Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s opportunity?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Didi Gregorius‘ injury is unfortunate in every way, even if he may only miss a month of the season. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement and, much more importantly, a key cog of their future has to deal with an injury that can set him back after he made strides last season and hoped to bring into this season. Furthermore, Gregorius’ best tool is perhaps his arm strength and that could be affected by this injury.

As with every injury in sports, there is now an opportunity for someone else. As Mike detailed the other day and some reporters have indicated, the likeliest scenario is Starlin Castro, despite his prior experience at short, to stay at second while Ronald Torreyes and possibly Ruben Tejada or Pete Kozma take the load at short. This is a fine option, albeit with the lesser offensive (and likely defensive) production at shortstop. It’d be tough to imagine Tyler Wade or Gleyber Torres are quite ready for the job either (again, check out Mike’s piece on this).

There is another option, albeit one that guarantees lesser performance defensively and that is moving Castro to shortstop — he played just three games there last year — and handing the second base job to … Rob Refsnyder. The oft-talked of second baseman has been masquerading as a super utility player for the last year, but perhaps this is the opportunity he needs to prove himself, one way or another.

Joe Girardi talked about how the team sees him as that utility player, working all around the field. “I look at him at second, first, right and left, is how I look at Ref,” Girardi said to the Daily News. “Depending on what we do, that’s why I talked about he can play his way in, and if he’s an extra infielder and outfielder, whatever he is, then you might have to move Castro to play some short. If you give (Chase Headley) a day off and you move Torreyes over, then that would be Ref’s spot at second. Those are the different options we have.”

Is this the chance Refsnyder needs? Well, he’ll need to show some improvements to make it happen.

1. Refsnyder needs to show more at the plate

So far in his MLB career, Refsnyder has had all of 222 plate appearances. For all the talk of him taking over second base during the 2015 season, it would seem like he’d have taken more ABs, but alas, that is not the case. He hit quite well during his 47 PAs in 2015 (131 wRC+) but looked exposed in sporadic stints last season, batting just .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+).

As has been discussed on this website before, he needs to hit for power in order to make at the big league level. He actually had a .512 slugging percentage (.210 ISO) in 2015 and there was reason to believe he has some power potential. With Torreyes, you’re simply not going to get much power, but you’ll get plenty of contact. He hit .258/.305/.374 (81 wRC+) last season in 168 plate appearances and had an 11.9 percent strikeout rate compared to Refsnyder’s 17.1 percent mark.

Refsnyder does walk a bit more than Torreyes, but as detailed below, he’s enough of a negative defensively that he’ll need to more than make up for it at the plate for this experiment to be worth it. While spring stats are relatively meaningless, Refsnyder has struck out in 11 of 39 PAs while Torreyes has just two in 41 PAs. Refsnyder does have a better slash line this spring but neither has impressed with the bat.

2. How would it work defensively?

Losing Gregorius is a blow to the Yankees’ team defense. While defensive metrics were down on Didi last season, it’s likely that Gregorius would have been a defensive plus for the month or so he’ll now miss. Last season, Torreyes only played 99 innings at shortstop, his only time at short in his brief MLB career. He made one error in 11 starts there while UZR had him at -0.7 there (-15.9 UZR/150). Again, short sample size, hard to judge.

So what would happen if instead of Torreyes getting extended time at short, Castro shifted over and Refsnyder moved to second in his place? In Castro’s case, it could actually work out well. Castro has been seen as a definite negative in his 1,524 innings at second over the last two years with a -7.4 UZR. At shortstop, he’s been a minus in his career, albeit less so. He only played 20 innings there last season, but it is his natural position. He wasn’t particularly adept there (negative in DRS each season except 2012).

And then there’s Refsnyder. To be fair, he’s only played 147 MLB innings at second base, but they haven’t been pretty, either in terms of statistics or the eye test. He has a -3 DRS and -2.6 UZR in those innings and has been better, albeit in similarly small samples, at each other position he’s played in the majors. 1B, LF and RF are the ones he has more than an inning played (He actually graded out well in RF during 132 2/3 innings last year, if that’s worth anything). It’s also simply hard to forget how inept he looked at times during his stint at second in 2015. It seemed like a common announcer phrase during that time was “past a diving Refsnyder.”

