Betances and Robertson give Yankees modern day Rivera and Wetteland

(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.

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Robertson: “This offseason I probably would have gone for a discount”

Via George King: David Robertson said he would have been open to signing an extension at a discount last offseason, but will now be looking for a market value deal as a free agent this winter. “It would have to be a legit offer at this point of the year. This offseason I probably would have gone for a discount, although I wasn’t a closer,” he said. “It’s not like I don’t like playing here, but I have to do what’s best for me.”

Robertson also confirmed the two sides still have not had any extension talks. The 29-year-old has been dynamite in his first season as the team’s closer, going 31-for-33 in save chances with a 2.62 ERA (1.97 FIP) and a 39.7% strikeout rate. Robertson’s in line for something like $10-12M per year over three or four years at this point. I think the Yankees will make Robertson a qualifying offer after the season ($15M or so), and if he accepts, they’ll have an elite reliever on an expensive one-year deal. I am on team #ExtendDRob and hope they work something out soon.

2014 Midseason Grades: The Bullpen

Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple, straightforward, and totally subjective grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. We’ve already covered the catchers, infielders, outfielders, and rotation, so now let’s wrap up with the bullpen.

Game over. (Al Bello/Getty)
Game over. (Al Bello/Getty)

David Robertson — Grade A

So maybe replacing Mariano Rivera won’t be so difficult after all. Robertson inherited the closer’s job — to the dismay of more than a few — and has run with it, pitching to a 2.76 ERA (1.73 FIP) in 32 appearances and 32.2 innings. He is 23-for-25 in save chances with a career best strikeout rate (16.26 K/9 and 44.7 K%) and a career best ground rate (51.6%) while keeping his walk rate (2.76 BB/9 and 7.6 BB%) in line with the last two years. Robertson is also holding opponents to a .198 batting average, second lowest of his career (.170 in 2011) despite a career worst .356 BABIP.

Robertson has allowed ten earned runs this year with five coming in one disaster outing against the Twins on June 1st. He has allowed one run while striking out 27 of 56 batters faced since. Overall, 59 of 98 outs this season have been strikeouts, including 58 of 89 (65.2%) since coming off the disabled list (groin) in mid-April. No pitcher who has thrown at least 30 innings this season has a high strikeout rate. It’s not even close, really. Robertson leads in K/9 by more than one full strikeout and in K% by roughly three percentage points. He’s been dominant in every sense of the word.

The Yankees will need Robertson to continue his dominance in the second half for obvious reasons, though his looming free agency will be hanging over everyone’s head. The two sides have not discussed an extension but that could change at any time. Relievers like Robertson — super high strikeout pitchers with proven late-inning/big market chops and no history of arm problems — are rare and the Yankees should make every effort to keep him beyond this season. If his work this year doesn’t convince them he is the man to replace Rivera long-term, then I’m not sure they’ll ever find someone good enough.

Lots of (very) high fives for Dellin this year. (Presswire)
Undisputed best photo of the season. (Presswire)

Dellin Betances — Grade A

Just a few short months ago, Betances had a win a roster spot in Spring Training. Now he’s an All-Star high-leverage reliever who is 1996 Rivera to Robertson’s 1996 John Wetteland. Betances has a 1.46 ERA (1.37 FIP) while ranking third among full-time relievers in innings (55.1) and first in both fWAR (2.1) and bWAR (1.7). His strikeout rate (13.66 K/9 and 40.8 K%) is a bit behind Robertson’s but still among the highest in the league. He’s also stopped walking dudes (2.60 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) and is getting grounders (50.5%).

