Betances and Robertson give Yankees modern day Rivera and Wetteland

Fan Confidence Poll: September 8th, 2014
2015 Schedule Released: Yankees open at home against Blue Jays
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Just about all summer, Joe Girardi and the Yankees have enjoyed arguably the most dominant setup man/closer tandem in baseball in Dellin Betances and David Robertson. The team has scaled back on Betances’ workload in recent weeks but for the most of the season he was a multi-inning monster who would regularly bridge the gap from starter to closer all by himself. Robertson has been dynamite in his first season as closer, making the transition to the post-Mariano Rivera era relatively painless.

The Yankees had a similarly dominant late-game duo the last few years thanks to the Robertson and Rivera, though Robertson has always been a true one-inning reliever, not a four or five or six out guy. The multi-inning reliever is a dying breed, especially when it comes to late-inning guys. The last time the Yankees had a duo like Betances and Robertson, meaning an overwhelming multi-inning setup man and a shutdown closer, was way back to 1996, when Rivera was setting up John Wetteland.

There are more than a few similarities between the 1996 duo and the 2014 duo. Betances, like Rivera, was scuffling along for much of his early-20s, trying to make it work as a starting pitcher before moving into the bullpen full-time. They both opened the season in an undefined middle relief role before pitching their way into some more responsibility — Rivera threw 15 straight hitless innings at one point from mid-April through early-May in 1996, which is a great way to earn the manager’s trust — and eventually a no-doubt high-leverage role. Robertson has a knack for making things interesting but gets the job done more often than not, similar to Wetteland.

Statistically, there isn’t much of a comparison. Betances and Robertson have been quite a bit more effective this year than Rivera and Wetteland in 1996, at least on a rate basis. Wetteland and (mostly) Rivera did throw a ton of innings back in the day, a workload Betances and Robertson won’t sniff this year:

Innings WHIP ERA FIP K% BB% K/BB
2014 Betances & Robertson 137.1 0.84 1.97 1.84 39.4% 7.6% 5.18
1996 Rivera & Wetteland 171.1 1.06 2.36 2.57 28.8% 8.0% 3.43

Rivera and Wetteland also excelled in the postseason in 1996, combining to allow only four runs in 26.2 innings (1.35 ERA) during the team’s march to the World Series title. Wetteland saved four games in five days en route to being named World Series MVP. Hopefully Betances and Robertson get a chance to strut their stuff in the postseason next month, but eh. Things aren’t looking too hot right now.

The similarities don’t stop there either. Betances (26) and Robertson (29) are the same age right now that Rivera and Wetteland were back in 1996, respectively. That’s sorta freaky. Robertson is also due to become a free agent this offseason just like Wetteland became a free agent following the 1996 season. The Yankees let him walk and installed Rivera as their closer. The team is going to face a similar decision this winter — do they let Robertson go and hand the ninth inning reigns over to Dellin?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with re-signing Robertson and keeping one of the game’s most dominant late-game bullpen pairs together for another few seasons. In fact I would prefer it. I don’t mean that as a slight on Betances either. I think he’d be able to close no problem just like I thought Robertson would have no trouble closing this year, but there is no such thing as having too many great relievers. The game has changed a lot in the last two decades. Deep bullpens are imperative these days because no one scores runs anymore and every game is close.

Eighteen years ago, the Yankees had an advantage over every team they played thanks to Rivera and Wetteland. Rivera’s ability to go multiple innings — he went two full innings in 35 of 61 appearances and three full innings eight times — combined with Wetteland’s ninth inning reliability effective made it a six-inning game for New York. Girardi has had the same luxury this year thanks to Betances and Robertson. Both guys are having phenomenal seasons and they’ve been essential in keeping the Yankees in the race this summer.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 8th, 2014
2015 Schedule Released: Yankees open at home against Blue Jays
  • Pkyankfan69

    Gotta sign Drob this offseason… Make him the QO, if he takes it great, if not that hurts his value on the open market… I’d go up to about 3 for $36M… I doubt someone wants to give him much more than that and lose a draft pick. Drob is showing no signs of slowing down, let him continue to close and let Betances continue to dominate in the 7th/8th innings.

  • vin

    This has to be the best possible outcome for Betances considering where he was at the start of last year. For whatever reasons, starting just wasn’t working – the team gave him plenty of opportunities, but he ultimately ended up as one of the top relievers in the game this season. Good job by him and the coaching staff.