All of this is to say that defensively, this pairing could be tough to stomach, hence why it’s so necessary that Refsnyder hit if he’s going to be anything more than a Quadruple A player.

3. Easy to change course

Putting Refsnyder in at second would be a perfect chance to see whether he sinks or swims at the big league level. He’d have the chance to know he’s starting every day for certain period and the team would see if he can produce with that comfort level. I have my doubts, but it’s an imperfect solution just like every other replacement for Gregorius.

If he didn’t perform after a few weeks, it’s easy to course correct. First of all, this is only temporary since Gregorius should miss only a month or so. With Torreyes on the roster, it’d also be simple enough to begin giving him the starts if the defensive minuses are too much or Refsnyder simply hack it at the plate.

The questions about Refsnyder can seem pretty glaring, but this would be a chance to answer them in a low cost scenario. It’s not like Torreyes will be much better with the bat. The worst case is that Refsnyder is so unpalatable at second that the team decides to send him back down to AAA quickly. In the best case, the Yankees find a suitable backup with restored promise for when Gregorius returns.

The Middle Relief Duo [2017 Season Preview]

Clippard. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)
(Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees have had an elite bullpen most every year for what feels like an eternity at this point, owing largely to the incomparable Mariano Rivera, and the ability to churn out high-end relievers that would close for most teams (particularly David Robertson and Dellin Betances, who spent most of their time with the team pitching in the 7th or 8th inning). A willingness to open up the checkbook helps, too, as Rafael Soriano, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman all thrived. It isn’t just the 8th and 9th inning guys, though.

A sizable portion of the team’s success in building strong bullpens lay in its middle relief core. We’re all familiar with the Scranton Shuttle, and oftentimes discuss the top-heavy nature of the bullpen – but that’s not quite fair to the pitchers that handle the 6th and 7th, if only for a season or two. Joe Girardi loves having defined roles for his relievers, and having dependable arms to bridge the gap between the starter and Betances/Chapman will be vital this season (lest we forget that two of the five starters will essentially be rookies).

Luckily, the Yankees have two reliable arms to lean on in that role.

Tyler Clippard

Here’s your semi-regular reminder that the Yankees traded Clippard straight-up for Jonathan Albaladejo in 2007, who would go on to throw a grand total of 59.1 IP in parts of three season with the team, pitching to a 4.70 ERA (5.21 FIP).

Clippard has been a dominant reliever for the better part of a decade now, posting a 2.77 ERA (144 ERA+) in 587.2 IP out of the bullpen, while serving as a Bizarro World version of Michael Pineda. That is, his FIP in that time (3.59) is significantly higher than his ERA, which leads to his bWAR (12.3) being much stronger than his fWAR (7.1). He has accomplished this by maintaining consistently low BABIPs (.234 as a reliever), ridiculously high infield flyball rates (16.2%, against a league-average that tends to fall between 9.5% and 10%), and plenty of strikeouts (27.7 K%).

The 32-year-old was in the midst of what may have been his worst season prior to being acquired by the Yankees last year, which raises some red flags. There are reasonable explanations for that, though, including the sheer incompetence of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and not just in a general sense, either, as they may’ve asked Clippard to shelve his slider. It was far from his best offering (though, he had excellent results with it in 2015), as he’s always been a fastball/change-up pitcher – but not having that show-me pitch in his pocket could have led to hitters being better able to sit on straighter stuff. The increased use stands out quite a bit:

clippard-slider

It also bears noting that his fastball velocity dropped with the Diamondbacks, leading to less separation against his bread and butter change-up:

clippard-velocity

That increase, depending upon the tracker, is between 0.6 MPH and 0.8 MPH, which is noteworthy. As per PITCHf/x, Clippard’s fastball velocity was 90.8 with the Diamondbacks and 91.5 following the trade (which is close to his career velocity of 91.8). Combining the increased slider usage, increased velocity, and competent coaching staff, Clippard’s peripherals in his time with the Yankees were right in-line with his career norms.

