Betances Emerges as Yankees Closer


Ask people around baseball to name the best players on the New York Yankees and they’d throw out names like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Masahiro Tanaka, and Brett Gardner.

Ask them to name the best relief pitchers in Major League Baseball, and they’d list Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, and Aroldis Chapman. You probably wouldn’t hear the name Dellin Betances. Yet.

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Betances may now be the most underrated pitcher in the major leagues, and yet he is heading towards his second consecutive All-Star appearance—in just his second MLB season.

Betances has been downright filthy in his 109 career MLB games. Yet he continues to fly under the radar on the most famous baseball team in the history of the sport, in a city known for its bright lights.

Betances enters this series against the Phillies beginning tonight as the owner of a 4-0 record with a ridiculous 0.26 ERA in 35 innings pitched out of the pen for the Yankees. In those 35 innings, Betances has surrendered just 12 hits and a single earned run.

He also leads all major league relievers in strikeouts (57), which equates to an incredible 14.7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. His four wins in relief tie him for second best in the game, just one behind Cincinnati’s J.J. Hoover.

An 8th round pick of the Yanks in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft out of Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, Betances had quite the journey through the minor leagues before solidifying himself as a major league pitcher.

Spending his first three minor league season between rookie and low-A ball, Betances was a top prospect for the Yankees before suffering an injury in the summer of 2009 while pitching for high-A Tampa, and was forced to undergo reconstructive elbow surgery. The surgery put him out for the rest of 2009, and much of the 2010 season.

Betances came back fully healthy in 2011, but wasn’t the same effective pitcher. Splitting that 2011 season between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Betances struggled as a starter, going 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA. Always a pitcher who had great stuff, the real problem plaguing him was control—Betances walked 70 batters over 126.1 innings, a career high for him at the time. Though he would be called up to the majors when the rosters expanded in September to make his major league debut, Betances clearly still had much to work on.

Things didn’t get much better for Betances in 2012. Again dividing his time between AA and AAA, Betances endured the worst season of his career. His ERA between both teams was an ugly 6.44, and he once again set a career high for walks, this time with 99 free passes. Then 24 years old, it looked like the once-promising prospect was doomed for bust status.

Luckily for him, the Yankees orchestrated a move to the bullpen for the right-hander in 2013, and the results would be encouraging. Betances spent the entire year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, pitching to a 6-4 record to go with a 2.68 ERA—his lowest since his 2010 season.

In that new role, Betances also cut down on his walks by allowing just 42 in 84 innings. Most importantly, he exhibited the power arm that the Yankees fell in love with when they drafted him, recording a staggering 108 punchouts. For his performance, the Yanks named Betances their 2013 organizational All-Star.

Revived with newfound confidence, Betances entered 2014 a strong candidate to make the Yankees roster out of spring training. He put a lock on a roster spot with 12.1 lights-out innings in Grapefruit League play, allowing five hits and one run, striking out 11.

Betances would continue his dominance in his first full MLB season. Tossing 90 innings over 70 games, Betances was undefeated with five wins and no losses out of the pen. Opposing teams scored just 14 runs off him, equating to a 1.40 ERA—second best in the MLB among relievers who pitched at least 60 innings in 2014.

Betances compiled a mind-blowing 135/24 BB:K ratio, with those 135 strikeouts leading all MLB relief pitchers. The New York native would also take his talents to Minneapolis as a member of the AL All-Star team, and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Despite a shaky spring training, the 27-year-old Betances has looked just as good, if not better than he did in his rookie season thus far in 2015. After losing closer David Robertson to the Chicago White Sox in free agency over the offseason, Betances and Andrew Miller—the Yankees’ own offseason prize, entered the season in a “closer by committee” situation. Miller eventually took over the role, but following his recent injury, Betances has stepped in a saved both of his save opportunities and has four saves for the season.

"“Any time superstars in the game tell you how good you are looking, it just builds your confidence even more.” ~ Betances"

Betances has been close to unhittable in his 31 games, and the big righty didn’t allow an earned run until June 5, in his 27th game. Opposing hitters are batting .103 overall against Betances this season, and there’s no secret to why he is pitching so effectively. His 6’8’’ 265-pound frame allows him to consistently hit 96 on the radar gun, and can occasionally get up to triple digits.

Betances’ best pitch may actually be his knuckle-curve, which he is throwing even more than his fastball. 39 of his strikeouts have come via the pitch, according to FanGraphs. What is even more incredible is the success that he is having against left-handed batters, who are hitting a paltry .062 off him in 2015.

Though fans around baseball may not have yet given Betances the recognition he deserves, those inside the industry have nothing but high praise for him. ESPN even went as far to name Betances the “new face” of the Yankees, quite the distinction for a franchise that employed the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Reggie Jackson, Roger Maris, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.

Betances is taking it all in stride, and it doesn’t hurt when you have the best closer in baseball history in your ear either. He told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that Yankees great Mariano Rivera offered him advice early in the season, and Betances said it has helped him as the year has progressed.

It really helped,’’ Betances said. “[Rivera] told me to stay locked in and have confidence, and hearing that from him makes such a difference. I’ve been able to use that advice to my advantage.’’

It also helps your confidence when some of the best hitters in the game are telling you how good you look on the mound, something Betances told Kernan he has heard a lot of.

“When you see guys like Big Papi and Miguel Cabrera give you a good reaction, you’re talking about the best hitters in the game and when they compliment you, it just gives you more confidence,’’ Betances said. “Any time superstars in the game tell you how good you are looking, it just builds your confidence even more.’’

With a 3-game set against the lowly Phillies in the Bronx, Betances should get at least one save opportunity, which would be bad news for the Phillies. Though Betances has never faced Philadelphia in his short career, he comes into the series building a new streak of scoreless outings, having not allowed a run since that June 5 game.

The Yankees weren’t expected to be much of a contender in the AL East this season, but the team currently sits just one game out of the division lead with a 38-30 record, due in large part to having a back-end of a bullpen with Betances and Miller that shuts teams down late.

The Yanks bullpen ERA of 3.24 ranks 10th best in baseball. While we’re a long way from saying that Betances will ever be as good as Rivera, he has certainly has the stuff and the makeup to be one of the best relievers in the game for the next decade. Now, it’s time that he starts getting the recognition he has earned.

First pitch at Yankee Stadium Monday is set for 7:05.