  • Mister D

    Worst option: Just losing Robertson

    Good option: Keeping Robertson

    Best option: Letting Robertson go, having Betances play Mariano while adding the modern equivalents of Stanton and Mendoza

    • Pkyankfan69

      Don’t agree, the best option is keeping Drob/Betances in place and adding other complimentary pieces (likely to be found through a lot of young RP’s we have at the upper levels of the minors.)

      • 86w183

        I don’t know what the financial plan will be, but if they are going all in then Andrew Miller should be on the shopping list. He turns 30 in May. He’s been terrific out of the pen. He’s left handed AND I know his dad really well…..
        He does need a shave, though

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Hello, this is Commisioner Selig’s office. We’d like to investigate you for tampering.

    • ChrisS

      I agree that the worst thing they can do is just let him walk, but I’d rather they traded him (or Betances) for a quality bat. Teams seem to overvalue relievers and the Yankees seem to develop quite a few decent ones.

      The offense needs a whole lot of help and free agency alone isn’t going to improve it.

    • http://www.google.com Tanuki Tanaka

      Stantons and Mendozas don’t exactly grow on trees these days.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Call this guy and see if he can help.

    • RetroRob

      The True Best Option: Keeping Robertson and Betances, and adding in the modern equivalents of Stanton, Mendoza AND Jeff Nelson.

      • Mister D

        Welllllll … if Wetteland stays does Mariano become Mariano or is Mariano eventually expendable or something else entirely? No idea. Ignoring all that butterfly effect admitted goofiness …

        I do know Wetteland lasted only 4 more years, with decreasing effectiveness.

        And I further know Robertson is at 322 games over the last 5 years, T-13 in the majors.

        And I further, further know if you look at the list of the top 30 pitchers by games from 2004-2009, you don’t see many guys whose next 5 years you’d want to buy.

        We were lucky with Mariano at a near unprecedented level. Thinking we’ve discovered elite unbreakable relievers and giving Robertson a true long term deal would be a mistake unless paying for your 7th inning or a lot of DL days is acceptable. Not that I have an answer, because the time to cash Robertson has already passed so what we had was a really good late innings reliever on non-playoff teams.

        • RetroRob

          I wouldn’t give D-Rob more than three years. I’d rather they pay a slightly higher AAV than an additional year. There are similarities between D-Rob and Wettland, who had two more excellent years after leaving the Yankees, and a third serviceable one. If the Yankees got that from Robertson it would be fine, but they certainly shouldn’t be planning for him to be closing until he’s 40.

          Yet the volatility of relievers is why I want to increase depth, and hold Robertson. Just not for too long.

          • Mister D

            But why would Robertson agree to a deal capped at 3 years? I could be wrong, but it seems like the tide might be turning a little back towards valuing relievers given Detroit’s problems and KC’s successes and all that. On the open market, I can’t imagine he can’t find atleast 4.

            • RetroRob

              He’ll take what the open market will give him.

              • Mister D

                What’s your guess? I might be cynically over-projecting, but a market that gave Rodney (37) and Nathan (39) two years at big money and seems to be tilting back a bit would seem primed to pay a guy like Robertson who immediately shifts your entire pen back a slot.

                • Mister D

                  (So my guess is a Papelbon deal, maybe even a 5th year at a lower AAV if it becomes a bidding war, given that he’ll be sitting in a clear tier by himself.)

                  • Mister D

                    ((Which will be a bad to very bad deal in my opinion. What I’d pay and what I expect some team will aren’t in alignment.))

                • RetroRob

                  I’m not sure I can reasonably guess quite yet since it will be driven the market dynamics in a couple of months. How many teams need closers and how many are available? How many teams have money and believe adding a closer will greatly enhance their chances to the point where they will plunk down big cash for a closer for four years? The Papelbon contract is still viewed as a mistake and he can’t be moved. Isn’t he the last closer to get more than three years?

                  When it comes to guessing, I’m usually in the ballpark with what position players will get; however, I almost always miss guessing starting pitchers, way underestimating what they’ll get. Relievers I’ve been running high recently, overestimating both the interest in them and how much they’ll get.

                  If the Yankees want D-Rob back, they should extend him a Qualifying Offer. That will further limit his market because teams will have to not only top the Yankees dollars, but also give up a top draft pick. The worst that will happen for the Yankees is they’ll have a one year commitment to a known closer as an overpay of several million. Most likely though they can use the QO as a way to limit his market and bring him to the table to negotiate a three year deal at a lower AAV.
                  I’ll guess he gets 3/39 from some team. He doesn’t get the fourth year.