Joe Girardi has not been shy about using Betances for multiple innings given his history as a starter — Betances has recorded at least four outs in 25 of his 40 appearances and at least six outs 12 times — though he did take his foot off the gas right before the All-Star break because it did appear the big right-hander was starting to fatigue a bit. His stuff was still electric but not quite as crisp. Hopefully the break recharges his batteries. A little more than a year ago, Betances looked like he may soon be out of baseball. The move into the bullpen has saved his career and given the Yankees a second elite reliever to pair with Robertson in the first season post-Mo.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Adam Warren — Grade B

From spot starter to swingman to trusted high-leverage reliever. Warren has had his role redefined over the last few seasons and he has now settled in as a quality third option behind Robertson and Betances. His numbers — 2.79 ERA (2.70 FIP) in 42 appearances and 48.1 innings — are not quite as good as those two, but he gets strikeouts (8.57 K/9 and 22.4 K%), gets grounders (46.8%), and is stingy with ball four (2.79 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). His fastball velocity has also ticked up in short relief, averaging 94.1 mph this year after sitting 93.0 last year.

As with Betances, Girardi has taken advantage of Warren’s history as a starter by using his for multiple innings on several occasions — he’s recorded 4+ outs in 18 of his 42 appearances. The Yankees have said that if the need arises, they would pull Warren out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation, but starters are dropping like flies and it hasn’t happened yet. Warren seems to have found a niche in short relief and he’s been a very valuable member of the bullpen despite being overshadowed by Robertson and Betances.

(Elsa/Getty)
Kelly and Kelley. (Elsa/Getty)

Shawn Kelley — Grade C

It was a tale of two first halves for Kelley, who opened the season as the regular eighth inning guy and nailed down four saves in four chances while Robertson was on the disabled list in April. He had a 1.88 (1.67 FIP) in his first 14.1 innings of the year before a disaster outing against the Angels on May 5th (two outs, four walks, three runs), after which he was placed on the disabled list with a back injury. It kept him out a month and he has a 4.05 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 13.1 innings since returning.

Kelley didn’t look right when he first returned from the back problem. He wasn’t able to finish his pitches and his trademark slider didn’t have much bite. It just kinda spun and floated. He looked much better in his last few outings before the All-Star break — one run, five hits, no walks, 13 strikeouts in 8.1 innings — and hopefully that’s a sign he’s now 100% and ready to take on some late-inning responsibilities so Girardi can spread the workload around. Definitely a mixed bag for Kelley in the first half.

Matt Thornton — Grade C

The rules of baseball fandom say we must hate the team’s lefty specialist, but Thornton has been solid (3.10 ERA and 3.04 FIP) in his 38 appearances and 20.1 innings. As his innings-to-appearances ratio suggests, Girardi has used him as a true matchup left-hander and not tried to force it against righties whenever possible. Thornton has held same-side hitters to a .229/.319/.244 (.262 wOBA) batting line with a 15.1% strikeout rate, a 3.8% walk rate, and a 50.0% ground ball rate. Solid.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The only real negative about Thornton is he doesn’t miss bats, even against left-handed hitters. That 15.1% strikeout rate is 76th out of the 90 left-handed pitchers who have faced at least 50 left-handed batters this year. Lefties have swung and missed only 20 times at the 220 pitches Thornton has thrown them this year (9.1%). That kinda sucks for a left-on-left reliever. Thornton missed a week with undisclosed soreness right before the break but did return to pitch against the Indians last week. LOOGYs, huh? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.

Preston Claiborne and David Huff — Grade C

Remember how awful Claiborne looked in Spring Training? We were talking about him as a candidate to be dropped from the 40-man roster if a need arose, but the Yankees kept him around and he pitched to a 3.57 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 17.2 innings while going up and down a few times in the first half. Three of his nine walks were intentional, uglifying his numbers a bit. Claiborne is currently on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list with a shoulder injury of unknown severity, which is not insignificant given his status as the team’s primary up and down depth arm.

The Yankees re-acquired Huff from the Giants in mid-June as part of their continuing efforts to find a not awful long man, and he’s since given the team 16.2 innings of 2.16 ERA (5.18 FIP) ball. Girardi used him as a matchup lefty while Thornton was out with his soreness and that predictably did not go well. Warren was pretty awesome by long man standards last year and that kinda spoiled us. Most long relievers stink. Is Huff keeping runs off the board? His ERA says yes. Has it been pretty? No but who cares. In that role you just want someone who can limited the damage and Huff has done that for the most part.

