(Photo Credit: REUTERS/ADAM HUNGER)
The truth of the matter is this: Dellin Betances is not who he once was.
It's been clear these past two years. Say what you want about the cause of this drastic change; perhaps the workhorse has finally pulled up lame after years of abuse under Joe Girardi, or perhaps the hulking 6'8 reliever is so out of tune both physically and mentally you're better off thanking him for his services while you usher him out the door.
Yankee fans, like sharks in bloody waters after having tasted what could've been a year before, are most likely clamoring for the latter because now these games really count. The pride borne in the elegant lettering that spells out "Yankees" comes not only from the nostalgia of the glorified past, but is instead now predicated on the glittering promise of this year. And next year, and the year after.
That's not to say Thursday's 5-4 loss against the Red Sox, cemented by a go-ahead solo home run by JD Martinez off Betances two pitches after a valiant comeback by the Baby Bombers, will be the turning point of this year. To think so completely discredits a historic run of 17 wins in 18 games; even teams playing at their best have to lose occasionally.
But fandom often shares a fine line with obsession. As ridiculous as it sounds, there's always the desire in the back of the head to see the Yankees win all 162 games. With the Rivalry, a loss against a Red Sox team who will jockey for first place all season long seems intolerable. This is why all of Yankee fandom calls for the end of the Betances fiasco.
The numbers don't favor Betances. Not anymore. He's become expendable with the return of David Robertson, with the emergence of Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle. Betances' chances were numbered after last year's meltdown, and now they may just be running out.
There's not a singular moment that can be exacted to when Betances became a shell of his former self, but perhaps the war of words of 2017 could be a starting point.
Remember that? Betances lost in arbitration after requesting to be paid $5m instead of the $3m the Yankees were offering. Up to that point, he had built a strong case for the upgrade in pay. He had completed his third consecutive year as an All-Star, a span in which he struck out 392 batters in 247 innings. A fastball touching 100 mph and a merciless biting curve had turned this converted starter into one of the game's premier power arms.
But apparently that wasn't enough. Following his arbitration loss, Yankees' president Randy Levine couldn't help but hurl a few jabs at the teams most valuable arm in the bullpen.
"It’s like me saying, ‘I’m not the president of the Yankees; I’m an astronaut,” Levine said. “No, I’m not an astronaut, and Dellin Betances is not a closer.” This, following an arbitration hearing, was described as being an hour and a half of demeaning Betances' ability, was more like a boxer still punching even as his opponent had already been knocked out.
And then came the inconsistencies. A strong April and May (an ERA of 1.13 and 0.00, respectively) were erased by less than ideal June and July (4.50 and 4.26 ERA) where he walked 22 batters in 20.2 innings pitched while yielding 10 runs. August proved to be a bounce-back month before a dreadful September where Betances became erratic yet again as he walked seven batters in 9.2 innings.
This was the curse of Betances; harnessing such a large frame and lively arm to maintain a consistent delivery. There was hope that the offseason would prove to be a reset for the righty, but the first two months have shown 2018 has been much of the same: erratic control and a lack of confidence on the mound.
No longer reliable
Betances' tenure with the Yankees can be described as heroic. The workload he bore across his broad shoulders without so much as a single complaint is a player any manager would love to have on his team.
But he's no longer the go-to man.
Perhaps that's because he's been pushed out of the late-inning role. The trio of Robertson, Green, and Kahnle seem to have jumped Betances in the depth chart. The high leverage innings belong to them and Betances finds himself relegated, more times than not, it seems, as the bridge between the starters and those other names.
Take, for example, his role in the 2017 playoffs. The Yankees played 117 innings of postseason baseball from the beginning of the AL Wild Card game to the conclusion of Game 7 of the ALCS. Betances pitched in four innings, walking five and striking out six. Kahnle pitched 11 innings, Robertson 13, and Green eight. Even as the Yankees marched their way to an unexpected playoff run, Betances found himself as a non-factor due to his inability to pitch in the biggest moments.
Take, again, for example, Betances' performance Thursday night. Yankee manager Aaron Boone had no choice but to extend Betances a second inning because his bullpen was depleted after the raucous victory from the night before. Two pitches after Betances' teammates climbed from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game, the Red Sox jumped back into the lead on a JD Martinez home run that barely made it out. But a home run is a home run, and the momentum swung away from the Yankees just like that.
Betances is supposed to be the bridge from the starters to the late-inning guys. Except, a middle relief role doesn't seem to suit him. His greatest value is in isolated appearances; anything more than a single inning and his numbers inflate even more drastically than what they already are. He can't hold runners and he can't field his position, both major warnings considering his WHIP sits at 1.57 and hitters are hitting .298 off of him.
And maybe the onus is on the Yankees to make that transition for Betances a little easier. He no longer needs to be called upon when the game is on the line. That isn't to say he is a lost cause, as a plus 90's fastball will always play in the majors, but he needs to rediscover his ability to locate and pitch off from the heater.
Let's not forget he was reviled on the same level as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez before either made it to the big leagues. It's hard to part from homegrown talent, doubly so considering that talent grew up in New York and grew up watching the Yankees.
But with each shaky performance, his future with the team grows more muddled. If the four-headed monster of Green, Kahnle, Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman continue to be the dominant hard-throwing relievers they've proven to be, then Betances' greatest value may come as a trade chip.
Because relief pitchers are expendable, and Betances has proven he's just like anyone else.