ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 29: Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the seventh inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 29, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Late last week, SNY’s Andy Martino posed the question as to whether Dellin Betances was a lock to make the Met’s Opening Day Roster. Considering he struggled in 2020 to the tune of a 7.71 ERA in only 11.2 innings, Betances was on shaky ground. So far this spring, he has a 10.80 ERA across five appearances and with the offseason acquisition of Francisco Lindor, the Mets are signaling that they are ready to compete in 2021. The Mets need a reliable bullpen this season which means Betances could be on the outs. Does a trip on the subway back to the Bronx make sense for the former bullpen stud?
How good was he with the Yankees?
Let’s start with a quick summary of Betances’ Yankee career. Here are the stats:
The kid was a bullpen ace. Debuting in 2011, Betances spend the next three years trying to figure out how to be a starter bouncing between the minors and majors. Then in 2014, the Yankee’s brass decided that if Betances was ever going to be successful, it was going to be in the bullpen. Fast-forward to 2018 and Betances had become one of the top bullpen arms in baseball. From 2014 to 2019, Betances ranked 2nd in K/9 (behind Aroldis Chapman), 2nd in innings pitched (behind Kenley Jansen), 2nd in ERA (behind Aroldis Chapman), and 3rd in WAR (behind Chapman and Jansen). Betances was almost as valuable as two of the premier closers during latter half of the prior decade. He even filled in at closer at times from 2015 to 2018 putting up double-digit saves in two of those four years. Betances could do it all.
Then the injury bug hit in 2019 in the form of a season-long shoulder injury. He would make it back to the mound at the end of 2019 but only pitch two thirds of an inning before tearing his Achilles tendon. The silver lining is that he struck out both batters he faced. That would turn out to be the last time Yankees fans would see Betances in pinstripes. The Yankees let him walk after the 2019 season, and he signed a one-year deal with the crosstown rival Mets that included multiple player options.
What caused the problems with the Mets?
The biggest difference between dominant Dellin Betances and Mets Dellin Betances is velocity. From 2014 to 2018, Betances fastball averaged 97.9 MPH and his slider/slurve averaged 82.1 MPH. In 2020, his fastball sat closer to 94 MPH and his slider/slurve actually jumped up a MPH to 83.2 MPH. Instead of getting a fastball/breaking ball combo with a 16 MPH difference, the Mets got a velocity difference of only 11 MPH. For pitchers that are primarily fastball/off-speed, an 11 MPH would be a great place to sit, but Betances doesn’t use a change-up as his out-pitch.
Betances throws a great slider/curve hybrid and it definitely had nasty movement when he was in pinstripes, but it’s easier to hit when you don’t have to respect a fastball that can touch triple digits. The reason for the drop in velocity might be permanent though. Even when Betances came back for those two batters in 2019, his fastball velocity was at 95 MPH. Betances only has 12.1 innings under his belt since 2019 and that’s a small sample size, but unless he figures out the velocity problem, I don’t know if the Yankees should look at bringing him back.
Another problem Dellin has run into is the same problem that plagued him earlier in his career: control.
Prior to setting the world on fire in 2014, Betances has a BB/9 of 9.52 which is atrocious, and the biggest reason why his ERA during that time was 12.71. His BB/9 during his All-Star years was 3.91 which still isn’t amazing but can work when you strike out hitters at the rate he was during his best years. His BB/9 since leaving the Yankees is back up to 9.26. Hitters were taking their walks against Betances last year and you can’t succeed when you’re handing out free passes at that rate. You can see how much the lack of control really affected Dellin in how much his K/9 rate shrunk. He went from striking out 1.63 batters per inning to 0.95 batters per inning. Betances isn’t getting to strikeout counts because he isn’t throwing enough strikes.
Should the Yankees take a look?
There’s a decent chance that the Mets just outright cut Betances if he’s not going to make the roster out of camp. He’s making $6 million this year but if the Mets don’t think he’s one of the best 25 players on the roster, he’s as good as gone. Does this mean the Yankees should look to claim him and catch lightning in a bottle?
If I were Brian Cashman, I would pass. If Betances is cut, he’s going to have to pass through the waiver process in order to reach free agency. Given his injury history the last few years and his drop in velocity, $6 million is a lot to pay for a project player. Now, if he passes through waivers unclaimed and the Yankees can sign him for the league minimum, go ahead and do it. It’s possible that the Yankees training staff and/or coaching staff has seen something that they believe they can correct. I find it hard to believe that the only thing standing between Betances reclaiming his former glory in pinstripes is a slight mechanical tweak, but Cashman has a way of capturing lightning in a bottle. There’s still time before the season starts so let’s just see how this plays out before we discuss what the Yankees will do.