Adam Warren

(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)
(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)

Calling Warren’s time with the Cubs a disaster might be putting it far too lightly. He posted a 5.91 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 35.0 IP with Chicago, posting career-worsts in K% (17.8), BB% (12.5), GB% (43.3), HR/FB (16.7%), ERA, and FIP, earning a trip to the minors in doing so. And the most frustrating part of it all may be that there’s nothing on the page that screams bad luck (his BABIP was a career-low .242, and that HR/FB wasn’t absurdly high), nor did his pitch selection or velocity change all that much. To wit:

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

The only thing that stands out here is the dip in the use of his slider, which has been an effective pitch throughout his career. It isn’t as though he stopped using the pitch, though, and the fact that he went deeper into counts more often than ever last year may have reduced his use of the pitch as he attempted to avoid walks.

As was the case with Clippard, however, Warren bounced back in the Bronx, with all of his peripherals gravitating to within spitting distance of his career norms, and his ERA dropping to 3.26 (4.30 FIP). It may be a simple matter of an extended slump coincidentally ending when he went back to the Bronx (he allowed 12 ER in his last five appearances with Chicago, and then reeled off nine straight scoreless outings with the Yankees), or it could be some combination of comfort and coaching. There may not be a genuine explanation, in short – but it’s comforting that the Yankees received the Warren of old.


When the season begins, I suspect that Clippard will serve as the designated 7th inning arm, with Warren acting as a fireman, of sorts. Girardi used Clippard to record more than three outs just once in 29 appearances, whereas Warren went more than an inning nine times (including four times in a row in late September). And given their ages and recent patterns of use, that makes sense.

As for what to expect statistically, the projection systems see Clippard essentially duplicating his 2016 season, and Warren splitting the difference between 2016 and his career norms. I think both will be better than that, due to Girardi’s ability to manage the bullpen (as well as my irrational attachment to both pitchers).

Spring Training Game Thread: Montgomery’s Big Chance

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This afternoon left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first and possibly only Grapefruit League start. The Yankees have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and Montgomery has opened enough eyes this spring that he’s now being considered for the Opening Day roster. Today will be his best chance to show what he’s got against actual big league hitters rather than the minor leaguers he mostly faces out of the bullpen.

In other roster battle news, I guess we have to start keeping a close eye on right field, huh? Joe Girardi said yesterday the Aarons are neck and neck right now. Hicks is hitting .256/.341/.513 with two homers this spring. Judge has a .273/.360/.477 batting line, and also has two homers. So I guess these last eight exhibition games will determine who gets that right field job. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent on the road trip:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Chris Carter
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. C Austin Romine
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 2B Donovan Solano
  9. SS Pete Kozma
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

Available Pitchers: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Ruben Tejada, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Billy McKinney will come off the bench. C Radley Haddad, IF Billy Fleming, OF Mark Payton, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo are the extra players. Haddad, Fleming, and Payton are up from minor league camp for the road trip.

Available Position Players: LHP Jason Gurka, RHP J.R. Graham, LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, and RHP Matt Wotherspoon are all expected to pitch after Montgomery. RHP Travis Hissong, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Andrew Schwaab, and RHP Colten Brewer are the extra arms. Feyereisen, Wotherspoon, Hissong, Coshow, Schwaab, and Brewers are up from minor league camp. (Feyereisen was a non-roster invitee, but he was reassigned to minor league camp earlier this month.)

The Yankees made the long 100-mile trip south to Port Charlotte, where it is warm and sunny, for this afternoon’s game. Today’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and you can watch live on ESPN and MLB.tv. This is the only ESPN broadcast of the spring for the Yankees. Enjoy the game.

Jordan Montgomery and the prospect of an Opening Day roster spot

 (Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later today left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first Grapefruit League start as the Yankees begin to bear down and really evaluate  their Opening Day roster candidates. They have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and lots of guys competing for them. Montgomery has pitched his way into Opening Day roster consideration these last few weeks.

“(Getting the start Thursday) makes me feel that I’m here for a reason and that they want me here, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better and working hard and preparing myself the right way,” said Montgomery to Mike Mazzeo last week, after throwing the final four innings in the team’s no-hitter (lol). “I’ve been working toward that my whole life, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better.”