  • kikojones

    Looking forward to more of the DRob and DB tandem in the future.

  • http://cheapinkstore.com Cheapness Smithy

    I don’t think problem with letting Robertson go would be replacing Robertson. It would be replacing Betances. Shifting Betances to 9th-only, leaves a void for the dominant multi-inning setup man. I think it would be harder finding a 2nd Betances. The setup guys that get “promoted” to closer typically get more money for less work, and- let’s be real- usually lower pressure situations (coming in with 0 base-runners, a lead, needing only 3 outs, etc). Let Robertson walk, and let Betances blow away 3 guys 50 times a year, but who is coming in blowing away guys in the 7th and 8th with runners on small leads? The problem is that all the guys who actually can be Betances would rather be Robertson, and be paid a premium. Keep the cheaper more valuable guy where he is as long as you can.

  • JLC 776

    If only we had a modern day Paul O’Neill. And Bernie Williams. And Tino Martinez. And… well, I could keep going but I won’t because I’ll cry.

  • rl1856

    Keep D’rob and Betances. Bring up Lyndgren (sp?). Yankee games shorten to 6 innings reducing the load on the rotation- which needs to be rebuilt. Right now the only starter we have is Pineda. Everyone else brings questions. Nova will be back mid season at best and will likely be ineffective until 2016. CC will be lucky to get back on a mound let alone pitch effectively. Phelps is a back end arm. Greene? We have been deceived before by rookies. McCarthy and Kuroda are FAs. I would like to see McCarthy back but at what price? Let Kuroda go home. He is at the end and I think he knows it. Tanaka is a big question mark. Will he pitch next year will he need surgery ? No one knows.

  • http://www.google.com Tanuki Tanaka

    Thing is, unless the offense rebounds/improves, it won’t matter if our bullpen don’t allow a single run for the entire year.

  • MikeNYC

    i think these two are better than Rivera/Wett…..Whett was always a heart-attack, and Buck was afraid to use him in ’95 in Seattle because his fastball was getting clubbed… the debate many times was “why is rivera being taken out”, where now there is a ton of confidence in Robertson

  • John Reddard Murphy

    They’re not Mariano/Wettland because those two were World Series Champions. We don’t know for sure if they are as good as that duo until they do it in the postseason with everything on the line.

    Mariano was so good in the postseason, it’s not yet known if Delin or Drob can be as good in that pressure packed situation. They’re a very good duo but you have to do it in the postseason to be compared to Mariano.

    • 86w183

      AND you have to do it over and over and over and over…….

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Which is why all those other trolls can’t measure to the dude you just replied to.

  • Deep Thoughts

    Also, Brendan Ryan and a declining Teixeira give us a modern day Pat Kelly and Mattingly.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I enjoy your writing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • YankeeBill

      Ouch. True, but still Ouch.

  • blake

    I hope they have the same combo next year but if Cashman has a finite amount of money to spend then they need a bat or 6 more than they need a closer. I hope Hal lets them get it all but they have to put offense #1 and or starting pitching

    • TB

      I hope Cashman falls off a building if they are dumb enough to bring him back….

      • blake

        I’m sure he will but he will a be rappelling gear

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Jinxed it, Axisa. Why don’t you just go and make DRob’s suitcase for him now?

    In all seriouness, best combo we’ve had since those two for sure, and I wouldn’t mind this duo lasting a bit longer than the first one.

  • TB

    Schedules released for 2015 – Yankees open the season at Home on Monday, April 6th vs Toronto – then play the redsox at home next series

  • YankeeBill

    Would hope they’d keep these two, but I think we all agree the emphasis has to be on improving this offense. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the offense from 1996-2012 either. Just one that will push across 4-4.5 runs per game. Can’t wait to see how that plays out.

  • RetroRob

    I had more faith in Rivera taking over as closer than I would if Betances was handed the job. I want to see another year from the tall one. I believe he’ll be fine, although he will probably come back to earth some. Mostly, though, I want to see the Robertson/Betances late-game team in place because a lock-down bullpen is even more critical in today’s game than it was 20 years back. Betances can replace D-Rob as the closer. It’s replacing Betances in the 7th and 8th that would be a concern. He serves a role more valuable as the set-up man. If Lindgren’s stuff translates as well as predicted, that’s a lot of swing-and-miss pitchers when Kelley is added in. If Adam Warren and his 95 mph fastball turns out to be one of the weakest links out there, that’s one heck of a pen…again.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      If you hadn’t lived through Dellin Betances, V1.0, and all you knew was V2.0, would you still feel the same way?

