Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are not only dominant, they’re efficient too

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As Yankees fans, we’ve been privileged to watch some stellar bullpen work in our lifetimes. Older fans (no offense!) can go back to Sparky Lyle, Goose Gossage, and Dave Righetti. More recently you have Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and, of course, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. In less than two weeks Aroldis Chapman will join that group.

Even with all those great bullpeners, I don’t think we’ve ever seen two relievers — either at the same time or in different years — as overwhelmingly dominant as Betances and Miller are right now. Their numbers are truly video game-like: one earned run on nine hits and two walks in 19 innings. They’ve struck out 38. Thirty-eight! That’s out of 67 base-runners, so 56.7% have stuck out. El oh el.

Betances and Miller have been unreal this season, and what has really impressed me is how efficient they’ve been while being so dominant. Miller has made nine appearances and only once has he thrown more than 13 pitches. Once! Betances, who is no stranger to long innings, has reached the 20-pitch mark just three times in ten outings. His last three appearances have checked in at 13 pitches or less.

Keep in mind these two are keeping their pitch counts low despite all those strikeouts. Last year Miller averaged 15.7 pitches per inning and he threw a strike 67% of the time. This year he’s at 11.4 pitches per inning (!) and 79% strikes. That’s bonkers. Betances has upped his strike rate slightly from 62% last year to 63% this year, though it’s 66% since his two-walk appearance on Opening Day.

The quick outings are especially helpful right now because Joe Girardi has had to lean on Betances and Miller an awful lot so far this season. The Yankees have struggled to score consistently, so when they have had a lead, it’s typically been one or two (maybe three) runs. In fact, Betances and Miller have each appeared in seven of the team’s eight wins. The only one they avoided was the 16-6 blowout over the Astros.

Overall the Yankees have played 18 games; Betances has pitched in ten and Miller has pitched in nine. That’s a lot but it sounds worse than it is. The Yankees had all those off-days early on, remember. Those 18 games have been played 21 calendar days. They’ve had two scheduled off-days plus a rainout. Don’t get me wrong, Betances and Miller have pitched a lot, but not quite every other day.

Chapman will be back in two weeks and will inevitably help lighten the load on the back-end of the bullpen. Girardi has talked about using only two of his three big relievers per game in order to make sure one is always fresh and available the next day, which sounds great, though we’ll see how it works in practice. This strikes me as one of those ideas that is much easier said than done.

For now, Betances and Miller have endured heavy workloads through the first 18 games, but they’ve been able to mitigate that workload with quick innings. They’ve been able to cut down on their pitches per inning while maintaining an absurdly high strikeout rate because they’re simply throwing so many strikes. It’s good to have stuff so crisp that hitters still can’t touch it when you throw it over the plate.

Yankeemetrics: #RISPFAIL [April 15-17]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

It’s not what you want, Part I
The good news is that the Yankees created a ton of scoring chances on Friday night. The bad news is that they failed miserably in cashing in on those opportunities – and the result was a frustrating 7-1 loss to the Mariners in the series opener.

The Yankees put 13 guys on base overall and just one of them touched home plate – a solo homer by Brett Gardner in the first inning. It marked the first time they left 12-or-more men on base and scored only one run in a game since May 29, 2012 against the Angels.

They had at least one baserunner in seven of the nine innings and multiple guys on in the fourth, fifth and sixth frames. Yet, they couldn’t come up with the Big Hit ® as they went hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Jacoby Ellsbury was the only Yankee starter that didn’t reach base, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. It was his 15th game in pinstripes with at least five at bats and zero hits, the most such games of any player on the team since his debut in 2014.

It’s not what you want, Part II
Another day, another three-plus hours of futility at the plate for the Yankees, who left a small navy of runners on base and lost 3-2 to the Mariners on Saturday afternoon.

They somehow managed to set a new level of offensive ineptitude for 2016, surpassing Friday’s debacle by going hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position again and this time stranding a whopping 14 baserunners.

It’s the first time in more than three decades that the Yankees have lost back-to-back nine-inning games while leaving at least 12 runners on base in each contest. The last time it happened was June 5-6, 1984 against the Red Sox.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the last major-league team to go 0-for-12 or worse with RISP in consecutive games was the Orioles in 1993.

