Struggling to throw strikes as a minor league starter, the Yankees opted to transform Dellin Betances from a starter to a reliever, and that may have been the best move of his career.
After making the team out of spring training for the first time in his career, Betances is quickly becoming the best arm in the Yankees' bullpen, featuring a good fastball that can reach into the high-90s, and a filthy breaking ball that makes hitters look foolish at the plate.
Betances' ability to come into a game and get outs, mostly via the strikeout, successfully this season has made him one of the few great stories with this team this season.
Betances entered last night's game in the 5th inning with one out and two man on. He retired the only batter he faced that inning, getting the Yankees out of trouble and the starting pitcher, Chase Whitley, off the hook for a couple of possible runs. Betances then managed to strikeout the side in the 6th and 7th innings, giving him a league-leading 39 strikeouts in 22.1 innings this season out of the bullpen.
Here are some Betances stats for you: his 39 strikeouts are seven more than the next reliever on the list, which would be Kansas City Royals pitcher Wade Davis. Betances now has more strikeouts this season than Hiroki Kuroda, who has 36 in 48.2 innings. With six strikeouts last night, his strikeouts per nine innings ratio rose from 14.9 to 15.7. So it went from being high, to even higher.
His 1.61 ERA is beaten by only Adam Warren (1.54), who is also having a great year in the bullpen.
Betances still hasn't earned the full trust of Joe Girardi, it seems, because at times he has been throwing Betances into games around the 6th or 7th innings -- Thursday he entered in the 5th -- more often then in the 8th, where I think he'll be pitching regularly by the end of the season.
According to baseball-reference.com, Betances has pitched in six high-leverage situations this season, and hitters are only 1-for-15 with nine strikeouts against him in those at-bats. That shows his ability pitch in those close situations, and he'll probably see more as the years goes on.
Heck, it should also be noted that David Robertson is a free-agent after this season, and though I expect the Yankees to re-sign him -- assuming he continues to pitch well this season -- there is always a chance he goes somewhere else, which could leave Betances as the next closer. We all know he has that ability.
Yet some people aren't satisfied, and would like the Yankees to turn him back into a start. No. How do you think Betances became a reliever in the first place?
He looked great as a starter in the spring of 2012, but lost all over his composure trying to rush up to the Majors too quickly. He couldn't find the strikezone, and in that 2012 season, he walked 69 batters in 74.2 innings.
So the Yankees put less move him to the bullpen to put less pressure on him. He figured things out in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, finding a good rhythm with his fastball and slurve, and has bee nothing but lights out since last season with the Triple-A Scranton.
Betances, behind Masahiro Tanaka, has been the second most dominating pitcher on the Yankees' staff this season. And this time, the Yankees wouldn't change a thing.