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Getting to know Mets reliever Dellin Betances

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Betances missed almost all of the 2019 season but has been great in his major league career.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you pay close attention to the New York Yankees or not, it would have been hard to miss, as a Mets fan, what Dellin Betances was doing across town over the past several years. The 6’ 8”, 265-pound right-handed reliever, who will turn 32 just before the 2020 season starts, signed a one-year deal with the Mets earlier this week, pointing out in a statement that he grew up in Manhattan, went to high school in Brooklyn, played in the minors in Staten Island, and made his name as a major league player in The Bronx—and that he’ll now get to complete his five-borough checklist by playing in Queens.

The desire to stay in New York City was a significant factor in Betances’s decision to join the Mets, per Jon Heyman. And other reports have cited his relationship with new Mets manager Carlos Beltran, with whom Betances was teammates when they were Yankees, as playing a role in the signing, too.

Since making it to the big leagues for good in 2014, Betances has simply been one of the best relievers in the game. He threw 90.0 innings that year over the course of 70 appearances, finishing the season with a 1.40 ERA and 1.64 FIP with great a 39.6 percent strikeout rate, and he wound up third in Rookie of the Year voting in the American League. Jose Abreu won that award in a unanimous vote, and Betances finished just behind Matt Shoemaker for second place.

In his sophomore campaign, Betances was nearly identical to his rookie self, putting up a 1.50 ERA and 2.48 FIP in 84.0 innings over 74 appearances, though his walk rate went up several percentage points, from 7.0 to 12.1. His K rate stood firm at 39.5 percent.

The three seasons that followed saw a bit of a shift in usage for Betances, as his innings totals came down a bit to 73.0, 59.2, and 66.2, respectively. And while his appearances had averaged more than an inning apiece in his first two full seasons, his average appearances from 2016 through 2018 was just shy of an inning. Context is important, of course, as the Yankees had brought built out a bullpen that featured several dominant relievers, spreading out the overall workload on that part of their roster.

In terms of performance, Betances had a cumulative 2.89 ERA and 2.44 FIP over those three seasons, a step back from the sheer dominance of his 2014 and 2015 seasons but still nothing to sneeze at. His strikeout rate hovered around 40 percent in each of those three years. At times, walks were his biggest issue, particularly in the 2018 season that saw him issue them to 16.9 percent of opposing batters. In the other two of those seasons, he kept that manageable at just under 10 percent.

And then came the 2019 season. Betances threw just two-thirds of an inning in one appearance, which came in September at the major league level after he spent months working his way back from shoulder and lat issues. And in that appearance, he suffered a partial tear of his left Achilles.

In terms of pitch usage, Betances has been a two-pitch pitcher in his major league career, using a fastball that has typically averaged 97-to-98 miles per hour and a curveball that’s averaged just shy of 85 miles per hour with extreme effectiveness. This GIF with an overlay of the two pitches illustrates just how nasty that combination can be.

There’s no question that if Betances had been healthy—or at least healthier—in 2019 and pitched like himself, he would have gotten more than a one-year guarantee in the free agent market this offseason. But the Mets got an elite talent who, if healthy, could be their best reliever even if Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia improve significantly upon their awful 2019 seasons and Seth Lugo remains great.