2014 Season Review: The Best Pitching Trade of the Season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s amazing that despite all their offensive problems in 2014, the Yankees were rather desperate for pitching help at midseason. Ivan Nova (elbow) and CC Sabathia (knee) were lost for the season, and at one point it sure looked like Michael Pineda (shoulder) would be as well. David Phelps was doing an admirable job filling in and Vidal Nuno had his moments, but the Yankees needed more stability. Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda were rocks in the rotation. The rest was a mess.

On July 6th, three and a half weeks before the trade deadline, Brian Cashman pulled the trigger on a straight one-for-one swap with the Diamondbacks that sent Nuno to Arizona for right-hander Brandon McCarthy. The two sides were reportedly talking for weeks before ex-D’Backs GM Kevin Towers decided to sell. The timing worked out well for New York too — two days after the trade and one day before McCarthy’s first start in pinstripes, Tanaka suffered the partially torn elbow ligament that essentially ended his season.

It easy to be skeptical about what McCarthy at the time of the trade. His 5.01 ERA in 109.2 innings with Arizona was a major eyesore, as was his 1.23 HR/9 (20.2 HR/FB%). He had a 4.53 ERA in 135 innings the year before, and his long history of shoulder problems was another red flag — McCarthy visited the DL with a shoulder issue at least once every year from 2008-13. His strikeout rate (7.63 K/9 and 20.2 K%) with the D’Backs was fine and both his walk (1.64 BB/9 and 4.3 BB%) and grounder (55.3%) rates were excellent. The Yankees were hoping to get the 3.82 FIP version of McCarthy, not the 5.01 ERA version.

In true 2014 Yankees form, McCarthy’s very first inning with the team was derailed by shaky infield defense (Mark Teixeira throwing error) that resulted in three unearned runs. The Indians put seven balls in play that inning and two were in the air, both caught for outs. It was a rally built on Teixeira’s error and ground balls with eyes. McCarthy settled down after that and allowed just one more run in the next 5.2 innings. The Yankees eventually won the game in 14 innings. Quite the hectic debut.

McCarthy held the Reds and Rangers to one run in six innings in each of his next two starts before the Rangers touched him up for four runs in six innings. After that, McCarthy allowed just seven runs (four earned) in 27.1 innings across his next four starts. His best start for the Yankees and on the season in general came on August 21st, when he struck out eight in a four-hit shutout against the Astros:

McCarthy, who throughout his career has been a bit homer prone, allowed just three balls to leave the yard in his first nine starts with the Yankees. That little bit of good fortune came to a crashing halt in Toronto on the final day of August, when McCarthy allowed three solo homers in the span of four batters to turn a 3-0 lead into a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning. The Bombers went on to lose the game 4-3. It was not McCarthy’s finest moment. Not at all.

After that little homer episode, McCarthy allowed just four runs in his next three starts before getting clobbered in his final outing of the season (five runs in 5.1 innings against the Orioles), something that was a common theme throughout the rotation. Pineda was the only one not to get lit up in his final start. Anyway, McCarthy’s stint in pinstripes ended with a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 90.1 innings spread across 14 starts. His strikeout (8.17 K/9 and 22.2 K%), walk (1.30 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%), and grounder (49.1%) rates were all way better than average. His homer rate (1.00 HR/9 and 12.8 HR/FB%) was in line with his career average (1.04 HR/9 and 10.3 HR/FB%).

Soon after the trade, McCarthy told reporters the D’Backs didn’t allow him to throw his cutter, a key pitch in his arsenal when he transformed himself from a fastball/curveball pitcher to a cutter/sinker pitcher while with the Athletics a few years ago. “[Shelving the cutter] wasn’t something I totally agreed with,” McCarthy told Josh Thomson back in July.

“I feel like myself again. [The D’Backs] didn’t want me throwing it any more. They wanted more sinkers away, but I feel like I need that pitch to be successful,” said McCarthy to John Harper in July. “The Yankees came to me right away and said, ‘We need to bring the cutter back into play.’ They obviously looked back and saw, ‘when he’s good he was throwing cutters. When he’s not, he wasn’t.’ I was glad to hear it because I was going to tell them that anyway. It’s been frustrating because I felt like I’ve been throwing better this season than any other year.”