The Yankees have a loaded farm system, and while Montgomery is not one of the big names, he came into the spring as their most MLB ready starting pitcher prospect. Last season the 24-year-old southpaw had a 2.19 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 22.7% strikeouts and 7.7 % walks in 152 total innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Do that and you’re going to be on the big league radar. No doubt about it.

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have made a habit of carrying surprise Spring Training performers in their Opening Day bullpen. Last year Luis Cessa, Johnny Barbato, and Kirby Yates made the Opening Day roster. The year before it was Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve. The year before that it was Vidal Nuno, and the year before that it was Cody Eppley. The last few Opening Day bullpens have been weird, man.

Montgomery is an actual prospect like Cessa, not a journeyman like Yates, though the point stands. If you impress in camp, the Yankees will take you north for the regular season. Today’s start will be pretty important for Montgomery. It’s a chance to really state his case for an Opening Day job. It’s there for the taking. A few thoughts on this.

1. Forget about the Spring Training numbers. Oftentimes when a young guy unexpectedly emerges in Spring Training and wins a regular season roster spot, his numbers knock your socks off. That is not the case with Montgomery: 10.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K in four appearances. Those are good numbers, but not holy cow this guy needs to be on the roster numbers.

First of all, who cares about Spring Training stats? Montgomery has come out of the bullpen in each of his four appearances, so he’s faced plenty of minor league hitters late in games this spring. We know he can get minor leaguers out. Today’s start will be a chance to face a few more big league players. Secondly, Montgomery’s numbers are worse than they should be because there was some defensive funny business behind him his first two times out.

Montgomery has not necessarily impressed with his numbers and performance. He’s impressed the coaching staff by locating his three fastballs (four-seamer, sinker, cutter) and two non-fastballs (curveball, changeup) well, by repeating his delivery well, and by not unraveling when things don’t go his way. Montgomery has a very calm, stoical presence on the mound. Managers like that.

2. Montgomery doesn’t have any bullpen experience. Between college and pro ball, Montgomery has made 98 starts and six relief appearances over the last five seasons. Girardi said they’re looking at Montgomery more as a reliever than a starter — “I think as more of a bullpen guy, but I’m open to anything,” he said to Dan Martin — and that’ll be a new experience for him. He’s never been a full-time reliever. Not in college, not in pro ball.

That’s not enough of a reason to not take Montgomery north as a reliever, of course. It’s just an acknowledgement of an adjustment he’ll have to make. Even this spring Montgomery knew exactly when he was entering the game and when to start warming up pitcher usage is so regimented. That’s rarely the case during a meaningful regular season game. If the Yankees do carry Montgomery in the bullpen, he’ll have to figure out a warm-up routine that works.

3. Montgomery might not be a great left-on-left matchup guy. For whatever reason, there’s always the temptation to use a left-handed pitcher in left-on-left matchup situations out of the bullpen. Montgomery might not be well-suited for such a role because his best pitch is his changeup, a pitch that is typically used against hitters of the opposite hand. That’s why lefties (.230/.308/.353) had more success against him than righties (.233/.287/.303) last summer.

Montgomery’s curveball is a quality offering, though it’s not a dominant pitch. Use him as a left-on-left guy and the Yankees will be asking Montgomery to either a) abandon his best pitch, or b) use his best pitch against lefties, which is probably not something he’s done much throughout his career. You know as well I that Girardi loves his matchups. Loves loves loves them. Shoehorning Montgomery into left-on-left duty might not work out too well.

4. The more multi-inning relievers, the better. Now, despite that last section, I don’t think Girardi will use Montgomery as a matchup reliever. I think he’d use him as a true long man, especially at first when he’s still getting his feet wet. Perhaps he pitches well enough that he enters the Circle of Trust™ and becomes almost a left-handed Adam Warren, that middle innings guy who can give you five or six outs when necessary.

