The Education of Dellin Betances

Arms and legs. (Presswire)

Arms and legs. (Presswire)

The Yankees dismantled the Red Sox last night, and you could argue their two most exciting pitchers were on the mound for the win. Masahiro Tanaka navigated the first 7.1 innings before Dellin Betances mopped things up and recorded the final five outs. The duo combined for nine strikeouts and no walks, improving the team’s league-leading K/BB ratio to 3.44. The Red Sox are a distance second at 3.12.

Tanaka has been everything we could have possibly expected (and more!) this season while Betances is … still a middle reliever despite only allowing one run on three hits in 9.2 innings of work. He’s also struck out 16 of 38 batters faced and 56.3% of his balls in play are on the ground. Plus he can do this (via Pitcher GIFs):

That’s a pretty neat trick.

And yet, despite all of his early season success, Betances is no higher than sixth on Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order. There are two reasons for that. One, he’s walked six guys in those 9.2 innings. Betances has a history of control problems and we’ve seen him come completely unhinged once or two already this season. He just loses the ability to throw strikes — I’m not even talking about painting the corners here, just basic strike-throwing ability — without warning and that can be scary.

Two, Betances is just a kid, at least in terms of experience. He did turn 26 a few weeks ago after spending eight years in the minors, but he has still only thrown 17.1 innings in the big leagues. That’s nothing. Girardi has used him as a low-leverage reliever and his 0.43 gmLI (Leverage Index when entering the game) bears that out. Only eleven out of 177 qualified relievers have a lower gmLI right now and they’re last guy out of the ‘pen types. There’s no doubt Girardi has been keeping Betances away from important situations if at all possible.

Is that wrong? I don’t think so. Not at all. There’s a level of trust that has to be built and it hasn’t yet. There hasn’t been enough time. David Robertson went through a similar situation early in his career — remember he had walk problems early on — sporting a 0.66 gmLI in his rookie year in 2008. Heck, it was a 0.77 gmLI in 2009. Robertson didn’t graduate from exciting young arm to bonafide high-leverage reliever until 2011, his fourth year in the show. Shawn Kelley went through the same thing last year (0.69 gmLI in April and May). So did Boone Logan a few years ago and Phil Hughes when he first moved into the bullpen in 2009.

As good as he was last year and in Spring Training and during these first few weeks, Betances still has a lot to learn about being a reliever in the Major Leagues. Girardi is very good with his bullpen and he’s shown he will be patient and not unnecessarily push new faces into primo bullpen roles (veteran free agents like Matt Thornton and Rafael Soriano are the obvious exceptions). With more experienced guys like Robertson, Kelley, Adam Warren, and David Phelps around to handle the important innings, the Yankees and Girardi have the luxury of breaking Betances in slowly. His opportunity for high-leverage work will come, but he has to put in some time in a lesser role first.

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. cr1 says:

    I for one am thankful that some (i.e., Girardi and you) are more interested in winning and the long view than in the gripping excitement of watching to see if this young pitcher implodes in a key situation, as a number of RAB commenters seem to long for.

  2. Mandy Stankiewicz says:

    Also (correct me if I’m wrong) isn’t this Betances’s first full season as a relief pitcher? Let’s let him continue to get his footing in the big leagues, as well as his new job.

  3. Chip says:

    Everytime I watch the beautiful curveball I weep for what could have been with him. He could have legitimately turned into Justin Verlander if not for his control problems. O well, at least we have Pineda

    • The Great Gonzo says:

      He can still become a key part of a winning baseball team. Not all pitching prospects are going to be aces. Shit, Andrew Miller was going to be the next Warren Spahn and he’s now a LOOGY.

      I’ll take the potential high leverage reliever out of Betances.

      • Chip says:

        O yeah, I mean its great we’re actually getting something out of him when it looked like we wouldn’t but still…..

        • The Great Gonzo says:

          I wonder if Chip Sr wrote this same sentence in whateverthefuck would be the mid-90′s version of RAB (Hustler Forum? I got nothing) about a certain failed Panamanian starter back in 1995.

          “He coulda been the next Jimmy Key!”

  4. Jedile says:

    It’s not too late!

    • Looser trader droids Kenobi FotD™ says:

      Joba got a save last night which, if reflective of BP depth in Detroit, is very bad news for Detroit.

      • Brett is Bubbas Son says:

        Joba is actually pitched very well this year except for his first two outings. He has a .62 FIP and the highest k/9 of his career… SSS.

  5. Jorge Steinbrenner says:

    I’m just glad he made it and has a chance to stick with the team once and for all, no matter where on the ladder he is. Much continued success to a real goddamn New Yorker on this team.

  6. Giancarlo Murphy says:

    Agree 100%, Mike, and thank you for providing the numbers that back up “the eye test.” I bet Girardi would say the same thing except he would use the phrase “We want him to build his confidence” rather than “He has to earn my trust” although they’re both true. I’d love to see Dellin dealin’ on the mound with the same swagger Big Mike displays.

  7. TWTR says:

    If there was any doubt, last night’s game showed how dominating Betances can be when he isn’t letting stressful situations undermine him.

  8. NeilT says:

    Eh, one time Dellin was a decent starting prospect. Even kept a reasonably talented young lad down in one start I witnessed (scroll down to the Trenton recap):


  9. The Great Gonzo says:

    Worth mentioning these are the exact type of situations i want relievers worked in on. Low leverage situations with high caliber hitters.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      I really don’t get the sudden anxiety to rush him into high leverage work. It’s April, and it’s his first actual regular MLB work.

      • The Great Gonzo says:

        BECAUZ BURRITOZ!!!!!