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Here is McCarthy’s pitch selection over the years, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

% Cutters % Sinkers % Curves % Four-Seamers
2011-12 with A’s 41.3% 36.1% 18.9% 3.7%
2013-14 with D’Backs 23.6% 49.2% 20.1% 7.1%
2014 with Yankees 18.8% 36.0% 20.9% 24.2%

McCarthy threw more cutters in his first two starts with the Yankees (37) than he did in his final eight starts with the D’Backs (36), but overall PitchFX says he threw fewer cutters in New York than he did Arizona.

There are two things going on here. At least I think there are two things going on here. One, McCarthy threw only 10.3% cutters with the D’Backs in 2014 before being traded (34.6% in 2013), so he actually did throw more cutters with the Yankees this year. Two, I think there are some PitchFX classification issues. The data at FanGraphs says he threw only 13.0% four-seamers with 45.6% sinkers and 20.4% cutters while in pinstripes. I think a bunch of those four-seamers are actually misclassified cutters, but I can’t confirm that. If that is the case, his pitch selection in the table above would much more closely resemble his time in Oakland, when he was awesome (3.29 ERA and 3.22 FIP).

McCarthy says he was using the pitch more often with the Yankees but the PitchFX data says otherwise, so I don’t know who to believe. I tend to believe the data at times like there, but there could be classification issues. It happens all the time, particularly with cutters, though they are usually mixed with sliders, with four-seamers. I really don’t know what’s going on here. Maybe McCarthy and the Yankees were just blowing smoke when they said he was throwing more cutters.

Anyway, here’s something neat (via Brooks):

Brandon McCarthy velocity

McCarthy added a ton of velocity this year. Across the board too, even his curveball was harder. His cutter went from 90.7 mph last year to 92.2 mph this year. His sinker went from 91.8 mph to 93.8 mph and his curve went from 79.1 mph to 82.3%. These are really big increases! McCarthy told Nick Piecoro back in Spring Training that he changed his offseason routine in an effort to avoid the DL, which he did in 2014 for basically the first time in his career. The velocity could simply be the result of having a healthy shoulder for the first time in years.

Regardless of what’s going on with the cutters and increased velocity and all that, McCarthy gave the Yankees a big shot in the arm after the trade and was borderline ace-like for 14 starts. It happened. It’s in the books. Worry about how he will perform in the future and if he’ll re-sign with the Yankees another time. There’s an entire winter to do that. For now, I just want to point out that even though both Jon Lester and David Price were traded at the deadline, McCarthy had the most impact of any pitcher traded this summer. It just wasn’t quite enough to get the Yankees back to the postseason.

Report: Kia Tigers may post lefty Hyeon-Jong Yang

The following is a post from Sung-Min Kim (@sung_minkim), who has also written posts about Kei Igawa, Hyo-Jun Park, and Kwang-Hyun Kim.

Yang at the 2014 Asian Games in September. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
Yang at the 2014 Asian Games in September. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

On Tuesday, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported the Kia Tigers of KBO are going to post ace lefty Hyeon-Jong Yang. That was odd to me. Usually, when it comes to news about Korean players being posted or ML teams expressing desire in one, Korean media has the first official report. I had read an article or two about Yang being scouted by both major league and NPB scouts, but there didn’t seem to be any strong interest from any teams from either league. Another odd thing about the Daily News report is Yang being evaluated as a possible No. 3 starter in the majors — that’s quite high even for a lot of the Korean fans. But because his name has started to bounce around around the major league writers and fans, I decided to write up Yang.

Unlike Hyun-Jin Ryu or Kwang-Hyun Kim, Yang does not have much of a superstar pedigree in KBO, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance. The lefty broke out in 2009, his age 21 season, by going 12-5, 3.15 ERA while punching out 139 in 148.2 IP. He had an okay 2010 by putting up 4.25 ERA and winning 16 games. However, allowing 98 walks in 169.1 IP was worrying and that amplified the season after. In 2011, Yang lost his command (69 walks and 74 strikeouts in 106.1 IP with a 6.18 ERA) and spent a chunk of the season in minors. Things weren’t too better in 2012 — he went 1-2, 5.05 ERA in 41 IP while recording more walks (31) than strikeouts (26). By the end that season, he was known as the “forgotten ace” of the Tigers who once showed brilliance but was ruined by command problems. However, Yang came back big in 2013. Given another chance to stick at rotation after the spring training, the lefty posted a 3.10 ERA in 104.2 IP while posting a much-improved 3.70 BB/9 and striking people out (8.17 K/9).

