If things had broken differently and if his 6-8 frame had held up, Yankees relief ace Dellin Betances could’ve started an extremely interesting Hall of Fame debate: if there’s barely room for MLB’s elite closers, could there ever be space for a setup man?
Unlikely, but Betances dominated enough from 2014-2018 to at least grab a foothold, which speaks volumes about his unique career. Things could’ve gone very differently for the 2019 Yankees, too, if not for Betances succumbing to complications from his workload, as well as one significant freak accident.
Nothing was the same for Betances after his shoulder came up stiff in early ’19; his two-year deal with the Mets signed after that campaign was a double bust, and his last-ditch attempt to hook on with the Dodgers in 2022 never got off the minor-league ground, either. After losing his velocity, the command went awry. The breaking ball wasn’t snapping so much as fluttering.
When Betances was in sync, he was as fearsome a mechanism as there was in the game. His arm slot was entirely unique. No one knew how he controlled his spectacular breaker, but his entire system was extremely repeatable. Once a screw came loose, though, and injury after injury compounded, there was no reversing course.
But don’t let a disappointing ending distract you from the fact that, from ’14-’18, Betances was as dominant a reliever as the game has ever seen, in terms of wiping out his opponents with velocity and benders. He was an All-Star the first four years of his career, and while his walks rose in ’17, he managed to tamp things down one more time for 66.2 more brilliant innings. There may never be a weapon exactly like Betances again.
Yankees All-Star reliever Dellin Betances has retired after shoulder issues
It’s easy to trace Betances’ downfall to his nearly-immediate overuse, but at the same time … how can a manager possibly stray from using a reliever with the power to disable the heart of the order by pulling the string and snapping off an effortless curve?
Betances should’ve been out of whack as a rookie. He should’ve struggled to control his elite stuff. But somehow, his 2014 debut was the most in-control season of his career; the right-hander finished with a remarkable 0.778 WHIP in his third-place Rookie of the Year campaign. 90 innings and 135 strikeouts … how was a reliever allowed to extend himself that much as a rookie less than a decade ago?
In 2015, he nearly mimicked his debut season’s numbers exactly. 90 innings became 84. 135 Ks became 131. 46 hits allowed in 2014 became 45 the next season. A 1.40 ERA to 1.50. An undeniable All-Star.
And then, again, for the next two seasons, too. He never coasted on his reputation. He earned four straight appearances as a non-closer, and could’ve easily made it in 2018, too. We’ll never see this again.
Sadly, Betances was only a part of one great Yankees postseason run back in 2017. By the time the playoffs arrived, though, his control had already dissipated and his shoulder already seemed to be barking; he allowed a single run in one combined inning across two separate ALCS games.
Betances has become known as a “What if?” as well as a shining example of what not to do in an arbitration case in recent years. Instead, he should be known as a relief marvel who was halfway to a Hall of Fame career in a role that is never recognized by such an honor.