Anyway, the point is Montgomery is someone who can give you multiple innings, and carrying multiple multi-inning relievers is becoming a necessity, not a luxury. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees can’t count on their starters to pitch deep into games. Carrying someone like Montgomery to help share the relief workload stemming from all those five-and-fly starts could really come in handy. Again, this isn’t a luxury anymore. Teams need guys like this with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings.

5. Hey idiot, why not make him a starter? Good question, fellow idiot. I do think the Yankees will consider Montgomery a rotation option, especially since none of the rotation candidates have separated themselves from the pack yet. My gut still says Luis Severino is all but assured of a rotation spot, though that still leaves another spot open. It would be silly for the Yankees to not consider Montgomery for the rotation, right? Right.

Keep in mind Montgomery threw 152 total innings last season. He threw 134.1 innings the year before and 119 innings the year before that. The guy’s never missed a start. Not in college and no in pro ball. Montgomery’s innings have been built up nice and steadily, so much so that it’s not crazy to think you can pencil him in for 30 starts and 175 innings this season. That’s pretty cool. The workload management gymnastics could be kept to a minimum.

For what it’s worth, ZiPS pegs Montgomery as a 4.87 ERA (4.76 FIP) pitcher right now while PECOTA has him at 4.99 ERA (5.06 DRA). That would make him a +1 WAR pitcher, or thereabouts. And, truth be told, that wouldn’t be terrible for a rookie pitcher in Yankee Stadium. The completely objective computer systems are a little bearish on Montgomery right now. That’s okay. Computers are ruining the game anyway ya nerds.

* * *

We’re not talking about 20-year-old Gleyber Torres replacing the injured Didi Gregorius here. Montgomery is a polished 24-year-old pitcher with Triple-A experience who has been successful everywhere he’s played, and if the Yankees deem him one of their 12 best pitchers at the end of Spring Training, he should absolutely be on the Opening Day roster. There’s no reason to hold him back. Montgomery is ready to help, even if it’s in an unfamiliar role out of the bullpen.

“We like him a lot. We’ve said that all along,” said Girardi to Mazzeo last week. “He’s got a good breaking ball, a good changeup and throws on a downward angle, which we like. He’s different than a lot of lefties in a sense. He threw the ball very well today. We’re curious about him … We’re going to keep evaluating him.”

Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Notes

The Spring Training of our dreams continued with another win this afternoon. Greg Bird crushed two no-doubt home runs, and I’m pretty sure the first one sailed out of the stadium. It looks like it cleared the chain link fence in center field in the first clip above, no? Chase Headley socked a dinger too. Gary Sanchez smoked a double off the wall and also drew a walk. The Yankees swung the bats well today.

Masahiro Tanaka started and had probably his worst outing of the spring, meaning he actually allowed some hits. Three of ’em, in fact. The very first hitter of the game ended his 8.2-inning hitless streak. Can’t finish off the hidden spring no hitter, huh? Some ace. Tanaka struck out three in 5.1 scoreless innings. He’s up to 18.2 innings with a 0.00 ERA this spring. Ernesto Frieri struck out the side in his inning. He’s faced seven batters since signing with the Yankees: six strikeouts and a homer. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the day’s notes from Spring Training:

This is the open thread for the evening. USA and Puerto Rico are playing the World Baseball Classic Championship Game tonight (9pm ET on MLB Network), so that should be fun. The (hockey) Rangers, Islanders, and Knicks are all playing as well. Talk about anything except religion or politics right here. Thanks in advance.

Piecoro: Yanks believed to have some interest in Nick Ahmed

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

According to Nick Piecoro, the Yankees are believed to have some level of interest in Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed. Arizona has plenty of middle infielders (Ketel Marte, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury, Daniel Descalso) and they reportedly started gauging interest in Ahmed a few days ago. The Yankees will be without Didi Gregorius for a few weeks, hence their interest.

Ahmed, 27, starred at UConn and was a second round pick by the Braves in 2011. They sent him to the D’Backs in the Justin Upton trade a few years ago. Ahmed has spent the last two seasons as Arizona’s most of the time shortstop, hitting .223/.271/.335 (56 wRC+) in 767 plate appearances overall. He had surgery to repair the labrum and an impingement in his right hip last August, but he’s fully recovered and playing without restrictions in Spring Training.