      Mariano V1.0 was really once year of a so-so SP prospect. We didn’t have TEH DOTF back then.

      • RetroRob

        I’ve followed the minor leagues for as long as I can remember, so that’s a difficult question for me to answer. I was quite familiar with Rivera before he ever appeared in the majors, although not quite to the degree that I was Betances. The difference is Rivera always had solid mechanics, a repeatable delivery. He became even better at that once on the Yankees, but command was not an issue for him at the start, so I wasn’t concerned with him maintaining his success in 1997 once he discovered his fastball on his recall in ’95.

        To be clear, I believe in Betances. The fastball and curve combination is devastating. Yet I still want to see him do it again because of his size and past problems maintaining his delivery. Yes, I can still see him falling apart again, or at least I’m concerned about it where I wouldn’t give him the keys to the car yet as my first choice. I’d like to see the status quo on this one, hoping they can sign Robertson to a three year deal. If Betances is still lights out in three years, he can have the car, just as Mo handed it over to D-Rob this year. Betances can actually have it a year or so sooner if Robertson begins to weaken or is traded. I like the depth and the increased options having both provides. Hopefully we’re facing a wealth of options a year from now with Lindgren.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          I’ve been surprising that, in the multi-inning appearances he’s had, he literally hasn’t had one moment where V1.0 showed up. I thought Dellin would be a feast or famine kind of reliever, but it just hasn’t happened.

          No, I don’t think that means we go stretch him out, but he’s surprised me in his consistency quite a bit this season.

          I agree with you, though. I still want to see it happen in 2015.

          I had minimal knowledge of the minors in the 90’s. It was limited to team yearbooks and Donruss “Future Stars” cards. I still have a Steve Adkins one.

          • RetroRob

            I’ve been surprised, too, that he hasn’t had at least one bad stretch where his command fell apart and we had to talk everyone off the ledge, calming the jumpers that he’ll get it back. He’s been solid from the start. Yet I still worry he could revert, even for a short period, which I why I want to see a repeat season. Not the off-the-charts season he’s having this year (although that would be nice), but just a confirmation season where he shows he can maintain his command. He could be a relief version of a Randy Johnson or a JR Richard. Both very tall who walked a ton, but once they figured it out they never went back. (Richard was getting better so I wonder what the next ten years would have brought him. Imagine if Randy Johnson’s career ended at 30?)

            Betances has been so good that even I occasionally wonder if maybe he could still make it as a starter. I argue against it when others bring it up for the obvious, yet he seems so unhittable and his stuff so good that I do wonder if the mechanics change he made and the different grip on his curveball might carry over as a starter. Must erase thought. It’ll become the new, never-ending Joba thread debate!

  • TB

    Really interesting schedule for 2015 – I just released the regular season ends on a Wednesday – September 30th – Yankees last home stand has 3 vs the whitesox and 3 vs the Redsox to finish the season…. Another interesting thing is the Yankees play the mets 3 games at citi field in September…

  • Cuso

    Well, we only had Rivera and Wetteland (Mo wasn’t that version of Mo in ’95) for one year.

    Having the modern day version of it in a season we seem to be missing the playoffs isn’t all that worthy of lauding unless we smarten up and sign D-Rob.

  • Snooty Babitt

    The American League scored 5.39 runs per game in 1996. They are scoring 4.2 runs per game this year. Considering context, the statistics favor the 1996 tandem by a hefty margin.

    • Mister D

      And there are a lot of good relievers out there today. In the 90s, pitching was thin, and even the best teams tended to be vulnerable once the starter was out. That gave the Yankees a huge advantage over most of the other teams.

  • Dwnflfan

    Actually the Mariano/Robertson Combo in 2011 was probably better than either of the two combos from this article. Mariano had ERA+ of 226 and Robertson posted a ridiculous 399.

  • Stevie Sacs

    Wetteland was very good but he would always make you sweat it out. Betances is just a steamroller. I wonder if he’ll stay happy in a set-up role though. You have to think in a year or two when he realizes the money is a lot better at closer he’ll want that job.

    • http://cheapinkstore.com Cheapness Smithy

      Sure, the money is much better for less work. Maybe you let him go then. Or you reward him for being underpaid for so long and give him the promotion and pray you find another one if him to setup, I guess.

  • Åndy

    I think Dellin and Mo both had the elbow ligament re-enforcement surgery instead of straight TJS as well

    • Deep Thoughts

      Extremely interesting if true.

  • Jay Briwn

    Sorry betances should be the close. Not Robertson