What’s wrong with Dellin Betances? After another meltdown, that question has been echoing throughout the Yankee Universe, but it’s really no mystery. Betances has been the victim of his own success, and the Yankees’ over-dependence on him.
The knee jerk reaction to Betances’ late season struggles has been to question his mental makeup. Maybe he doesn’t have what it takes to pitch in the ninth inning, some have asked? Others have suggested the big righty’s inability to hold runners and throw to bases are cause for blame. These are both plausible theories, but only if you ignore the evidence.
Betances has always been slow to the plate. His difficulty throwing to bases is also well established. Before this month, however, neither of those deficiencies mattered much. Opposing hitters had a hard enough time simply making contact, much less reaching base. So, what changed? Was it the pressure of the ninth inning?
In his first 14 games since being named the closer, Betances converted nine of 10 save opportunities, and did so in spectacular fashion. His 0.57 ERA with 25 strikeouts and only five walks doesn’t exactly resemble a pitcher battling jitters in the final frame. If Betances’ struggles are really rooted in an inability to handle the closer’s role, it seems a little curious that it took over a month for this shortcoming to manifest.
Before and After: Betances’ Performance Since Become Closer on Aug. 1
Note: After period begins with 40-pitch outing on September 6, the first time in his career that Betances pitched on three straight days.
The only thing that has changed with Betances over the last few weeks is how the Yankees have used him. Since becoming manager, one of Joe Girardi’s cardinal rules has been to avoid using a reliever on three straight days. There are always exceptions, but this steadfast belief has given Girardi a well-deserved reputation for deftly managing the bullpen. And that’s what makes his recent use of Betances particularly baffling.
Before this month, Betances had never pitched on three straight days. Now, he has done it twice. On the first occasion, the hard throwing right hander was brought into a game with a three-run lead and then allowed to throw a near career-high 40 pitches. A high leverage situation might have justified making an exception to the three-day rule, but the Yankees had more than enough cushion to back off. Instead, they wound up pushing Betances to the limit. And then, 10 days later, they did it again. Instead of learning from his mistake, Girardi doubled down by bringing the righty into another low leverage save opportunity. With one out, no men on, and another three-run lead, Girardi hit the gas, and Betances crashed once again.
Since, and including, his 40-pitch outing, Betances’ performance has been startling. In only six innings, the previously dominant reliever has allowed 13 runs and allowed a .944 OPS to opposing hitters. Is that a coincidence? Perhaps, but Betances’ arm is much too valuable to ignore the warning signs, especially when you consider he has thrown more innings and pitches than any reliever since 2014.
The final insult to what the Yankees had better hope is not an injury is the circumstances under which Betances’ overuse has occurred. Although the Bronx Bombers made a gallant attempt to contend for a wild card, the team was a glorified pretender. Abusing Betances in an attempt to further the illusion of contention not only backfired down the stretch, but it could have lasting effects. For this indiscretion, Joe Girardi deserves scrutiny, but the situation reflects poorly on the entire organization. When you try to win on the cheap, you often wind up paying the price. Hopefully, for the Yankees’ sake, that price is only another lost season, and not the loss of Dellin Betances.