CC Sabathia made his 200th start with the Yankees but it was a forgettable one. He was pulled in the fifth inning after allowing three runs on seven hits and with his pitch count at 95. Still, the milestone is a significant one for Sabathia, who also surpassed the 200-start mark with the Indians.

He is just the sixth pitcher in major-league history – and the second lefty – to have at least 200 starts and 1,000 strikeouts with two different franchises. The others in this club are Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson (the lone southpaw), Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan and Jim Bunning.

Carlos Beltran did his best to spark the Yankees offense, driving in two runs while going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer. At the age of 38 and 358 days, he is the oldest player in franchise history to have a four-hit game that included at least three extra-base hits. He surpassed Babe Ruth, who was 38 years and 175 days old when he went 4-of-5 with two doubles and a triple against the Senators in 1933.

Do you believe in miracles?
Yes!

Brett Gardner’s RBI double in the third inning, which scored Jacoby Ellsbury from second base, snapped an ugly 0-for-30 streak with runners in scoring position by the Yankees that dated back to the Blue Jays series (Of course, that was their only hit in 11 at-bats with RISP during the game. But one hit is progress!)

The Yankees also broke their four-game losing streak, avoided the dreaded sweep against the Mariners, and had their best offensive output (four runs) since April 9 in Detroit.

A-Rod also joined the streak-breaking party in the second inning when he smoked the first pitch he saw into the left field stands for career homer No. 689. That ended a 19 at-bat hitless streak, which was two shy of the longest in his career (2002 and 2007). He entered the game with a .100 batting average this year, his worst mark through eight games played in any season during his career.

The Yankees got seven strong innings from Masahiro Tanaka, who is now 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts against Seattle. He kept the Mariners lineup off-balance all afternoon with his nasty splitter, which netted him five of his six strikeouts and 14 swinging strikes, the most he’s ever had in a game with that pitch. Thanks to his sinker-heavy approach, Tanaka generated a ton of soft contact and his 12 ground ball outs also were a career-high.

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller sealed the win with another pair of ridiculously dominant performances as they each struck out the side in the eighth and ninth innings on 26 total pitches. The pair has recorded 33 outs this season, and 27 of them have been strikeouts.

Of the last 15 batters that Betances has retired, 14 have been via strike three. He’s now had four outings in a row with at least three strikeouts and no more than 1⅓ innings pitched. Betances is the only pitcher in major-league history to put together a streak like that — and it’s not even the first time he’s done it. He had a similar stretch May 26-June 1 last year.

King: Yankees renewed Betances at league minimum after he rejected contract offer

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Yankees renewed Dellin Betances‘ contract at the league minimum this offseason after he rejected their initial offer. The team was more or less free to pay Betances whatever they want because he has fewer than three years of service time. Here’s more from King:

According to Betances, the Yankees offered him a contract for $540,000 this year. Betances said he didn’t sign it, on the advice of his representative, Jim Murray. He knew if he didn’t ink the contract, the Yankees could renew him at any number. And that’s what the club did: Betances is making $507,500 this season, which is what he made a year ago.

Betances and his agent turned down the raise on principle. He’ll still be well-paid this season — by normal people standards, not baseball player standards — and they’ve now let the Yankees know they weren’t happy with their initial offer. Both Jacob deGrom and Brad Boxberger rejected raises this past offseason as well, and both had their contracts renewed. Gerrit Cole complained about his small raise before begrudgingly accepting the offer.

Players with fewer than three years of service time have basically no negotiating leverage. Teams are free to pay them whatever they want, though most clubs have some sort of sliding scale based on service time and other accomplishments (awards, All-Star Games, etc.) to keep things fair and simple. A few years back Mike Trout was the highest paid player with fewer than three years of service time in history. He made $1M.

While I understand there may be concern the contract renewal will create bad blood between Betances and the Yankees, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s a business. This is the system that was collectively bargained. The Yankees had every right to new renew his contract the same way Betances had the right to reject an offer. Dellin’s a pro. He’s still going to go out and do his job.

Next offseason Betances will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time, so he’s got a substantial raise coming his way. Jonathan Papelbon holds the record for first time arbitration-eligible relievers at $6.25M, but he was a closer, and saves pay big in arbitration. I don’t know what the record is for first time non-closers, but I imagine Dellin is in position to break it, especially if he goes to his third All-Star Game this summer.