As you probably figured given that batting line, Ahmed isn’t in the lineup for his bat. It’s his glove. He’s an excellent defender beloved by both the stats — he is third among all shortstops in DRS (+32) and sixth in UZR (+19.9) the last two seasons despite playing less than full-time — and the eye test. You better be able to pick it when you hit like that. Here’s some video:

The Yankees have some decent shortstop options in-house, though you can understand why they’d keep an out for anyone who might become available. Also, they’ve shown a willingness to completely punt offense when no great options exist. They did it for entire seasons with Stephen Drew at second base and Chris Stewart behind the plate, remember. Ahmed would be a defensive upgrade over Ronald Torreyes, Ruben Tejada, etc.

As always, it boils down to cost. The Yankees will check in on Ahmed because they should absolutely check in following the Gregorius injury, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pay big to get him. I wonder if Tyler Jones could be a factor. The D’Backs took Jones from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, so New York could trade his rights to Arizona, thereby removing the Rule 5 shackles. Jones plus a low-to-mid range prospect? My trade proposal sucks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Ahmed is still in his pre-arbitration years, so he’s making something close to the league minimum, plus he has at least one minor league option remaining. (Possibly two but it’s hard to tell for sure.) He won’t cost much money and the Yankees could stash him in Triple-A once Gregorius is healthy. Not the worst piece of infield depth when the alternatives are guys like Tejada and Pete Kozma.

Anyway, we’ll see whether this leads anywhere. Like I said, the Yankees are smart to check in following the Gregorius injury, and if the price is right, perhaps there’s a deal to be made. Maybe not. Maybe the D’Backs value Ahmed highly and are willing to stash him in Triple-A themselves if they don’t get an offer they like.

(For what it’s worth, Brendan Kuty says Jose Iglesias and Zack Cozart have also been “floated as potential targets.” They’d both cost quite a bit more than Ahmed, both in terms of prospects and salary. Cozart is definitely available because the Reds are rebuilding. I have a hard time believing the Tigers would trade their starting shortstop though.)

Same All-Star reliever but with minor concerns [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For the last three years, I have essentially marked games as wins in my mind whenever Dellin Betances comes in. Sure, there have been a few blown saves here and there, but for the most part, the Yankees win when Dellin comes into the game whether they lead or are tied.

And it isn’t just his pure performance. He’s fun to watch, too. That nasty breaking pitch surely haunts the dreams of every hitter in the AL East and sends Yankee fans home happy. That’s even before you get to his fastball.

What does Betances — who turns 29 on Thursday — have in store for 2017? Let’s take a look.

All-Star stuff with some concern

Betances, when he gets to utilize his stuff to the best of his ability, is unhittable and it’s memorizing. He walks a few too many batters (3.5 per 9 career and in 2016) and his hits rose to 6.7 per 9 last year, but his pure stuff is still beautiful.

His fastball averaged 98.42 mph in 2016, which is just silly good. It doesn’t hurt that he has an above-average 2509 RPM spin rate. It’s surprising considering his September struggles, but his velocity actually jumped higher from August to September. Same for his curveball. When Betances really needs to hit another gear, he can. That 100 mph strikeout of Miguel Cabrera from 2014 is perhaps the best example. Or perhaps the 2016 All-Star Game.

And then there’s his curveball. It’s genuinely my favorite pitch going these days with all respect to Andrew Miller‘s slider. It sits in the mid-80s and just falls off the table. Even the best hitters in baseball — like Giancarlo Stanton — have zero idea what to do with it.

As he displayed in the WBC this spring, he’s among the best relievers in the game when he’s on. The Yankees’ AL East rivals know this all too well.

He throws his four-seamer (39.3) and his curve (55.3) about 95 percent of the time, occasionally mixing in a cutter. His curveball remained a behemoth in 2016, holding batters to a .371 OPS (14 wRC+) and accounting for 103 of his 124 strikeouts.

