A month ago, Wallace Matthews of NY Sports Day reported that the Yankees will be in hot pursuit of free agent closer Aroldis Chapman this winter. The day before, it was reported that Mets closer Jeurys Familia was arrested on a domestic violence charge. Not long ago, it was a legitimate question whether Familia or Dellin Betances is the best New York reliever following the trades of Chapman and Andrew Miller. But now a lot of people seem worried about the two going forward as closers.
Is Betances a great setup man, but maybe not cut out to close? Is Familia a great regular season closer, but not able to handle October closing stress? This doesn’t even take into his arrest and probable significant suspension to start the 2017 season.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Familia’s 94 saves rank second in baseball and his 180 ERA+ is eleventh among all relievers. This season, the 27-year old led the majors with 51 saves and he pitched to a 2.55 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings. However, his wild-card game implosion followed a rough 2015 World Series, in which Familia blew three save opportunities. Most people, though, tend to have selective memory.
One of Familia’s blown saves against Kansas City was a legitimate one when Alex Gordon took him deep in Game 1. But he inherited the tying run already in scoring position during the other two collapses. It didn’t help that Daniel Murphy let a grounder go through his legs in Game 4, and Eric Hosmer took advantage of David Wright’s weak arm in Game 5.
Do the three blown saves last year and the wild-card game loss this year indicate Familia is unfit for postseason closing duty? It does in the eyes of some fans, at least. This also ignores the fact Familia threw 9 2/3 scoreless innings in the NLDS and NLCS to get the Mets to the World Series last year. And even after all those blown saves last fall, he allowed just one measly earned run and five hits in 14 2/3 playoff innings.
Meanwhile, Betances posted a 1.40 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 2014, a 1.50 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 2015 and a 3.08 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 2016. This season, the 6-foot-8 right-hander made his third straight All-Star team and struck out 126 batters in 73 innings, an average of 15.5 per nine innings. But his late-season struggles have fueled offseason talk about the Yankees signing Kenley Jansen or bringing Chapman back to close, with Betances shifting back to the eighth-inning role.
Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball recently wrote that word is that the Yankees are considering going back after Chapman, as “Betances hasn’t done as well as closer as he did as setup man.” His ERA in the second half, when he primarily served as the closer, was 3.72, compared to 2.66 in the first half. The 28-year old recorded 12 saves in 17 chances this season, but he also compiled a whopping 9.64 ERA in September. His future as the team’s closer isn’t in question, but isn’t 100 percent certain, either. Consider the numbers, though.
Through September 5th, Betances had a 2.05 ERA. Opponent’s slashed .181/ .248/ .278 off of him and he racked up 114 strikeouts and 20 walks in 66 innings. After September 5th, Betances recorded an unsightly 12.86 ERA and opposing batters had a .333/ .455/. 444 slash line. He walked 8 men and had 12 K’s in 7 innings. But don’t let seven awful innings trick you into thinking that the Washington Heights native isn’t still one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball. Andrew Miller, for one, doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about his former bullpen-mate.
“It’s easy in this game to get shaken, but he’s had so many outings or innings or however you want to look at it, pitches thrown the last few years. They kind of fell out of the playoff race, it’s not hard to see why it got a little tough for him,” said Miller, who was traded by the Yankees to the Indians at the deadline. “If I were a Yankee fan, I would have zero concern about Dellin Betances. I think he is the best in the business and I think he’s proven that.’’
Betances and Familia have been the two most heavily used relievers since the beginning of the 2014 season. During that span, both have exactly tossed a whopping 248 2/3 innings, including postseason play. Betances toed the rubber in 218 games and Familia has made 243 appearances. Furthermore, Betances’ 4,018 pitches were 148 more than anybody used exclusively as a reliever (Familia was second with 3,870). That does not even account for how frequently both have been up and not used. That ‘s a lot to ask for greatness to continue, especially into October.
Although Mets’ manager Terry Collins has taken some heat for using Familia too much, Joe Girardi has deployed Betances just as much. In 2016, Betances had five games of at least 30 pitches and 24 appearances where he threw on back-to-back days. Familia had three outings of 30+ pitches, but he appeared on back-to-back days 26 times. Moreover, Betances pitched more than an inning 13 times, while Familia did that five such times this season.
However it shakes out, both the Yankees and Mets will look to upgrade their respective bullpens this winter. While the Yankees interest in Chapman is known, the Mets were going to need bullpen help even before learning of the domestic abuse allegations against Familia. But perhaps the biggest question, one that no one can truly answer: How will Betances and Familia stay healthy and dominant despite the recent workloads placed on them?