Betances will not qualify for free agency until after the 2019 season, when he’ll be nearing his 32nd birthday. The Yankees have him for the rest of this year plus three more seasons, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. In all likelihood the team will get the best years of Dellin’s career before he hits the open market. What happens then? That’s something to worry about in 2019.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

The Crookeds and the Straights

“You got to take the crookeds with the straights.” Few lines can more accurately sum up the course of a baseball season than this one. Opening Day for the Yankees is just one sleep away and so our tired, baseball-starved feet finally rest at the variously crooked and straight path that is the 162-game marathon of a Major League season. Just like the 30 teams, each individual player will have his own crooked and straight moments to form the mosaic of his season. Hopefully for the Yankees’ players, there are more straights than crookeds. Let’s take a look at those possibilities for the place that’s a big question for the Yanks: the mound

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Middle Relief

I’ll take this as a group instead of going player-by-player, since the same thing applies to just about all of them. Here lies the boom and bust potential of the team. If they can preserve the leads that the starters–not always likely to go deep–can hand to them, they can help overcome the iffiness of the rotation and hand things off to the definitively solid back end of the bullpen. If not, they make the back end of the bullpen almost meaningless. The faces in here will change throughout the year, but the job remains the same: just get the outs when your name is called.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Ivan Nova

I touched on his relief potential earlier in the year, and I’ll stick to my story here. The straight side of things is that Nova becomes Adam Warren. The crooked is that he continues being Ivan Nova, a pitcher whose only new trick is inconsistency in a new role. Ironically, going crooked instead of straight may be Nova’s best shot; like I wrote back in late January, if he focuses on his sinker and his curve, he may turn out alright as a reliever.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances

This is the place where the Yankees are mostly likely to have things go straight. Miller and Betances–along with Aroldis Chapman–are the safest bets of any Yankee players to be their elite selves this year. If things go crooked, it’s because Miller’s newly injured wrist isn’t holding up or Betances’ innings catch up to him. Luckily, the Yankees are crooked-proof here thanks to the three-headed monster they’ve assembled that will be hard to defeat; they’ve got insurance for insurance.

CC Sabathia

The straight path for CC is a lot more crooked than it is for others. There is not likely to be a return to dominance or even a return to goodness. All we’ve got to hope for here is a straight shot from April to October that includes health. Sabathia is going to be the fifth starter and all he needs to do is perform like one.

Masahiro Tanaka

The difference between crooked and straight matters most when it comes to Tanaka. Going straight, he can finally pitch a full season and be the ‘full time’ ace that injuries haven’t allowed him to be. Going crooked, he can finally prove a lot of amateur injury experts right and hurt his elbow for good. With so many question marks on the mound, it would be great for Tanaka to be the anchor we’ve all wanted him to be. He’s got frontline potential that obviously plays in the season, and would be great in the playoffs, especially paired with…

(Getty)
(Getty)

Nathan Eovaldi/Michael Pineda

Way back in November, I wrote about the mutual crossroads that Nasty Nate and Big Mike were about to approach; now they’ve arrived. The crooked part of the path sees their development stalling. The straight path sees Eovaldi continuing his second half surge and Pineda rediscovering his pre-Mother’s Day form. If you had to choose which one of these things if more likely, which would you? Because I have no idea. These two are a mystery, bigger even than…

Luis, you're No. 1. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Luis, you’re No. 1. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Luis Severino

Severino, no longer a rookie, will be counted on to take a step forward this season. Hopefully, that step is straight. We shouldn’t expect dominance and we shouldn’t expect him to meet his full potential already, but a straight step by Severino would boost the Yankees now and in the future. If he doesn’t step straight, though, he’s still young enough that he’s got time to correct his ‘gait.’ A crooked step by “Sevvy” might be bad for 2016, but luckily, it doesn’t mean the end of him.

It’s easy today to get overly emotional with each pitch, each play, each game–especially with the immediacy of social media. But we need to remember to try to stay calm. It’s a long road from here to November, and the path will be winding; we’ve got to take the crookeds with the straights.

Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

The Best No. 3 Reliever in Baseball [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last three years, Dellin Betances has made the transition from control-challenged minor league starter to two-time All-Star setup man. He’s gone from busted prospect to indispensable big leaguer. This is the ten-year anniversary of Dellin’s draft year, you know. It’s been a long time coming.

