The (relatively) young 2014 season has been an up-and-down one, filled with new talent, surprising performances, and more injuries. The Yankees are three games above .500 entering a lengthy mid-west road trip, but are atop the AL East – which looks to have serious
mediocrity parity across the five teams. Considering the high-profile players the Yankees currently have on the DL (Sabathia, Beltran, Nova, and Pineda) and the others who have missed time already (Teixeira and Robertson), a 23-20 record does not seem all that bad. On the surface though, the numbers don’t look great for the Yanks. They have a run-differential of -8 (in fact, only the Blue Jays have a plus-differential in the AL East), yet the Yankees somehow find themselves above .500. How?
Among all the injuries, poor performances, slumps, and bad starts, the bullpen has actually emerged as the Yankees’ secret weapon, allowing them to win close games and not blow leads. The back-end of the pen has been lights out: Robertson, Warren, Betances, (and even Kelley, who is currently injured) have combined to pitch 76.1 innings and allowed just 17 runs (2.00 ERA) while striking out 97 batters. As a group the pen has the best K/9 ratio in the league (10.57) – meaning they don’t allow a lot of contact. This may be simplistic, but when you limit contact good things usually happen, especially in October.
Out of everyone though, Betances has really been the x-factor. The 26 year old righty continues to dazzle hitters and get cutch outs. Girardi has used him for multiple innings in 10 of his 17 appearances, and his last three have all been for at least two innings. His K/9 rate is tremendous (15.5) and his WHIP is even better (0.945). There have been comparisons made to Mariano Rivera in 1996, who often pitched multiple innings for Torre and was counted on to get high-leverage outs before Wetteland closed the game. Wetteland was the closer in ’96 but he was not the best arm in the pen, that honor went to Mariano, and I think we’re seeing a similar situation this year with Betances and Robertson (although DRob is no schlub).
Betances’ hot start has raised some questions about his role moving forward. During last night’s #YankeesChat the question was posed: What should Betances’ role be going forward? Should Girardi use him as the dedicated 8th inning guy or continue to use him for 4+ outs? The responses were pretty mixed:
A2: I’d hate to see Betances limited to one inning, but a solid 8th guy would be nice to have. #YankeesChat
A common theme in the discussion was that Betances is clearly a weapon, and should be used to get important outs in ballgames. If his last three appearances are any indication for the future, Joe will continue to use him to get critical outs in-between the starting pitcher leaving the game and DRob closing it out, which is the perfect role for Betances right now.
I still expect this team to score more runs as the summer heats up and their rotation should improve as they get healthier (hopefully). So if the bullpen can keep it up, good things are in store for the Yankees this year.