Dellin Betances Is a Reliever Losing Control

Suddenly the Yankees' ace closer can't find the plate, and it's a big problem.

One of the truly unique things about baseball is how quickly someone who has played the game their entire life can lose the ability to play it well.

With pitchers, sometimes age creeps in and there goes the velocity. Sometimes wear and tear leads to an inability to throw their signature breaking pitch.

Or sometimes, he suddenly forgets how to throw strikes.

It's called Steve Blass Disease, named after the Pittsburgh Pirates hurler who, between 1964-72, put together a handful of terrific season, including a 19-8 campaign in 1972.

In 1973, out of nowhere, Blass inexplicably couldn't get the ball over the plate, and was out of the league two years later. Other pitchers who have suffered the same fate include Mark Wholers, Dontrelle Willis and, perhaps most famously, Rick Ankiel.

New York Yankees relief ace Dellin Betances hasn't gotten to that point just yet, but his control has seemingly flown the coop. Yes, he's on the AL All-Star team, but his numbers this season are not what they've been in years past -- and in some cases, not even close.


On Tuesday, the Yankees lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 7-6, thanks to an 8th inning implosion by Betances in which he walked four of the five batters he faced. He threw just nine of his 27 pitches for strikes, and, at one point, tossed 10 straight pitches out of the strike zone. He's walked 10 batters in his last 2.2 innings, and has given free passes to 11 of the last 22 batters he's faced.

On June 21, he had an ERA of 0.40, but since then, in his last 7 appearances, he has allowed 9 earned runs in his previous 4.2 innings (17.36 ERA) with 12 walks and 8 strikeouts. His ERA now stands at 3.29 and his walk rate is 21.1%. As NBC Sports' Bill Baer noted, since 2000, there has only been one qualified reliever to walk more than 20% of batters faced, that being the Arizona Diamondbacks' Stephen Randolph in 2004, with a 21.4% walk rate.

In his last seven appearances, Betances' ERA has jumped by nearly three full runs.

When he's throwing strikes, he's still very hard to hit. Opponents are batting just .147 against him this season, with a slugging percentage of .189, an improvement over last season's numbers. But his on-base percentage allowed this year is .341, way up from .279 in 2016. Betances walked 28 guys in 73 innings last season, but he's already walked 26 in 2017.

Is he hurt? Is a DL stint coming? A trip to the minors? Or is it simply that the All-Star break might give him the mental and physical break he needs to get himself right?

This isn't to say Betances is suffering from a full-blown case of Steve Blass Disease, but the dramatic increase in walks is worrisome. And it's not something the Yankees will survive if they want to stay in the hunt in the American League wild card picture.