Yang had a bit of a mixed 2014, but mostly positive. He put up a 4.25 ERA in 171.1 IP — hardly a sexy figure from a pitcher that is being rumored to advance from KBO to MLB. But, as I’ve said in the Kwang-Hyun Kim post, the Korean Baseball Organization experienced an extraordinarily offense-friendly season like never before. As a matter of fact, according to peripherals, he was the best Korean-born starter in KBO in the season, leading in FIP (4.19), WAR (5.24) and K/9 (8.67). (Best starter in KBO altogether? Either Rick VandenHurk or Andy Van Hekken.)

According to Feinsand’s article, a scout that has seen Yang said the lefty “sits between 92-95 mph” with his fastball. Well, from what I’ve seen in multiple games, it’s more like high-80’s-to-low-90’s. Here’s a video of him pitching from an April 2014 start. In the video, he’s around mid-140 kmph (approx. 87 mph) with his fastball while generating swing-and-misses with his slider. His slider has been praised as a plus pitch by the Korean media but it remains to be seen how it would translate in the majors, or even in NPB. While his array of stuff has worked well in Korea at striking out hitters, a pitcher that sits 88-92 mph with stuff that has not been particularly praised by ML scouts a la Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka is not exactly the sexiest target.

Here’s a Korean article from Oct. 21 about Yang being scouted by ML and NPB teams. In his last start of the season, scouts from Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers and the Yomiuri Giants of NPB attended the Kia Champions Field in Kwangju to watch him. According to a ML scout quoted in the article, around “three to five” teams from MLB and Japan have been monitoring the lefty throughout the season. No word on a strong interest from any ML team, but it does show that there is some interest. It will also be up to the Kia Tigers to see if they want to lose their No. 1 starter. The team had lost out their previous ace, RHP Suk-Min Yoon, to the Baltimore Orioles before the 2014 season. After finishing with a dreadful 54-74 record (8th out of the 9-team league), will the team want to lose their best pitcher? According to the article, the team will let him go if they receive the compensation they are willing to accept (a.k.a not a small posting fee).

Even though he has pitched better and more consistently in the previous two seasons, Yang’s command remains a weak spot. In 2014, he posted a 4.04 BB/9 — the same clip that A.J. Burnett had this year. Unlike Ryu, Hyeon-Jong Yang was never known as a control savant in KBO — as I’ve mentioned before, his career was almost ruined by command problems. I see Kwang-Hyun Kim as a pitcher who’s comparable to Yang since both lefties with fastball around low-90’s with less-than-ideal command. Of course I am not saying that they are the same pitcher, but I am skeptical of both of their chances of being successful as starters in ML as much as Ryu has been. The scout referenced in Feinsand’s article must have seen something he liked that lead him to believe his skillset would translate well in the majors. Otherwise, based on Yang’s history and attributes, it’s hard to think why he would be a potential “No. 2-3 starter” in ML right away.

For 2015, I expect Yang to pitch similar to his 2013 and 2014 level, which may not be good enough to survive in the bigs. As of this writing, there still isn’t an official team statement from the Tigers about posting the lefty to majors. We might see one soon — I doubt Feinsand pulled the information out of nowhere. Yang’s team, like Kwang-Hyun Kim’s team, failed to qualify for postseason baseball in Korea (which is still going on by the way — they just finished the Game 2 of Korean Series) and they can post him anytime that they wish to. It’s unclear if the pitching-needy Yankees have interest.

Mailbag: Kendrick, Stauffer, Rangers, Braun, Bird

Ben is planning to post his obligatory offseason wish list tomorrow morning (Mike’s, Joe’s), in the usual mailbag slot. So my options were either post the mailbag a day early or not at all this week. A day early it is. Got seven questions this week. The best way to send us questions or links or comments or anything is with the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Kendrick. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Kendrick. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Jacob asks: Should the Yanks go after Howie Kendrick going on the idea a proven player is better to have than an unknown (Rob Refsnyder)? What might it take to get him?

Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Angels are likely to trade either Kendrick or David Freese to free up money, with Kendrick more likely to go because his $9.5M salary in 2015 is higher than Freese’s projected $6.3M salary through arbitration. (Both will be free agents after next season.) The Yankees are not one of the four teams on Kendrick’s limited no-trade clause, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith. Rosenthal says the Halos want pitching, surprise surprise.

Trading for Kendrick would automatically add a win or two to the Yankees’ season total because he flat out destroys them whenever they play the Angels. At least it feels like it would. The 31-year-old Kendrick hit .293/.347/.397 (115 wRC+) with seven homers this past season and has hit .292/.336/.410 (111 wRC+) over the last three years. He’s also solidly above-average in the field and has been for years according to the various defensive stats. Kendrick isn’t the multi-time batting champ most expected him to become when he was in the minors (seriously, look at his MiLB stats) but he’s a damn good all-around second baseman.

Kendrick would obviously be a big boost to the Yankees but they don’t have the pitching to trade for him, not unless the Halos really like Shane Greene, David Phelps, or Bryan Mitchell. The Yankees aren’t exactly in position to give away arms either given all the injury concerns in the rotation. I’d take Kendrick on my team in a heartbeat and worry about Refsnyder later. New York doesn’t matchup well for a trade though, especially since other second base needy teams like the Nationals, Blue Jays, and Athletics have a few young arms to spare.

Travis asks: Is Tim Stauffer an under the radar fit for the Yankees roster?

I’ve always liked Stauffer for no apparent reason. Just one of those guys I like, you know? The Padres selected Stauffer with the fourth overall pick in 2003, agreed to give him a $2.9M bonus, but reduced it to only $750k after a pre-signing physical found something in his shoulder that required surgery. Stauffer reached MLB in 2005 but didn’t stick until 2009. He has a 3.37 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 480.1 innings across 56 starts and 109 relief appearances since.

Stauffer. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Stauffer. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Stauffer, 32, had a 3.50 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 64.1 swingman innings this year with excellent strikeout (9.37 K/9 and 24.5 K%) and homer (0.56 HR/9 and 7.4 HR/FB%) rates, but mediocre walk (3.22 BB/9 and 8.4 BB%) and ground ball (41.9%) rates. His homer and grounder rates were way down from the 0.81 HR/9 (10.8 HR/FB%) and 52.2 GB% he posted from 2010-13, which is a little fishy. Stauffer’s a five-pitch guy even in relief, using low-90s two and four-seamers to set up his mid-80s slider, low-80s changeup, and mid-70s curveball.

Unsurprisingly, Stauffer told Corey Brock he would like to start in 2015, though he did say he is “pretty open to different roles.” With Vidal Nuno in Arizona and Adam Warren settled into a short relief role, Phelps is the Yankees swingman by default. Chances are they will need him in the rotation at some point next year, so bringing in a veteran like Stauffer to fill the last spot in the bullpen would make some sense. I have no idea what it would take so sign him, but obviously they shouldn’t pay much for a swingman. One year, $1M tops?

Dustin asks: What are the chances the Rangers deal either Jurickson Profar or Rougned Odor this offseason, would either be usable at short, and what do you think the prospect price might be?

I don’t think the Rangers will deal either this winter, honestly. Profar missed the entire 2014 season after tearing muscles in his shoulder in  Spring Training and having numerous setbacks, including one in late-September. GM Jon Daniels told Evan Grant he hopes Profar will be cleared to resume baseball activity by January, which doesn’t sound too promising. The Rangers can’t feel too great about his status right now.

Odor had an okay rookie season at age 20, hitting .259/.297/.402 (90 wRC+) with iffy defense in 114 games after skipping over Triple-A. He’s their starting second baseman at this moment. Infielder Luis Sardinas, 21, just had a ~75 wRC+ split between Double-A and Triple-A, so he’s probably not a starting MLB option at this point. With Profar’s status uncertain and no other in-house alternative, Odor probably isn’t available unless it’s a big overpay at this point. Overpaying for unproven 20-year-olds is no way to do business.

David asks: Any idea one way or the other if the Yankees would consider Rudy Jaramillo as their hitting coach? I had heard nothing but praise for the guy for years, then he was dumped by the Cubs and hasn’t been heard from since. Did he officially retire, or could he be an option?