Alfredo Aceves — Grade F

Did you realize Aceves threw the sixth most innings among the team’s relievers in the first half? I sure didn’t. The Mexican Gangster threw 5.1 scoreless innings in long relief in his first outing back with the team, but it was all downhill from there. He allowed 14 runs on 20 hits (six homers!) and four walks in his next nine games and 14 innings, putting his overall season numbers at 6.52 ERA (6.29 FIP) in 19.1 total innings. The Yankees designated Aceves for assignment in early-June, he accepted the outright assignment to Triple-A Scranton, and he was recently suspended 50 games after a second failed test for a drug of abuse. He will be missed by: no one.

Matt Daley, Jose Ramirez, Bruce Billings, Jim Miller, Chris Leroux, Cesar Cabral, and Wade LeBlanc — Grade F

The combined pitching line of these seven: 33.2 IP, 46 H, 36 R, 33 ER, 19 BB, 33 K, 6 HBP, 6 HR. That’s an 8.82 ERA and a 5.19 FIP in one more inning than Robertson has thrown this year. I didn’t even include Dean Anna. /barfs

* * *

Girardi has had to rely on his bullpen more than I’m sure he would have liked in the first half, mostly because of the rotation injuries. Yankees relievers have thrown 292 innings this season, the 13th most in MLB, though their 264 total pitching changes are only 23rd most. That’s because of guys like Betances, Warren, and Huff being used for multiple innings at a time.

The bullpen has a 3.85 ERA (3.60 FIP) overall, which is bottom third in the league, but they have a top-heavy relief crew with arguably the best setup man/closer tandem in the game. The late innings are no problem at all. The middle innings are where it gets messy. Kelley is the bullpen key to the second half to me — if he gets back to pitching like he did before his back started acting up, Girardi will have another trustworthy high-strikeout arm who could potential solve that middle innings problem.

Robertson confirms there have been no extension talks with Yankees

Via Anthony McCarron: Free agent-to-be David Robertson confirmed he has not yet had any contract extension talks with the Yankees. “We’ll see what happens (after the season),” he said while noting he’d like to remain in New York. “There haven’t been any talks, so we’ll see … There’s just been zero talks. When the offseason comes, it comes and we’ll hear what other teams and everybody else wants to say.”

Robertson, 29, is 23-for-25 in save chances with a 2.76 ERA (1.73 FIP) in 32.2 innings during his first year as Mariano Rivera‘s replacement. Among pitchers to throw at least 30 innings this year, he leads baseball with 16.26 K/9 (by 1.45!) and 44.7 K% (by 3.6%!). I am terrible at predicting free agent contracts but I hope something in the neighborhood of Rafael Soriano‘s three-year, $35M deal would work. That means he’ll probably end up with four years and $52M or so. I am all aboard team #ExtendDRob. Keep him and Dellin Betances and enjoy the luxury of having two elite relievers. Guys who can handle the late innings in pinstripes don’t grow on trees, you know.

Mailbag: Betances, Robertson, Iglesias, Ruth

Only six questions for you this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Paul asks: Dellin Betances: All-Star?

At this point in time, I say yes on merit and no on actually getting elected to the game. Among the 108 relievers who had thrown at least 20 innings going into yesterday’s game, Betances ranked first in strikeouts (51), second in strikeout rate (44.9%), and second in FIP (1.02). Wade Davis ranked second (40), first (44.9%), and first (0.94), respectively. Betances has legitimately been one of the five or ten best relievers in baseball this season and that makes him All-Star Game worthy in my opinion.

Non-closing relievers get elected to the All-Star Game every year — Brett Cecil and Jesse Crain went just last year, for example — but it’s usually only one or two (not including the final vote). Remember, Red Sox manager John Farrell is filling out the AL roster this year after the players have their vote, and the manager tends to take his own guys. Joe Torre did it all the time in the late-90s and early-2000s. Would the Red Sox manager take a Yankees middle reliever over one of his own guys like Junichi Tazawa or Koji Uehara? Probably not. Betances has been awesome and I think he belongs to be in the All-Star Game, but belonging there and getting there are two different things.

