Dellin Betances has been the best relief pitcher in baseball this season. That’s difficult to contest.
The Yankees right-hander has thrown the second most innings (64) out of the bullpen of anyone in baseball, and among pitchers with at least 40 innings on the season, he ranks second in ERA (1.13), first in FIP (1.67), second in xFIP (2.16), third in ERA+ (349), second in ERA- (27), second in WHIP (0.83), first in batting average against (.124), second in strikeout percentage (42 percent) and first in K/BB perctange (30.6).
Roll all of that together, and Betances unsurprising leads all relievers in fWAR (2.7), bWAR (3.3) and WARP (3.07). Baseball-Reference’s WAR formula has him as not only this season’s best relief pitcher in baseball but also the 13th best pitcher in all of baseball and fifth best in the AL. No bullpen arm has been better in 2015.
Now that that’s settled, let’s take on a broader, more existential question: Is Dellin Betances the best reliever in baseball?
(Some people might argue that being the best this year makes you the best overall, but most of us would agree that, 2015 results aside, Andrew McCutchen is better than A.J. Pollock and David Price is better than Dallas Keuchel. The most recent results matter — in fact, they matter most — but they’re not everything.)
Looking at leaderboards, Betances seems to have two primary competitors for the title: Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis, the only relievers to approach Betances’ numbers both this season and last. Let’s compare the trio’s stats since the start of 2014, when Betances first landed a fulltime gig in the bullpen.
Going by rate stats only, you might be tempted to pick someone other than Betances. Chapman and his absurd strikeout rates does best by fielding-independent stats, whereas Davis looks like the answer according to runs-based measures.
Betances, however, holds a decisive advantage in counting stats, thanks in large part to his relatively huge workload. The 27-year-old leads baseball in innings pitched for relievers over the past two seasons, and it’s not close. The Mets’ Carlos Torres (139 innings pitched) and Jeurys Familia (135.2) are the only relievers within 20 innings of Betances’ total.
Chapman and Davis, meanwhile, trail distantly. Chapman missed about a month to injury in 2014, which likely cost him 10-15 innings pitched, but the real innings-pitched difference comes from how these three pitchers are used. Whereas Chapman is a traditional closer for a losing team and Davis is set-up man under a manager who adheres to strict bullpen roles, Betances is the closest we have to a modern-day Goose Gossage-style fireman.
This chart examines at the nature of Betances, Chapman and Davis’ 2015 appearances and explains why the Yankees’ hurler throws so many more innings than the other two.
|Entered in 7th||Entered in 8th||Entered in 9th or later||Four or more outs||Six or more outs|
First thought on this chart: Huge props to Joe Girardi for being relatively flexible in how he uses his best reliever. The Yankees’ manager isn’t afraid to use Betances earlier than his allotted eighth inning and doesn’t shy away from letting the big right-hander throw more than one inning at a time.
But the other, more pertinent takeway is that Betances is an absolute beast. He’s being used in a way few high-leverage relievers are, and he’s excelling at it. Even if Betances’ numbers came in a traditional one-inning-at-a-time role, he would have a case for the title of Best Reliever in Baseball. The fact that he puts up his stats despite a job with a higher degree of difficulty is even more impressive.
So we’ve established that Betances is the best reliever in baseball in 2015, and it seems safe to say (partly thanks to his inning totals) he’s been the best reliever in baseball over the past two years.
The only way to take the Best Reliever in Baseball title from Betances is to expand the timeframe. This is somewhat unfair to Betances since he spent most of 2013 in the minor leagues, but let’s give it a try.
Here’s the list of top relievers by Fangraphs WAR between 2013 and 2015:
- Aroldis Chapman – 6.5
- Dellin Betances – 5.9
- Kenly Jansen – 5.9
- Greg Holland – 5.7
- Craig Kimbrel – 5.7
That’s right, even if you expand the timeframe to include a season in which Betances barely pitched in the major leagues, he still trails only one other reliever.
So if you require you Best Reliever in Baseball to have proven himself over three or more seasons, maybe you take Chapman. Otherwise, there’s only one choice: Dellin Betances.
(Photo: Charles LeClaire- USA Today Sports)