Jaramillo is essentially the Lou Mazzone of hitting coaches. Mazzone was the pitching coach for all those great Braves teams with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, but the bloom came off the roster when he joined the Orioles and wasn’t surrounded by Hall of Famers anymore. Jaramillo made his name with the 1995-2009 Rangers, who had Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton, among others. Then he went to the Cubs in 2010 and couldn’t magically make their hitters better.

Anyway, Jaramillo was fired by the Cubs in June 2012 and hasn’t been heard from since. He’s going to turn 64 later this month and may have decided it was simply time to retire. There hasn’t been anything linking the Yankees to Jaramillo, and remember, he was in Chicago with pitching coaching Larry Rothschild and special assistant Jim Hendry. The Bombers have some firsthand knowledge about him as a person and as a coach.

Braun. (Tom Lynn/Getty)
Braun. (Tom Lynn/Getty)

Arad asks: Would you take on Ryan Braun and his contract right now? His 5/105 doesn’t kick in until 2016 but he’s still a highly productive hitter who could fit well in this lineup.

I definitely would not and it’s not because of the performance-enhancing drug stuff. He has a chronic nerve issue in his right thumb/hand — he had surgery just last month — that has affected his offense because he simply can’t hold the bat properly. Braun hit a still productive .266/.324/.453 (114 wRC+) with 19 homers in 135 games this year, but that’s a far cry from the monster he was at his peak. He turns 31 in two weeks and has been dealing with this thumb problem for two seasons now. There’s $107M left on his contract through 2020 and that sucker is all but guaranteed to be nothing but decline years. This is exactly the kind of contract the Yankees need to avoid.

Dan asks: If he had managed to stay healthy while catching, how would Greg Bird rate as a prospect?

Very highly, even if he was only an average defensive catcher. Bird is a good first base prospect but he’d be a great catching prospect with that offense. I don’t think I’d rate him ahead of Luis Severino or Aaron Judge in the system, it really depends on how much I believed in his glove, but he’d probably jump over Gary Sanchez and into the third spot. Of course, if Bird was still catching, he probably wouldn’t be hitting like this. Catching is brutal, man.

Patrick asks: I was thinking about how NHL free agency is so different than MLB because of so many players signing on the first day. Has that happened at all in MLB in recent memory?

It’s never happened like that in MLB. Free agency in the NHL, NFL, and to a lesser extent the NBA are like this because they’re salary cap leagues. Players in the NFL, NFL, and NBA sign on the first day because they don’t want to be left on the board when teams have already used up their cap space. There are no such concerns in MLB — teams have their payroll limits of course, but there’s no hard cap — so free agents can wait. Besides, the MLB offseason would be boring as hell if all the top free agents signed on the first day.

Former Yankees lefty Brad Halsey dead at 33

(AP Photo/Ed Betz)

Former Yankees left-hander Brad Halsey is dead at the age of 33, his representatives at O’Connell Sports confirmed. He was killed in a climbing accident near his home in Texas according to Bob Nightengale. No other details have been released.

Halsey was New York’s eighth round pick in the 2002 draft. He reached the big leagues in June 2004 and won his first career start by holding the Dodgers to two runs in 5.2 innings. Halsey started the famous July 1st game against the Red Sox, which is best remembered for Derek Jeter‘s face-first dive into the stands and John Flaherty’s walk-off double.

After going 1-3 with a 6.47 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance in 2004, the Yankees traded Halsey to the Diamondbacks as part of the package for Randy Johnson. He spent one year with Arizona (8-12, 4.61) before being traded to the Athletics for Juan Cruz. Halsey spent the 2006 season with Oakland (5-4, 4.67) before blowing out his shoulder and needing surgery.

Halsey filed and won a grievance against the Athletics for the way they handled his shoulder injury. He bounced around Triple-A and the independent leagues for a few years before returning to the Yankees on a minor league contract in 2011. Halsey had a 4.73 ERA in 24 relief appearances with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton that year, his last as a professional player.

