulder was hurt, I saw him in early April of 2009 in KC and he was pumping 88 mph nasty sliders and sitting 94-96. He wasn’t given nearly as long as he should have been. Even if his shoulder was shot the chance it held up as a starter and gave up a home grown ace was better than taking the chances it held up and he became a late inning reliever.

        • WFAN Caller

          If you’re referring to my comment, I never said he failed. I just don’t think he is durable enough. He had already dealt with arms issues coming out of Nebraska, and has continued to deal with arm issues since. Whether or not those can be attributed to mismanagement or just body fatigue is debatable.

          He is also a fat asshole, so that doesn’t help.

  • Scout

    I suppose it’s a measure of how far Betances has fallen as a prospect that I read this post with a yawn.

    • The Bastard

      Ditto. Hard to ignore the bad outings and just look at the best case. The sum total is hardly impressive. 8 ER in 19 IP is the bottom line. The peripherals look like they could turn good, then I remember who we are talking about. I bet they stash him on the MLB roster next year as a middle relief arm. But I’m not expecting much of anything.

  • tmoney

    Randy Johnson wad a bb/9 over 8 in the minors and as high as 6.8 as a 27 year old in the pros. He also was no athlete and was extremely tall like Betances. Not saying he will turn into RJ but am saying not all is lost.

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      Betances is sitting 93-95 as a reliever. Johnson used to hit 100 in the 9th inning

    • The Doctor

      I always saw Betances’ ceiling as a right handed Randy Johnsom, but knew the odds he’d reach it were so ridiculously minuscule it was only really worth dreaming about. I see the comparison, sure, but he’s not going to be at that level.

      • murakami

        He’s 25. If he is traded, I doubt he won’t get another shot to start. The book isn’t closed on this guy as a starter – except maybe the Yankee book.

    • OldYanksFan

      Not to make a comparison, but Nolan Ryan averaged a 5+ BB/9 until he was 32.

  • Greg

    chances of Betances ever pitching an inning for the Yankees is less than 1 in 10. He won’t make the team and either the Marlins or the Astros will pick him up as a Rule 5 guy.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      He already has an MLB start. I assume you mean in 2013.

  • Pat D

    Sounds like Teix is possibly headed for the DL, according to Andrew Marchand and Yahoo.

  • The Doctor

    Saying Mariano is a failed starter is a bit harsh, no? He wasn’t particularly good at first, but in the time leading up to his move to the bullpen he was certainly improving. Not saying he would’ve been an ace, you really can’t be with one pitch, but I think he could’ve settled in as a back end starter if he kept the slider. It’s really just fortunate he got bumped and has been incredible as he has been.

  • ExitCashman

    Every reliever is a failed starter, Cashman? Not quite. Some have been groomed as closers and others (like John Smoltz) were drafted into that role after success as starters.

    • jjyank

      Eh. Most people that are groomed as closers aren’t starters for one reason or another. Lack of a deep arsenal, lack of stamina, injury concerns, etc. I’d say 99% of all relievers are in that role because they don’t have the ability to start. You’re nitpicking, and judging by your handle, you just have an axe to grind.

  • B the Cashman

    I would bump Joba and move him to the big leagues now. He could be a middle relief option.

  • Nathan

    “Big Three” and then the “Killer B’s”.

    Man…I’m going to start tempering expectations on Yankee prospects. And by tempering I mean not developing any from now on.

  • Samuel

    Mariano Rivera was never a failed starter. He had great starter numbers throughout his minor league career. Only time he was not a starter in the minors was pars of his first two seasons. He was very solid in his second stint in AAA, and his first stint was after two promotions. He was promoted to the Yankees to be a multi-inning reliever to begin his career, as many starting pitchers were utilized during their early MLB careers.

    This failed starter bullshit has got to stop.

    Joba wasn’t even a “failed starter” because they never gave him a solid chance due to his dominance out of the bullpen.