Most teams would make a reliever of Betances’ caliber their closer. With the Yankees, Dellin is only their third best option in the bullpen behind Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. I mean, you could argue Betances is the best of the three, the same way you could argue Miller or Chapman is the best of three. They’re all awesome. Chapman is going to close though, and Miller is going to close during Chapman’s suspension, so I guess that makes Dellin the third option.

Either way, Betances will be a crucial part of the bullpen and a crucial part of the Yankees this summer. They’re built from the ninth inning forward. The plan to build a lead however possible — they have to out-score their own starting pitcher, so to speak — then turn it over to the bullpen. Dellin figures to be the first guy out of the bullpen most nights. Let’s look at three important aspects of his 2016 season.

Watch His Workload

Betances is a massive human — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 265 lbs. on the team’s official site, though I think he’s heavier than that (not in a bad way) — and he’s endured a heavy workload these last two years. He threw 174 innings from 2014-15, nearly 20 innings more than any other reliever in baseball, and Dellin admitted to being fatigued late last year. “I think that will help my workload as well, having Chapman there,” he said over the winter (video link).

Of course, Betances’ ability to throw a lot of innings is a huge part of his value, and the Yankees want to maintain that ability. Perhaps Chapman will be able to help here. Joe Girardi can use Betances for two innings one day, then be better able to give him that extra day of rest because Miller and Chapman will still be available. Throwing two innings at a time is not necessarily a bad thing. Throwing two innings and not getting enough rest is a bad thing.

Pitching is inherently dangerous. Pitching while fatigued is even more dangerous, and the Yankees want to make sure Betances is effective not only this season, but the next several seasons as well. Dellin’s in this for the long haul. Girardi has to figure out a way to balance winning now with Betances’ long-term health, which is not easy. Hopefully the Chapman pickup means Girardi can give Dellin that extra day of rest on occasion this season. It could go a long way.

What About The Walks?

In terms of performance, the only significant difference between 2014 Betances and 2015 Betances was his walk rate. His strikeout (39.6% vs. 39.5%) and ground ball (46.6% vs. 47.7%) rates were basically identical, yet his walk rate jumped from 7.0% in 2014 to 12.1% in 2015. It was especially bad early in the season and late in the season. Not so bad in the middle:

Dellin Betances walk rateBetances has a history of high walk rates, so this isn’t completely out of the ordinary. He walked 12.2% of batters faced in Triple-A in 2013, which was actually an improvement from his 15.7% walk rate at Double-A and Triple-A in 2012. Lots of walks is nothing new for Dellin, but that’s kind of a problem, right? You don’t want the high walk rate. We want Betances to get back to that 7.0% walk rate he had in 2014.

Tall pitchers have a long history of struggling to repeat their mechanics, leading to poor control. Randy Johnson didn’t post his first sub-10.0% walk rate until age 29, for example. Betances, who turns 28 next week, is on record saying working out of the bullpen helps him maintain his delivery because he pitches more often. He’s not throwing more innings, but he’s pitching more games, and the daily work helps him.

Betances was pretty awesome even with all the walks last season. Hopefully he can bring his walk rate down this year. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. With that big frame and that powerful delivery, I think Betances will always be prone to bouts of wildness. It comes with the territory, and as long as he keeps missing bats and getting weak contact, the walks won’t be a major problem.

Fireman

Over the last two years Girardi has shown a willingness to bring Betances into the middle of an inning to clean up another pitcher’s mess. He appeared in 74 games last year, and eleven times he entered in the middle of the inning with at least two runners on base. Twenty times he entered a game with either the tying or go-ahead run on base. When push came to shove, Dellin was on the mound.

With Chapman in tow and Miller not traded, Girardi will have some more freedom to use Betances to put out fires in the middle innings. Girardi does like to assign his relievers specific innings and it would be easy to shoehorn Dellin in as the seventh inning guy, but I’m sure we’ll see him in the sixth inning a bunch of times too. Girardi has shown he will do that. Except now we’re going to see the starter handing the ball right to Betances. Not a middle reliever. Adding Chapman makes Betances available for middle innings and that’s huge. Lots of games are won and lost there.