Matt asks: Can you see the Yankees letting David Robertson walking at the end of the year and giving Betances the closer job?

Yes, I could, but the problem is that they’d still have to replace Robertson. Sure, Betances takes his role as the closer, but the Yankees would still be letting an elite reliever walk. Robertson is replaced as closer, but who replaces Betances as the middle innings fireman? Maybe someone like Danny Burawa or Mark Montgomery or Jose Ramirez could step up and do the job, but until they get a chance, we don’t know how much they can really help.

The Yankees have done a very good job of fielding a quality bullpen on the relatively cheap over the years, and letting Robertson walk as a free agent and saving $10-12M a year to spend elsewhere makes sense. At the same time, Robertson just turned 29 and he hasn’t had any arm problems in his career. He’s a strikeout machine who has proven he can handle high leverage spots in New York. It’s tough to let that guy walk, isn’t it? If he’s demanding Jonathan Papelbon money, then yeah, maybe let him walk. But if they can get Robertson to come back on a three-year deal worth that $10-12M per year (Rafael Soriano money, basically), I think they should do it. This isn’t like letting Joba Chamberlain or Luis Ayala walk.

Travis asks: What about Raciel Iglesias? What are the scouting reports on him?

Iglesias, 24, defected from Cuba over the winter and is throwing a showcase for scouts in Haiti today, according to Joel Sherman. Sherman says teams view the right-hander as a bullpen arm who could help as soon as the second half of this year (he was a reliever in Cuba). Here’s some more from Ben Badler:

Major league scouts (and Baseball America) have been able to see Iglesias pitch in person outside of Cuba twice this year. At the World Baseball Classic in March, Iglesias pitched at 88-92 mph. When Cuba visited the U.S. in July for a five-game friendship series against the U.S. College national team, Iglesias looked more impressive, throwing 92-95 mph while varying the speed and shape of his sweepy 76-81 mph breaking ball to get swings and misses.

“I think he’s a guy that, as he gets bigger and stronger, could be in the mid-to-upper 90s,” said Team USA coach Jim Schlossnagle, who is also the coach at Texas Christian. “He’s lean, has a ridiculously loose arm and pounded the strike zone. I was glad they didn’t pitch him more. He was the guy where you’re like, ‘Let’s find a way to get a lead before they get to this guy.’”

Badler says Iglesias stands 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., so he’s a skinny little guy. You can see that in the video above. I’ve also seen his name spelled Raciel, Raicel, and Rasiel, so we don’t even know how to properly spell the guy’s name at this point. There isn’t much information about him available. Sherman is well connected though, and if he hears that teams think Iglesias could help in the bullpen later this year, then it’s probably true. I assume the Yankees will do their due diligence — they can use another reliever, but that’s true for every team — but I haven’t heard anything specific about their level of interest. Same goes for every other team for that matter.

Wandy. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Wandy. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

A different Mike asks: Should the Yanks see if they can nab Wandy Rodriguez? He was recently designated. I don’t know if I’d give him a major league deal but a minor one for certain.

Yeah, there’s no way I’d give Wandy a big league contract at this point, but there’s no harm in a minor league deal. The Pirates ate about $5.5M in salary by cutting him — yet they won’t call up Gregory Polanco because they’re worried about a similar amount of money three years into the future, but I digress — so no one will claim him off waivers and take on that money. Rodriguez will eventually be released and free to sign with anyone.

Before getting designated for assignment, the 35-year-old southpaw had a 6.75 ERA (7.32 FIP) in 26.2 innings. He also gave up ten homers (!) and has been dealing with on and off elbow problems the last two years. Wandy’s numbers against lefties haven’t been all that good either, so it’s not even like there is reason to think he could help as a situational reliever. There’s no harm in giving him a minor league deal just to see if something clicks, but I don’t see how an AL East team could stick this guy on their active roster right now.

Nik asks: Question about Extended Spring Training games. Just who exactly is left down in Tampa to play these games? We hear about rehabbing players going to ExST and playing and how that doesn’t count toward their return countdown. Are these like practice squad players?

