With David Robertson signing with the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees have an opening in the ninth inning. It is currently unclear who will be the closer, but if Dellin Betances sees significant time in the role in 2015, he becomes one of the best options available to fantasy owners.
Betances was once one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Along with Manny Banuelos, he became known as one of "the Killer Bs" due to his prospect pedigree and high ceiling. Betances was rated as highly as the #32 prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus before 2011. At 6’8, he showcased huge size, velocity and stuff that had scouts drooling over his potential.
Unfortunately, Betances failed as a starter. His size worked both for and against him as a starter; his long length reduces the distance of his pitches to home plate, making his pitches jump on hitters faster than a normal sized human being and thereby making him tougher to square up. But his large frame also made it difficult for him to repeat his delivery as he fatigued as the game went on, causing inconsistencies in release point and subsequent command problems. Betances would work up big pitch counts and would often be forced to exit games too early.
The Yankees moved Betances to the bullpen in 2013 and Betances fit well into the role. His great stuff played up even better in the pen and the short outings made it easier to repeat his delivery. His command improved significantly, and by 2014, Betances’ potential that scouts once drooled over finally came together.
Betances was now topping out at over 100 mph on his fastball and throwing a disgusting, unhittable knuckle curve that made major league hitters look like amateurs. Betances’ curve was so unhittable that major league hitters averaged a negative wRC+ against it. Betances threw his knuckle curve 645 times (47%) in 2014, and here were the absurd results:
wRC+ of -21
OPS against of .246
Check out this swing Miguel Cabrera took against a Betances knuckle curve:
Making Miguel Cabrera look that foolish is quite the accomplishment.
Betances throws his fastball just as often as he does his curve (47%). He averages almost 97 mph with it and can touch triple digits when he wants to. His results with his fastball are "only" just under league average (wRC+ of 96, OPS against of .636), but the velocity and close release point of the pitch are big reason why his curve is so devastating. Hitters have to commit early to hit his fastball, which makes it easier for Betances to fool them with his curve. If hitters decided they wanted to sit on Betances' curve, Betances would blow them away with his fastball and his results on the pitch would increase.
Here’s Betances painting a 100 mph fastball on the outside corner to strike out Ian Kinsler:
Observe how fast the ball lands in the catcher's glove from the time Betances releases it. It's like a laser beam. Betances’ long length makes that 100 mph fastball look even faster to the hitter because he releases the ball closer to home plate than a normal pitcher.
Ultimately, Betances dominated the league in 2014. In 90 IP, Betances posted a 1.64 FIP, a 1.40 ERA, a 1.86 xFIP, and an adjusted ERA+ of 277. Here are some other notable statistics:
12.9% swinging strike %
Despite Betances leading all MLB relievers in fWAR in 2014, he may not be named the closer for 2015. George King of the New York Post wrote,
After checking with the Braves about Craig Kimbrel and the Marlins about Steve Cishek, the Yankees talked with the Royals to see if they were thinking about dealing closer Greg Holland or setup man Wade Davis.
There is no match between the Yankees and Royals, who are looking to add a starter through free agency but understand eventually Holland and Davis, the spine of baseball’s best bullpen, are going to price themselves out of Kansas City.
The Yankees may be thinking about using Betances as a relief ace. This would be the best thing for the Yankees to do for a number of reasons. Firstly, it will save the Yankees money in arbitration, because the save statistic usually weighs heavily for arbitrators. Secondly, it’s a better baseball move. Teams should use their best relievers in the highest leveraged moments of the game. If the Yankees have a 3-2 lead in the 8th inning with the opposing team’s three best hitters coming up, the best reliever the Yankees have should be used in that situation. Using an inferior reliever to face the heart of lineup in order to save an elite reliever to face worse hitters due to defined bullpen innings is bad process.
If teams begin to move in this direction with reliever usage, it will be interesting to see what that does for fantasy baseball. The save statistic would be devalued because the best relievers wouldn’t necessarily be closing games. Maybe we will see a combination statistic of hold/save emerge someday for standard leagues.
The Yankees also signed high priced reliever Andrew Miller, but based on Brian Cashman’s comments after the signing, Miller doesn’t seem to be a threat to begin the year as closer. The Yankees appear likely to use Miller as a relief ace, using Miller in the highest leveraged moments of the game against his best matchups, such as the opposing team’s best left handers.
Betances will still be one of the most valuable relievers in fantasy baseball in 2015 regardless of usage. He will contribute significantly to ERA, strikeouts and WHIP at the very least with upside for saves. Your league rules will determine just how valuable he is overall. If the Yankees decide to name Betances the closer, I expect him to be one of the top closers in the game.