Going into the season, it was expected that Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betance would be possible rotation options by midseason should injury befall a member of the Yankees’ starting 5. Yesterday, the dreaded scenario occurred, as CC Sabathia was placed on the DL with a strained muscle in his leg and Andy Pettitte may be out for 2 months with a fractured ankle. While Sabathia will be back after the All-Star break, Pettitte’s absence will leave a substantial hole in the rotation.
The Yankees will likely fill in with a combination of Freddy Garcia, David Phelps, and Adam Warren (depending on who is most effective), but it would have been nice to have one of their high upside options ready to make the leap. Banuelos as we know has battled inconsistency and a back injury that has kept him on the DL for the past few weeks, and is likely not able to serve as a replacement anytime soon. Betances has had major control problems in the past, but Yankee fans hoped he would be able to iron them out over the course of the 2012 season, and emerge as a possible rotation (or at least bullpen) option down the stretch.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, the 6’8″ Betances has regressed dramatically in 2012. Instead of earning a promotion to the bigs, Betances has earned himself a demotion to AA Trenton. How bad has Betances been this year? He is 3-5 with a 6.53 ERA and a 5.88 FIP. His strikeout rate of 8.56 batters per 9 is pretty solid, though it is well below the 10.1 k/9 he posted between AA and AAA last season. Worst of all is the walk rate, which has climbed from a mediocre 5 bb/9 to an unacceptable 8.3 bb/9. He has also been more hittable, giving up nearly an extra hit per 9 innings compared to last season (7.3 to 8.6).
Mechanical problems are likely the major cause of Betances’ control problems, an issue he has battled with throughout his career. Betances’ large frame makes for a lot of moving parts and places where he can get messed up mechanically, and he doesn’t have the elite athleticism (like CC Sabathia, for instance) to keep the big body repeating its delivery. I don’t know if his mechanics are necessarily worse than they have been, or if coming up against more patient AAA hitters has taken a lot of the effectiveness out of Betances’ effective wildness. I would hope that Betances is not pitching through an injury (knowing some info on his velocity would help on that front), but that could be another explanation for why things have deteriorated for him this season.
Based on Betances’ performance this season, a demotion back to AA is certainly warranted, but the question is, what will it accomplish? If it is a matter of confidence, maybe working against lower-level hitters would help him regain it, and get himself back in form. If it is a matter of mechanics, maybe it would make more sense to send him to Tampa, where he can be around the organization’s pitching instructors. If there is pain or lost velocity associated with the loss of control, then possibly a medical evaluation would be in order.
Another possibility is that maybe the Yankees are trying to bring Betances back to the environment where he has the most major league success. Betances had a dominant stretch in Trenton at the end of the 2010 season, and was successful there at the beginning of 2011 (though his walk rate, 4.70/9, was still too high). Maybe bringing Betances back into contact with Trenton pitching coach Tommy Phelps could help him work out some of the mechanical issues that he has struggled with of late.
There is no easy fix for Betances, and it may very well be the case that he struggles with his control and mechanics throughout the remainder of his career. It was only fitting that he matched up against former Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera in his most recent outing, as Cabrera is a prominent example of a big pitcher with dynamite stuff who struggled to harness it as a starter in the bigs. Betances still has time to work things out before the Yankees cut him loose, but the clock is definitely ticking.
If he still struggles to demonstrate any semblance of control in his stint in Trenton, I suspect a move to the bullpen would be the next step. It may just be a temporary move (as the Yankees tried previously with Andrew Brackman) to help him work on his command and confidence in shorter stints, but could become permanent if there is no substantial progress. You hate to give up on a guy with dynamite strikeout stuff like Betances has, but until he can harness his command and get his walk rate under control, he simply won’t be able to be an effective big league pitcher. Here’s hoping he can get it together, but there is a lot of work to do.