Extended Spring Training is basically Spring Training for the two short season leagues. It’s similar to regular old Spring Training in that there are daily drills and games against other ExST teams. They travel to the other complexes in Florida and everything. The games are not official though, they’re basically scrimmages. From what I understand they are open to the public too, you can just walk in and watch.

The players in ExST are the guys under contract with the team who have not been assigned to one of the full season minor league affiliates. SS Thairo Estrada is in ExST right now. So are RHP Ty Hensley and OF Leonardo Molina, for example. ExST ends when the short season leagues start in late-June (so when Short Season Staten Island and the Gulf Coast League Yanks begin play) and the players who do not get assigned to a minor league affiliate at that time are released or hidden on the phantom disabled list somewhere. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a continuation of Spring Training, only with minor leaguers.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Ryan asks: After seeing what Babe Ruth’s paycheck was it has me curious. If Ruth were say a 28 year old free agent today, what type of deal do you think he would sign? Money and years.

Here is Ruth’s paycheck, if you miss it floating around the internet the other day (I did). He was paid $7,685.23 twice a month (MLB players are paid on the 15th and 30th during the season, so today’s payday), which works out to $104,709.93 in 2014 dollars according to the CPI Inflation Calculator. That puts his annual salary at $1.25M or so in 2014 dollars, which is nothing by MLB standards. Baseball salaries have increased at a rate greater than general inflation.

Ruth was 32 years old in 1927 (the date on the paycheck) and was still a marvelous hitter, hitting his career-high and then-record 60 homers that season. Here is what Ruth did through his age 28 season:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1914 19 BOS AL 5 10 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 4 .200 .200 .300 .500 49
1915 20 BOS AL 42 103 16 29 10 1 4 20 9 23 .315 .376 .576 .952 188
1916 21 BOS AL 67 152 18 37 5 3 3 16 10 23 .272 .322 .419 .741 121
1917 22 BOS AL 52 142 14 40 6 3 2 14 12 18 .325 .385 .472 .857 162
1918 23 BOS AL 95 382 50 95 26 11 11 61 58 58 .300 .411 .555 .966 192
1919 24 BOS AL 130 543 103 139 34 12 29 113 101 58 .322 .456 .657 1.114 217
1920 25 NYY AL 142 616 158 172 36 9 54 135 150 80 .376 .532 .847 1.379 255
1921 26 NYY AL 152 693 177 204 44 16 59 168 145 81 .378 .512 .846 1.359 238
1922 27 NYY AL 110 496 94 128 24 8 35 96 84 80 .315 .434 .672 1.106 182
1923 28 NYY AL 152 697 151 205 45 13 41 130 170 93 .393 .545 .764 1.309 239
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2014.

Bold means he led the AL, bold and italicized means he led all of MLB. Take a second to fully grasp how dominant a hitter Ruth was. Defense is irrelevant at that point. He could have sat in a lawn chair in the outfield and been the best player in the game, which he clearly was.

Anyway, Ruth had a 231 OPS+ in his first four years in pinstripes. Miguel Cabrera had a 177 OPS+ in the four years before signing his record extension this spring. (We can’t really compare raw homer totals given the difference in eras, but Ruth hitting 40+ in the 1920s is far superior to Miggy hitting 40+ these days. Ruth out-homered entire teams back in the day.) Cabrera’s deal was ten years and $292M total, the extension plus the two years left on his current contract. He wasn’t a free agent on the open market, so there no bidding war to drive up the price.

Having just completed his age 28 season, I think Ruth would wind up getting something like 12 years and $396M ($33M per year) these days. That’s nothing more than my guess, we’re in uncharted territory here. Ruth was far and away the best player in baseball and I think that would result in far and away the richest contract in sports history. Remember how Alex Rodriguez‘s contract with the Rangers shattered records (the second largest sports contract at the time was Kevin Garnett’s $126M deal)? I think that would happen again today if 28-year-old Ruth hit free agency in today’s market. It would be unlike anything we’ve seen before.