Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A converted starter walks into a bar, and um, well I forget how it goes exactly, but the punchline is something about turning into an elite reliever. This week we’re looking at two guys that couldn’t stick in the rotation, and turned into dominant relievers. Imagine that. It’s the Tale of the Tape. It’s Dellin Betances vs. Raisel Iglesias. And it’s next.
Dellin Betances, or Dylan as his friends and employers call him (ok, so maybe not his friends), made the jump to the bullpen in 2013 and outside a rocky first six outings, he has been incredible ever since. His ERA ballooned (relatively) to 3.08 in 2016, but he hasn’t been above 1.50 since he became a full-time reliever. Even his ERA hiccup last season can be mostly attributed to bad luck, as 1.71 DRA was actually the lowest in his career, and behind only Andrew Miller and Zach Britton as best in the league.
Iglesias made five starts last season before sliding into the bullpen in late June after a stint on the DL. The results were pretty strong. In 50 innings as a reliever, Iglesias produced a 1.98 ERA. There is a chance that number is a little misleading, however, as he rode a .215 BABIP and 86.1 percent strand rate to excellent run prevention. Even if that number creeps up a bit, he should still provide value in the category. Advantage: Betances
As mentioned above, Betances was a bit unlucky last season, causing some of his rate stats to be out of whack compared to his career totals. One culprit was a .353 BABIP despite an absurdly low 1.9 percent barrels per plate appearance and 86.9 mpb average exit velocity. Even with his death by 1,000 papercuts season, Betances still managed a 1.12 WHIP. His career average of 3.5 walks per nine innings is a little higher than average, but when it comes in connection with Betances’s stuff, it’s a little more forgivable.
If Statcast has a crush on Betances, it’s engaged in a torrid love affair with Iglesias. Each of Iglesias’s numbers are slightly better than those of his counterpart, which does help somewhat explain his ridiculous .215 BABIP from last season. Once converted to the bullpen, Iglesias generated an anemic 0.96 WHIP. He also issued a few too many free passes last season, however he showed enough control as a starter to indicate that the inflated walk rate could be a blip on the radar resulting from a small sample. Advantage: Iglesias
If there were a patron saint of strikeouts per nine, it would be Dellin Betances. He struck out 126 batters in 73 innings last season, good for a 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings rate. That was the highest total in the league for a regular pitcher. So, uh, yeah. That’s good. He struck out more batters than Josh Tomlin, Kendall Graveman, and Martin Perez. Sure, that’s hardly a murderer’s row of strikeout artists, but it took Betances at least 100 fewer innings to rack up his ungodly totals.
Typically, after a shift to the pen, a pitcher will see an uptick in strikeouts. That hasn’t quite happened for Iglesias yet, as his strikeout rates have remained more or less stagnant, hovering around a batter per inning. As the season went on, Iglesias threw his changeup less, which was probably a good idea as opponents had a .345 ISO against the offering. His fastball ticked up as a reliever, sitting at 95-96 mph (from 92-93 as a starter), and even hitting 99 mph when he needs a little extra giddyup. Iglesias has the stuff, there’s no doubt. It’s easy to picture a scenario where he hits his stride in the bullpen and becomes a better strikeout asset in the process. Advantage: Betances
Before the Yankees re-signed Aroldis Chapman, an argument could be made for Betances to enter the season as the top fantasy closer. Now that Chapman is in the fold, Betances will have to settle for only being one of the top “real life” relievers instead. I wouldn’t expect to see him pitching with the lead in the ninth any time soon.
The Reds have been perfectly vague about their bullpen situation thus far in spring training. General Manager Dick Williams has stated that the job will be won this spring, but there have also been rumblings about a four-headed closer monster in which Iglesias would be one of the said heads. As a wise man, the Macho Man Randy Savage, once said, “The cream will rise to the top, oooh yeeeah.” Iglesias is the most talented option, so it will only be a matter of time before he’s closing games for the Reds, and at 27 years old, he should be able to provide huge value in the category for the foreseeable future. Advantage: Iglesias
Since 2014, Betances has tallied 78 holds, good for second best in the league (somehow Tony Watson has 98, which, wow). Barring an injury to Chapman, he should get all of those opportunities once again, making him one of the best and most consistent sources for holds in baseball until at least 2020, when he can become a free agent.
The lack of defined role associated with Iglesias makes it a little more difficult to project his counting stats. There was early talk about the Reds maximizing Iglesias’s skillset by using him as a multiple inning super reliever, which would likely be a boon to his holds totals. However if he’s named the closer, holds might not be in his future. Advantage: Betances
Despite leading all relievers in innings over the last three seasons, Betances does not have much of a recent injury record to speak of (*swiftly knocks on wood*). However, he’ll turn a sneaky 29 years old at the end of the month, so he’s no longer a spring chicken. Perhaps as a measure to keep his star fresh, manager Joe Girardi has appeared to make a conscious effort to keep Betances’s innings a little more manageable, which should also help in the quest to stave off injuries.
Iglesias was the Opening Day starter for the Reds last season, so it’s safe to say that outside factors likely played a role in his bullpen conversion. He experienced shoulder issues in each of the past two seasons, with a right shoulder impingement costing him nearly two months in 2016. Those issues seem to be behind him, for now, and the shorter outings should help him manage the health a little easier. Advantage: Betances
It feels like an obvious conclusion, but this one probably comes down to the value of saves in your league. As of now, Iglesias is the only one that has a clear path to saves. Betances is superhuman and will provide huge strikeout numbers to go along with sparkling rate stats, but if you need saves, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Iglesias is almost two years younger than Betances, but he also has a shorter track record. If he turns into a reliable closer, I’ll likely be wrong with this one (which should surprise no one). I’m taking the gaudy strikeouts and rates.
And the winner is… Dellin Betances.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now