Legends On Deck

Dellin Betances: The Next Great Yankee Closer?

As I write this piece for LegendsOnDeck.com, I am truly trying to expand my horizons when it comes to the baseball genre. Primarily following New York Mets baseball, I can’t help but try to explore different teams and leagues from time to time. Mostly, I get caught up with the New York Yankees, thanks to having the YES Network at my disposal, as well as seeing their melodrama come through every back page article in the tri-state area.

However, through the current (and future) Alex Rodriguez issues, the firing of hitting coach Kevin Long, and the team remaining surprisingly quiet through free agency, there is still one issue that BARELY got any play thus far during the winter. David Robertson, the one who replaced Mariano Rivera and did so diligently and effectively, signing with the Chicago White Sox for 4 years, worth an incredibly $46 million.

This maneuver absolutely stunned me. The fact that Robertson found a way to take over for arguably the best closer in Yankees history and not falter speaks volumes. In his first, and ultimately only, year as Yankees closer, Robertson went 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA, giving up only 45 hits in 64.1 innings and gaining 96 strikeouts within 63 games. It truly was a shock to see that the Yanks barely made a deal to keep #30. Now, he is in Chicago, joining a White Sox franchise that is itching to make an impact in the 2015 campaign.

Yet, there might be an ulterior motive. Although the Yankees did not resign Robertson, there is one man in their back pocket whose job, in my personal opinion, is his to lose. That man: 2014 American League All-Star Dellin Betances.

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The 26 year old, who will be coming into his second full season on the major league roster, has the qualities to make a dominant closer. He throws heat reaching triple digits. Also, he has a very effective cutter, fastball and knuckle-curve. Furthermore, Betances has a certain swagger about him that oozes confidence. Lastly, the man stands 6’8 and weighs 260 pounds! The dude absolutely has the size to look and be vicious on the mound.

Most of all, Betances’ statistics showed complete control over the American League from a bullpen perspective. In 70 games, he went 5-0 with one save and a 1.40 ERA. In 90 innings, he had 135 strikeouts! 135 K’s helped Betances lead the MLB amongst all relief pitchers in that category. Combined with the 3rd runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year and the All Star nod, it is Dellin’s job to lose.

Besides the whole statistical analysis, there is another clue, to me at least, that might show a pattern to Betances’ ultimate role as closer of the Bronx Bombers. He truly is on a similar pattern to how Mariano Rivera became the Yankees’ closer.

In 1995, Mariano was brought up to the major league roster as a starter mid-season. After struggling in the role throughout his rookie season, the Yankees moved him to the bullpen, which showcased his skills in the American League Division Series against Seattle, pitching 5 1/3 innings of scoreless relief during the 5 game series, saving his tenure with the squad. That led to 1996, where Rivera played as a set-up man to John Wetteland, helping the Yankees dominate the AL East and kick off the dynasty of 4 World Championship in 6 years. The one year of setting up for Wetteland lead Mariano to have an 8-3 record with 5 saves with a 2.09 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 107.2 innings! The phenomenal job of Mo led to the closer role in 1997 we all know and love him for. The switch from starter to reliever really changed and saved Rivera’s Yankee career.

Dellin was highly regarded as a starting pitcher throughout high school in Brooklyn; however, he struggled with control problems in the minor leagues. On May 10, 2013, the Yankees officially decided to dedicate time to effectively make Betances a reliever. Although he jumped between Triple-A and the majors through the remainder of the year, 2014 was his dynamite campaign as Robertson’s set-up man. He effectively broke Mariano’s record of strikeouts by a reliever on September 17 while doing so with 20 innings less work as Rivera had! The change from starter to reliever really changed and, thus far, saved Betances’s Yankee career.

Betances, from the early shades of 2014, showed absolute dominance on the hill. I vividly remember watching Opening Day for the Yankees against Houston on April 1. Coming in on the bottom of the 7th, he was overpowering, shutting down the 7th with 2 K’s and an easy out. Throughout the regular season, Betances was most definitely the most reliable reliever out of the ‘pen for the Yanks. On August 5 at the Stadium, Dellin, hyped up for the at-bat, went triple digits with his fastball to strike out the Tigers’ two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera. And in a game I personally had to sit through, during the final Subway Series game at Citi Field this year on May 15, Betances struck out 6 straight to win his 2nd game of the season. It was a incredibly impressive performance and the tip of the iceberg when it came to sheer excellence on the mound in 2014.

It is incredible how careers sometimes have the twists and turns to make stardom transpire. Dellin Betances has already become an All-Star from his electric 2014 campaign. With the closer slot his to lose, will Betances live up to the pressure and continue to be a shining light in New York? Or will Dellin fold under the pressure and buckle down?

If history repeats itself as it has in the past from other big time athletes that perform in New York, I truly expect you guys to keep your eyes peeled. Greatness is unfolding right before our eyes.

(Photo Credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times)

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Jon Harder

Editor at Legends On Deck
Jon was born in Queens and now resides in New Jersey. He is a die-hard Mets fan and believes HoJo should be in the Mets Hall of Fame. Not only is Jon a contributing writer on Legends On Deck, but he also is the founder of @HardwayHQ, host of the #TheHardwayPodcast and somewhat plays Air Hockey on http://HardwayHQ.com. You can follow Jon on Twitter @TheJonHarder