While Dellin Betances has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game since 2014, his performance this season has left much to be desired for new manager Aaron Boone and Yankees fans alike.Betances' command problems actually date back to last year, when the right-hander averaged 6.6 walks per
While Dellin Betances has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game since 2014, his performance this season has left much to be desired for new manager Aaron Boone and Yankees fans alike.
Betances' command problems actually date back to last year, when the right-hander averaged 6.6 walks per nine innings. Although he made the American League All-Star team for the fourth straight campaign, he posted a 5.68 ERA with a 7.8 BB/9 rate over his final 16 games of the regular season and wasn't among former manager Joe Girardi's most trusted bullpen arms in the playoffs.
Betances, 30, told me during Spring Training that he spent the offseason trying to perfect his pitching mechanics so he could be more consistent in the strike zone. Sure enough, he has trimmed his BB/9 rate in 2018 (3.1) and is still racking up strikeouts (15.6 K/9 rate). However, Betances' velocity is down -- he was averaging 96.7 mph with his four-seam fastball entering Thursday's game, down from 98.1 mph over 2015-17, according to Statcast™ -- and he's yielded six runs on 11 hits (including three homers) in 8 2/3 innings. Before he threw a scoreless inning vs. the Blue Jays on Thursday, opponents were slugging .571 against his four-seam fastball, up from .396 from 2015-17.
The Yankees have several options to consider as they attempt to weather Betances' struggles.
1. Use him in lower-leverage outings
The Yankees were seemingly reluctant to utilize this strategy last season, as 56 of Betances' 66 appearances came in the eighth inning or later and only one began earlier than the seventh. Boone, however, appears to be open to this option. Betances was called upon to close out a 12-1 win vs. the Marlins on April 16, and prior to that he was utilized in the eighth inning with the Yanks leading, 8-3, against the Tigers. With Chad Green, Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve, Player Page for David Robertson and Albertin Chapman at his disposal, Boone can afford to let Betances work on refining his delivery away from pivotal situations.
2. Use him in shorter stints
If the Yankees want to continue challenging Betances by using him in key spots, they could find advantageous moments to do so by limiting him to one to three batters, especially against the lower and more forgiving part of opponents' lineups. The idea is to limit the effects Betances' early struggles have on the team's record but also give him the opportunity to pitch in situations that matter to build confidence.
3. Focus on pitch usage
Betances has been particularly ineffective against left-handed hitters this season, yielding a 1.722 OPS. Last season, when lefty batters posted a .441 OPS against him, Betances used his curveball nearly 66 percent of the time on the first pitch in those matchups, according to Statcast™. This season? Only 50 percent. Bumping that up may allow him not only to get ahead of hitters but also to use his fastball later in the count with greater success.
4. Trade him
Finding a match for a deal would be difficult. Other general managers will likely be hesitant to give the Yankees a major haul for the volatile hurler, even though Betances is earning a reasonable $5.1 million salary this season and has another year of arbitration eligibility before free agency. One option for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman could be to try to work out a trade with current Angels GM (and former Yanks assistant GM) Billy Eppler, who saw Betances up close at his peak and might be willing to pay more than others in hopes of acquiring a potential closer. A back-end starter such as Parker Bridwell might be a fair offer, giving the Yankees much-needed pitching depth. Of course, if the Yanks trade Betances at this point, they would be selling low. That usually isn't a wise move, especially with a player of Betances' caliber. With all things considered, the Yankees would be best served to hold onto him and allow him to work out his command problems in hopes that he will regain his All-Star form.
Yankees fans, take heed; there may be more rocky appearances in the near term. But based on the right-hander's track record and some of the encouraging signs he's shown this season, I'm expecting a rebound.
Jim Duquette, who was the Mets' GM in 2004, offers his opinions as a studio analyst and columnist for MLB.com.