Our condolences go out to Halsey’s family and friends.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

As you may have heard, two-time former Yankee Alfonso Soriano announced his retirement from baseball yesterday. He retires as a .270/.319/.500 (111 wRC+) career hitter with 481 doubles, 412 homers, and 289 steals in parts of 16 big league seasons. Soriano never learned to lay off the down-and-away slider but became one of the best power-speed players in baseball anyway. His go-ahead solo homer off Curt Schilling in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series is one of the most forgotten clutch homers in history because of what happened in the ninth. Soriano was awfully fun to watch when he was at his best. Hell of a career, he had.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets are all playing tonight. Talk about those games, Soriano’s retirement, or anything else right here. Have at it.

2015 Draft Order Tracker

Just a heads up, our 2015 Draft Order page is finally up and running. You can keep track of draft picks as they change hands via free agent compensation there. The Yankees currently hold the 19th overall pick but could very well lose that if they sign one of the 12 free agents who received a qualifying offer. They could also gain a supplemental first round selection if David Robertson signs elsewhere. The 2015 Draft Order page is available at all times via the Resources tab under the street sign in the banner at the top of the page.

2014 Season Review: Dealin’ Dellin

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Man, Dellin Betances had to travel a long and hard road to get to where he was in 2014, namely being a deserving All-Star and arguably the best relief pitcher on the planet. The Yankees drafted him way back in the eighth round of the 2006 draft, gave him a $1M bonus to pass on a commitment to Vanderbilt — that was before the draft got borked — and waiting patiently as he battled injury and (occasionally extreme) control problems in the minors.

Here, let’s take a moment to soak in Dellin’s minor league career to fully understand where he’s coming from:

Year Age Lev ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2006 18 Rk 1.16 7 7 23.1 14 5 3 1 7 27 1 2 0.900 5.4 0.4 2.7 10.4
2007 19 A- 3.60 6 6 25.0 24 11 10 0 17 29 2 3 1.640 8.6 0.0 6.1 10.4
2008 20 A-Rk 3.92 25 24 121.2 100 64 53 9 62 141 11 11 1.332 7.4 0.7 4.6 10.4
2009 21 A+ 5.48 11 11 44.1 48 29 27 2 27 44 2 3 1.692 9.7 0.4 5.5 8.9
2010 22 A+-AA 2.11 17 17 85.1 53 25 20 4 22 108 4 6 0.879 5.6 0.4 2.3 11.4
2011 23 AA-AAA 3.70 25 25 126.1 102 61 52 9 70 142 10 7 1.361 7.3 0.6 5.0 10.1
2012 24 AAA-AA 6.44 27 26 131.1 144 107 94 13 99 124 12 20 1.850 9.9 0.9 6.8 8.5
2013 25 AAA 2.68 38 6 84.0 52 25 25 2 42 108 7 8 1.119 5.6 0.2 4.5 11.6
8 Seasons 3.99 156 122 641.1 537 327 284 40 346 723 49 60 1.377 7.5 0.6 4.9 10.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/4/2014.

There’s a lot going on there, and a lot of it isn’t good. Betances was damn near out of baseball in May 2013 before the Yankees permanently shifted him to the bullpen, hoping the shorter outings would better allow him to repeat his delivery and locate. The decision paid off immediately as Betances dominated for Triple-A Scranton the rest of the season and impressed during his September call-up.

For the first time in his eight full seasons as a professional baseball player, Betances came to Spring Training this year with a chance to win a big league job. There was an opening in the bullpen, and while he was the best choice for the spot on paper, he had to come to camp to show last season’s bullpen success was no fluke first. His career had been way too up-and-down to hand him anything. Dellin had a minor league option left. The Yankees could have easily sent him to Triple-A.

Betances showed up to Tampa in the spring and won that bullpen spot with ease. He only struck out eleven in 12.1 Grapefruit League innings, but it felt like a lot more. More importantly, Dellin was locating his fastball — in addition to flat out blowing it by hitters, of course — and dropping his breaking ball in for called strikes. The outing that appeared to cement his place in the big league bullpen came on March 23rd, when he struck out Jose Bautista and got Edwin Encarnacion to fly out harmlessly to left with the bases loaded.

When the regular season started, Betances was the second-to-last man in the bullpen, ahead of only Vidal Nuno. David Robertson was locked into the closer’s role and Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, and David Phelps all had more big league time among the setup candidates. Betances made his first appearance of the year in the team’s very first game, striking out two in a perfect inning of work with the Yankees down six runs in the seventh inning. That’s as low-leverage as it gets.