      • Preston says:

        I’m not in a rush. I just wanted to see it happen at some point this season. Although the way Kelley and Warren have performed early on, it would take injury or ineffectiveness on their part to move him up and I’m definitely not rooting for that to happen.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

          I think he could be quite the asset. Even last night, you can tell there’s still a few things to be worked out before he can be a really trusted piece in that role.

          That being said, Warren and Kelly certainly still have questions around them, and had them when they were assigned their roles.

          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

            Kelley is making huge strides in answering those questions though. That K/9 and K/BB…


          • Preston says:

            I don’t really have questions about either guy. They were solid last season and seem to have improved so far this season. Obviously relievers are inherently volatile. But I have no issues with them being the set-up crew the rest of the season.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

              You probably have less questions about them now, but were you 100% sure Kelley could pull this off, this well, in Spring Training, or the Warren would actually take the step up from long guy to 7th inning? I sure wasn’t, and I was arguing against signing the big bullpen names all spring.

              • Preston says:

                No, I wasn’t, which is why I was really rooting for Betances to immediately dominate.

                • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

                  I kinda like what we’re getting from him right now. Not lights-out, but definitely showing he can get outs despite bouts of wildness.

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod says:

      This is an excellent point.

      He’s brought into the game in a low-leverage situation but he’s facing great hitters. Best of both worlds for a young reliever with promise IMO.

      Give it time, Dellin could be facing Ortiz with 2 on and 2 out with a one run lead in the ALCS and yesterdays experience can only build his confidence for situations like that.

  10. Preston says:

    Speaking of really large men, Aaron Judge went 3/5 with a walk in the early game for Charleston. Bring’s his BA up to .359!

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      Hitting for average? I’ll take that. He’s going to hit massive HR’s with that body no matter. Hitting for average on top of that would be something.

      I must not get excited about Single-A stats.

      I must not get excited about Single-A stats.

      I must not get excited about Single-A stats.

      I must not get excited about Single-A stats.

      • Preston says:

        He’s a college bat starting at low A. So he should be hiting. But the walks and average are really promising. He’s not chasing and he can’t have too many holes in that swing. He’s a guy I’d actually give the super early promotion to if some of those singles start turning into doubles and homers over the next month.

  11. Robert says:

    Aaron Judge had 3 more hits today now batting .359 Have the Gods finally smiled upon the Yankee farm system!!!

  12. Section 8 says:

    Thank you for the logical, well-supported post Mike.

    They’ve gone off the rails on this topic over at Lohud. “Wasting” Betances last night seemed to be a more important topic than the win, Tanaka’s outing, Ells return to Fenway etc etc

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak for the context, but he wasn’t wasted at all. This was a prime opportunity to see if he could get consistent strikes and outs against some elite hitters, while also helping the rest of a bullpen that could have used the extra day. He was a rather important part of that process. Forest and trees. Calling him “wasted” is looking at a single leaf.

    • RetroRob says:

      I took a spin through the comments section there and it was pretty funny. Many were arguing he should be a starter, ignoring the train wreck Betances had been as a starter, only finding himself as a reliever. Clearly, they had not been following Betances’ career.

  13. I am 100% in favor in breaking in Betances slowly, hopefully by the end of the season he can be a top set up option for the playoffs.

  14. I am 100% in favor or breaking in Betances in slowly. Hopefully by the end of the season he can be a top set up man for the playoffs.

  15. The Other Matt says:

    Mike should’ve went Lauryn Hill on us, and titled the article, “The (Mis)Education of Dellin Betances”.

  16. W.B. Mason Williams says:

    We need to start letting him pitch after we’ve already won the game.

    There’s no such thing as slow enough!

  17. RetroRob says:

    Not only do I not have issues with how Girardi has used Betances, I agree with it completely.

    The kid has great stuff and has shown it in most of the nine innings he’s pitched, but it’s also nine innings. Keep it up and he’ll get to the high-leverage situations. Betances’ future is in his own hands, or arm. The D-Rob compare is a good one. I remember wishing he’d use Robertson more in the beginning, and eventually D-Rob got there as he proved himself. Betances needs to do the same.

  18. W.B. Mason Williams says:

    We need to start letting him pitch after we’ve already won the game.

    There’s no such thing as slow enough!

  19. Barracuda says:

    Ever since seeing him pitch for Trenton a couple of years ago I’ve thought of Betances’s upside and optional usage pattern as being similar to a 1970′s “fireman”, like a ’77 Sparky Lyle or ’78 Gossage. A guy who can come in and pitch multiple high-leverage innings. I don’t think he’ll ever have the varied pitch arsenal to be an effective starter, but he’s a big strong kid who should be able to pitch multiple innings at a time, up to one full time through the order. I know that managers don’t tend to use pitchers like this anymore, but I really think that’d maximize Betances’s value.

    I’ve come up with a name for this type of (extinct, sadly) reliever: HIgh Leverage Long Reliever, or HILLR, named after John Hiller, who was effective in such a role for the Tigers in the early 70′s. I’d love to see the return of the HILLR.

  20. Kiko Jones says:

    I’ve been rooting for this kid since Day One. Not only b/c of his talent and his potential for becoming an outstanding pitcher, but also the fact that he’s a native NYer who grew up in the shadow of YS. (Supposedly his first Yankee game ever was Wells’ perfect game. How cool is that?) When was the last time we had a truly homegrown Yankee to root for? Willie Randolph? Lee Mazzilli? And neither one of those came up thru the organization. (Was it Whitey Ford?)

  21. will says:

    The problem isn’t when delin is getting into game situations. The problem is there has been times where girardi will go 4 days and not pitch him, his problems stem from not pitching enough, and then you want to bring him in to mop up every 4-5 days? Defeats the purpose of having him in the pen, may as well start him if you’re going to do that. Also Mike mentioned “once or twice” actually sir it was once and that was in toronto, every other time he’s got the outs.

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