Hitters actually got to his fastball pretty well last year. They batted .350/.447/.563 (184 wRC+) against it, a mark much higher than previous years (124 wRC+ against in 2015 and 95 in 2014). He peaked as a pitcher in 2014 (his -21 wRC+ against for the curveball says more than enough), but the trend with his fastball is a bit concerning. It began in the later months of 2015 and continued throughout 2016. Luckily, he still has a dynamite curveball, yet it’s worth monitoring how hitters do against Betances’ normally overwhelming velocity in 2017.

One quick aside: If you want to see how dominant Betances can truly be, check out the ISO power against him, especially right-handed batters. On pitches on the inner third of the plate, righties literally had a .000 ISO. All singles and outs. Here’s the chart via Baseball Savant.

dellin-betances-1

Workload

If there’s one chief concern for Betances, it’s his workload. In his three full big league seasons, he’s pitched in at least 70 games and thrown at least 73 innings. His innings have decreased year-by-year (90 to 84 to 73) and his ERA has increased year over year, including more than doubling from 2015 to 2016 (1.50 to 3.08). There have certainly been times when Betances, cursed in part by his own success, has been overused as the Yankees try to sneak out close victories.

There is no better example than this past September. After Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were dealt at the trade deadline, the closer role fell to Betances, a role which he is more than capable of filling. He may be more valuable as the stopper in the 7th and 8th innings, yet I think there are few people (maybe outside the front office) that believe Betances can handle the 9th. He surely has the stuff.

But the Yankees were in the midst of a playoff chase and they needed to hand him the ball as much as possible with plenty of save chances. Therefore, Joe Girardi used him on three straight days twice within an 11-day span. It started out just fine but ended with two straight losses, one because he couldn’t field the ball and the other simply because he was exhausted. That five-run ninth in Boston essentially finished the Yankees and also showed that Betances needed a rest. For the month, hitters were getting to not only his fastball but also hit curveball.

With Chapman’s return, Betances is obviously back in the middle innings, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get much of a reprieve from important spots. He consistently comes in during the highest leverage situations, sometimes for more than one inning, and now has 217 games in the last three seasons in his recent past. Hopefully, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and the rest of the ‘pen will be able to handle some big innings because the big man needs a rest.

World Baseball Classic

Wasn’t it fun to watch Betances pitch in the WBC? He seemed to really enjoy himself while dominating hitters during the tournament. It was even better than when he takes down a set of National League All-Stars in the Midsummer Classic.

He threw five innings for the Dominican Republic, giving up six baserunners while striking out five batters. Basically normal Dellin. If you add in his two innings with the Yankees earlier in the spring, he’s only thrown two more innings than Aroldis Chapman and is just as ready for the season. Perhaps more?

This is just to say that the WBC doesn’t seem to have hurt Betances going into April and may even have him more prepared for opening day. Maybe have high-ish leverage innings earlier will benefit him early in the season but help wear him down later in the season. It remains to be seen.

Contract welp and minor flaws

Things really got ugly between Betances and the Yankees front office after his arbitration hearing in February. Randy Levine made some really boneheaded comments about Betances in an unnecessary conference call and created some significant tension between Betances and the club. That shouldn’t affect his performance on the field — baseball is a business after all — but it may make Betances think twice before re-signing long-term.

As for the arbitration hearing itself, the Yankees brought up Betances’ struggles fielding the ball and holding runners. These are legitimate issues for the big righty. He’s allowed extra runs to score because he’s been unable to throw the ball to the bases or prevent runners from stealing. Even Gary Sanchez with his laser from behind the plate was unable to throw out runners with Betances’ deliberate delivery.

Good news is that Betances is working on his flaws. He made a basic fielding play during the WBC (nothing major) and Sanchez did throw out a runner during one of Dellin’s early spring outings. If Betances could improve on those two flaws, it’d make him that much more dominant, both at preventing runners from getting on base and then from scoring.

He may not throw 105 mph, but Betances is pretty much everything you want in a reliever. High velocity, killer breaking pitch and general fantastic performance. The guy literally struck out over 15 batters per nine innings last season. However, he may not be quite as good as his out-of-this-world 2014-15 in 2017 and there are reasons to doubt him after a lesser 2016. Still, expect Betances to be an essential part of the Yankees’ bullpen in this season.