Three days later, Betances entered a game the Yankees were leading by three runs with two outs in the eighth. He walked the first man he faced (Bautista) before getting the next (Encarnacion) to ground out to end the inning. The Yankees scored an insurance run in the top of the ninth, so Joe Girardi sent Dellin back out for the bottom half, but he walked the leadoff man on four pitches and that was that. The leash was short. Robertson came in to close out the game.

Dellin climbed the bullpen totem pole over the next few weeks, allowing three runs while striking out 21 of 47 batters faced in his final eight appearances and 12 innings of April. By mid-May he had established himself not as Girardi’s primary eighth inning guy, but as a multi-inning middle reliever who routinely got five or six outs at a time. His coming of age moment, if you will, came on May 15th against the Mets, when he struck out six of seven batters faced with the Yankees leading 1-0.

From that moment on, Girardi regularly turned to Betances in the game’s biggest situations and used him as a multi-inning high-leverage reliever. It was awesome. It was the perfect role. The kind of role we talk about all the time even though it never really happens because relief pitcher-ing is hard. Betances struck out 35 of 70 batters faced — half! — at one point from mid-May through mid-June, and he went into the All-Star break with a 1.46 ERA (1.36 FIP) and a 40.8% strikeout rate in 55.1 innings across 40 appearances.

Red Sox manager John Farrell named Betances to the AL All-Star Team — he was the only non-closing reliever named to the AL team — though he was one of three pitchers who did not pitch in the game, along with Mark Buehrle and David Price. It was disappointing but not really a bad thing given his first half workload. Betances threw a ton of important innings in the first half and a little four-day rest in mid-July was the best thing for him in the grand scheme of things.

After the All-Star break, it appeared Girardi and the Yankees made the conscious decision to limit Dellin’s workload in the second half. After recording four outs or more 24 times in the first half, he was asked to do it only eleven times after the All-Star break. His effectiveness never waned but the Yankees were simply being careful with someone who quickly emerged as a top asset. Betances settled into a tradition eighth inning role in late-July and for the most part stayed their through the end of the season.

My single favorite plate appearance of the 2014 season came on August 5th, when Betances flat-out overpowered two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera with the score tied in the top of the eighth. He got Miggy to swing over a breaking ball and through two 99-100 mph fastballs. It was swoon worthy. Check it out:

Dellin’s final appearance as a multi-inning super-reliever came on August 13th, as the Yankees were clinging to postseason hope in a game against the division rival Orioles. They were up 2-1 in the sixth inning when Girardi called on Betances, who struck out he side in the sixth and retired the side in order in the seventh. He went back out for the eighth with his pitch count at only 24, got the first out, then served up a game-tying solo homer to Jonathan Schoop. The Yankees lost the game when the rest of the bullpen melted down.

Betances finished the season with a 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) in 90 innings spread across 70 appearances. His strikeout (13.50 K/9 and 39.6 K%) numbers were off the charts, and he also posted very good walk (2.40 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%), homer (0.40 HR/9 and 6.0 HR/FB%), and ground ball (46.6%) rates. Betances led all full-time relievers in innings, strikeouts (135), WPA (+4.42), fWAR (3.2), and bWAR (3.7). His 35 appearances of at least four outs were the most in baseball by a wide margin (Warren was second with 29.)

The parallels between Betances’ career and Mariano Rivera‘s are kinda eerie. Both were starting pitching prospects who had their issues in the minors and didn’t break out until being moved into the bullpen full-time. They both had dominant first full seasons with the Yankees as a multi-inning setup man at age 26 — Betances broke Mo’s single-season reliever strikeout record (130 in 1996) this year — and like Rivera, Betances could wind up taking over as closer in his second year if the team’s veteran closer leaves via free agency. That doesn’t mean Betances will be the next Rivera of course, just that they’ve have freakishly similar careers to date.

What happens with Betances in the future is a conversation for another time. For now, let’s just appreciate his 2014 mastery, when he was unquestionably the most exciting thing about the Yankees from Opening Day through Game 162. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda had their moments around their injuries, but Betances was there from start to finish. We were all upset every time the bullpen door opened and someone other than Dellin came running out even though we knew he couldn’t pitch everyday. Dealin’ Dellin was the rose that grew out of the cracks in the sidewalk that was the 2014 Yankees.