For opposing hitters, the sight of Dellin Betances heading in from the bullpen means trouble is on the way. With a fastball just under 100 mph, and off-speed pitches that freeze hitters in their tracks, Betances is becoming one of the most feared relievers in baseball.
But a recent report by ESPN The Magazine would place him in a club that he doesn’t want any part of. The report illustrates a study by orthopedic surgeon Brandon D. Bushnell, who analyzed the progress of 23 pitchers who threw high velocity fastballs.
Bushnell, in the ESPN report “The High Price For Throwing High Heat,” concluded, “Pitchers capable of throwing at a higher maximum velocity had the higher risk of elbow surgery,” and “…players throwing at the highest velocity had injuries requiring surgical reconstruction.”
So Betances is topping out at a speed that is dangerously close to the highest at-risk pitchers, which includes Nate Jones, Henry Rodriguez, Bruce Rondon, Fernando Rodney, Aroldis Chapman , Kevin Herrera and Trevor Rosenthal.
And Betances fits the description of the type of pitcher who is most vulnerable, according to ESPN. He is tall with a strong build.
This, together with his velocity, ultimately results in pressure to his elbow that is nearly equal to holding five 12 pound bowling balls at the same time.
So just when the Yankees finally uncover a late-inning, flame-throwing reliever, they are faced with the danger of potentially losing him to elbow surgery or even reconstruction. This is particularly disturbing in the wake of the tribulations of CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova already this season.
But what Betances has going for him, is the difference between his fastball and his off-speed pitches. All of the great fastball pitchers, from Nolan Ryan to Bob Feller, had the ability to mix in off-speed pitches, that’s what made their fastballs so great.
By contrast, Steve Dalkowski, an Orioles’ minor leaguer who never made the majors, according to Sports Illustrated, is credited with throwing 110 miles per hour. But that’s all he had, so he finished with a minor league record of only 46-80.
So if dialing Betances’ fastball down by a couple of miles per hour keeps him out of the high-risk-for-injury club, the Yankees should do it. That would still leave enough difference between his fastball and his off-speed pitches to keep him effective.