Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.
When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.
This time, I’m taking a look at Yankees starter Dellin Betances.
Dellin Betances ranked as the #88 prospect in baseball on my top 100 prospects list this offseason, mainly on the strength of his size, stuff, and strikeout rates. However, he wasn’t higher on that list mainly due to his struggles at throwing strikes, a problem that was magnified in his brief MLB callup this September. Betances made a 2/3-inning, four-walk appearance in relief and then worked two scoreless innings with two walks and one hit allowed in a start on the final day of the regular season.
He’ll be 24 in March, so Betances isn’t all that young, and he’s at the point where he’s going to need to demonstrate some polish or get moved to relief. But before we look at his problems, let’s look at what he throws.
Betances is often credited with two plus pitches: a mid-90′s fastball and a power curve. Even though he was working in short stints in his two MLB appearances, his fastball wasn’t in the mid-90′s–he worked at 91-95 mph. I imagine that he’d probably be at 90-93 in the rotation, with the ability to reach back for the occasional 94-95 pitch.
That’s not to diminish the quality of Betances’ fastball, however. He’s got a fairly deceptive arm action and a high arm slot that causes the ball to explode up in the strike zone. Because of his height and deception, it’s tough to pick up the plane of the ball out of his hand. It’s easy to see how he could get a lot of batters to swing at shoulder-high fastballs in the minors.
Betances does boast an excellent curveball in the 81-85 range, with movement that rivals that of curves six mph slower. It’s a true 12-to-6 offering (and I don’t just throw that term around like some do) that can be devastating when located properly.
The righthander’s changeup is the one pitch that he never was really praised for. It comes in at 84-86 mph and is fairly straight, but it’s usable when played off of his other two offerings.
So, that’s the gist of Betances’ stuff–two plus pitches, one fringy one. If you read much about prospects, you probably knew that already–the only notable new information here is that his pure fastball velocity may be a bit less than advertised.
But what causes his struggles? A lot of it, I think, has to do with his mechanics.
It’s common knowledge that big pitchers tend to struggle more with their deliveries, as they have longer limbs to coordinate. At 6’8″, Betances obviously is not an exception to that rule, as he’s still working on finding consistency with his motion.
To his credit, Betances has found a delivery that is basically sound mechanically, and I don’t see a whole lot of injury red flags. His motion, like that of many tall pitchers, seems to be almost excessively simplified, in a sort of “alright, I’m going to just turn, raise my leg, lean forward, put it down, and throw” sort of way.
The problems start there, though. Betances collapses his back leg somewhat in his delivery, which means that he’s not releasing the ball that high even though he uses a very high arm angle. See his release points:
That’s fairly high, but not a maximization of his height by any means. 5’5″ Tim Collins of the Royals threw most of his pitches from a similar height, after all.
Because he’s collapsing his back leg and throwing straight over the top, Betances is not only costing himself some height leverage, but he’s also dramatically compromising his ability to get downward plane. Between the back-leg collapse and high arm slot, after all, his release is basically uphill, which is the exact opposite of where you want a tall pitcher to be throwing. The results of this problem were quite dramatic in his debut:
Basically, it’s physically quite difficult for Betances to throw the ball down in the strike zone. Part of the problem we see in this small sample is just him overthrowing some due to the high emotions of a big league debut (and subsequent first start), but part of it is very real and speaks to a significant problem with the righthander going forward. This is particularly true with regards to his curveball:
He might be able to get away with throwing the fastball high, higher, and even higher, but breaking/offspeed pitches don’t work that way. Just 4 of the 20 curves/changeups he threw were below the midpoint of the strike zone, and that’s got to come way up if he’s going to be successful, especially if he’s going to work so high with the fastball.
Ultimately, this all pretty much confirms what most think about Betances–he’s got enough stuff to have a very high ceiling, but some flaws that leave him a significant way away from reaching that upside. I’d suggest that he either cuts out his leg collapse or lower his arm slot to give him better access at changing hitters’ eye levels, because he’s going to have a very hard time gaining traction in the majors with his current approach.
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