What a difference a year makes. Last year around this time Dellin Betances was persona non grata, essentially unusable in the postseason because his control had deteriorated down the stretch. The Yankees had to cover 8.2 innings with their bullpen in the 2017 Wild Card Game and Betances never even warmed up. Chasen Shreve warmed up. Betances did not.
This season, after an offseason of trade (and even non-tender) speculation, Betances reemerged as a dominant bullpen arm, throwing 66.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA (2.47 FIP) during the regular season. His 42.3% strikeout rate was a career high. His 9.6% walk rate was far better than last year (16.0%) and below his career average (11.0%). With Aroldis Chapman’s knee having been an issue in the second half, Betances was the team’s best reliever during the regular season.
Dellin’s postseason role has been made clear after only three games. He was the eighth inning guy during the regular season, and now, in October, Aaron Boone is using him as a middle of the order specialist. Consider his two appearances thus far:
- Wild Card Game: Entered with the Yankees up 2-0, runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth inning, and the 2-3-4 hitters due up.
- ALDS Game Two: Entered with the Yankees up 3-1, bases empty with no outs in the sixth inning, and the 2-3-4 hitters due up.
“We wanted Dellin for that part of the order. So I was willing to go to him obviously as early as we were,” said Boone after the Wild Card Game. “Dellin is a stud … I told him before the game, you may be who I go to in the fourth or the fifth inning potentially, if it’s a part of lineup that I want you facing in that spot.”
According to championship probability added, which is essentially win probability added on steroids (WPA tells you how much closer a player brings you to a win, CPA tells you how much closer a player brings you to a championship), Betances has been one of the most impactful pitchers in baseball this season. The 2018 pitcher CPA leaderboard:
- Kyle Freeland: +0.089
- Clayton Kershaw: +0.052
- Josh Hader: +0.050
- Dellin Betances: +0.046
- Cole Hamels: +0.043
CPA covers the regular season and postseason. Everything a player does throughout the year either helps or hurts his team’s chances of winning the World Series. Betances was the primary eighth inning guy during the regular season and he racked up a lot of high-leverage outs. In the postseason, his role has changed a bit, in that he’s being asked to get the biggest outs regardless of inning. It’s pretty awesome. I love the way Boone has used Dellin so far.
Surely, having guys like Chapman and Zach Britton and David Robertson in reserve for the late innings makes it easier to use Betances in the middle innings. Boone identified a high-leverage situation, put his best reliever in the game, and it helped the Yankees win. Betances retired all six batters he faced in the Wild Card Game and retired the 2-3-4 hitters on nine pitches in ALDS Game Two. (He did allow a run in the next inning.)
“It feels good,” said Betances following Game Two, when asked how to it felt to have an important role this postseason (video link). “Like I said last year, I felt like I wasn’t contributing to the team the way I wanted to. I feels good to go out there and get some great outs.”
The last few years Betances saw his performance slip in the second half, particularly in September. Last year it was especially bad. I always kinda assumed at least part of it was fatigue. Betances was a multi-inning guy for a few years and that takes a toll on you. This year, there was no second half slip. Dellin remained effective all year, so much so that he’s now being asked to get the biggest outs in October. That’s a game-changer. It really is. He’s so good when right.
As good as the bullpen was last season and last postseason, it was not as deep as this year’s bullpen. Joe Girardi leaned heavily on Robertson and Chapman last postseason, with Green and Tommy Kahnle filling in the gaps. This year Boone has Chapman in the ninth, Robertson and Britton as trusted late-inning guys, plus Green to fill in the gaps, plus Betances as what amounts to that middle of the order specialist. Girardi didn’t have this Betances last year.
Thanks to built-in off-days, the Yankees are especially dangerous with their bullpen this postseason. Betances went two innings in the Wild Card Game and two innings in ALDS Game Two, then was able to rest during the off-day and be available for the next game. That doesn’t happen during the regular season. The presence of guys like Robertson and Britton allow Boone to be aggressive with Dellin in the middle innings, which he’s done so far this postseason, and Betances has responded by getting some of the biggest outs of the year already. It’s the polar opposite of last postseason.