Dellin Betances has the talent to be a closer. However, the mammoth right-hander seems more at ease as the precursor to close out games. Fortunately for the Yankees, Betances will reassume that role in 2017.
How did Betances fare in 2016?
It was a tale of five outstanding months and one-plus forgetful one for Betances in 2016. The discouraging part was that the poor month came with Betances as the closer. Betances' production in September and October was terrible - 11 G, 9 1/3 IP, 9.64 ERA, 2.14 WHIP, 8 BB and 16 K - however, the mental deterioration is what concerned me the most. Betances allowed some lapses in his fielding get to him mentally and his pitching mechanics fell apart causing his performance to enter into a full tailspin.
Overall, Betances was once again among the top MLB relievers in 2016, even with the poor finish. His final line is enough to light a smile on any manager's face - 73 G, 73 IP, 3.08 ERA (1.78 FIP), 1.12 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9 and 15.5 K/9. Betances is intimidating because he throws hard (97.7 mph fastball on average), yet he can buckle a hitter's knees with his incredible slurve. Batters hit just .127 against Betances' signature pitch, which he threw 56.6 percent of the time in 2016.
Betances provided the Yankees with 14 appearances in which he recorded more than three outs, which was down from 29 in 2015. This likely had more to do with the trio of relievers the Yankees had up until the trade deadline than it did Yankees manager Joe Girardi's willingness to use Betances in such situations. Betances once again excelled in late and close situations (seventh inning or later with batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck) - .591 OPS against across 217 plate appearances, which was 72.5 percent of all PA against him.
How will Betances fare in 2017?
In my view, the Yankees will be better off with Betances back in the eighth inning role with the occasional need to close games when Aroldis Chapman requires a break. I also believe that Tyler Clippard holding down the seventh inning on most occasions allows Betances to once again be able to stick near the 70 appearance mark and average one inning per appearance.
Betances threw the fewest pitches in a season since he became a full time MLB reliever in 2014, which is a good sign for those worried he was being overused in the past. I might still suggest that the Yankees work to get Betances' innings number down toward 65 in 2017, or at least further diminish the number of pitches he throws.
There is no denying that Betances generated significant value for the Yankees when he habitually and successfully recorded more than three outs per appearance. However, the necessity has decreased as the Yankees have increased the quality and depth of their end-game relievers. This should allow Betances to finish the season stronger as he begins to battle the unavoidable climb in age.
Beyond the performance measures being influenced by Betances' ability to stay fresh through the season, so too will the fact that he is not auditioning for a larger role. Betances was relegated to the eighth inning role in 2015 in favor of Andrew Miller as the closer, yet there was always the thought that if Miller failed Betances would take over. It was not until Miller and Chapman left via trade last season that Betances received a chance to run with the job full-time. While Betances started out wonderfully in the role, it seemed that once the pressure of the situation the club found itself in mounted (creeping into postseason contention), he crumbled.
The chance Betances wrestles the closer role from the man making $86 million over the next five years is slim to none. As such, Betances can settle back into the role of set-up man, a job he has handled masterfully over the last three seasons.
Without question, Betances is a dominant reliever. However, he is arguably more comfortable and simply performs better in a role other than closer. The Yankees will be rewarded with Betances' best effort because he no longer has the added pressure of closing and the chance to climb the depth chart simply doesn't exist for him in New York.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs
Related: More 2017 player expectations for key Yankees - Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird & Tyler Austin, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge & Aaron Hicks, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Aroldis Chapman.