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Middle relievers are typically ignored, and rightly so, in fantasy baseball circles. Sometimes, however, this anti-reliever bias causes fantasy owners to miss out on relievers that can bring strong value despite their limited innings.
Betances has gotten off to a monstrous start, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and 51 strikeouts to just nine walks over 30.2 innings. In standard league setups, Betances’ stats (partly due to the three wins) rank him as the 19th top pitcher in fantasy baseball this season. That’s above guys like Jeff Samardzija, Max Scherzer, C.J. Wilson, and James Shields.
His 15 strikeouts per nine innings are amazing, but not all that surprising. Betances was a top starting pitching prospect in the Yankee organization since 2007. Over 641 minor league innings, Betances owns a 10.1 strikeouts per nine rate. It is hardly a surprise that his rate would significantly improve being used in shorter spurts out of the pen.
Last season, the Yankees converted Betances from a starter to a reliever and he flashed that strikeout ability, posting an 11.6 K/9 rate over 84 innings in Triple-A. He also posted a strong 2.68 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.
So we have a relief pitcher who is clearly able to strike out 12-15 batters per nine innings while posting impressive ERAs and WHIPs. What does that mean for his fantasy baseball prospects?
We are about a third of the way into the season and Betances has already pitched 30.2 innings. So, over a full season, that extrapolates to around 90 innings of work. If he can continue at his current rate, that’s a whopping 150 strikeouts, more than starters like Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Moore, Dillon Gee, and Travis Wood posted last season.
Even if that rate falls off to 12 strikeouts per nine innings the rest of the way, that’s still about 80 more strikeouts over the next four months, bringing him to around 130 on the year. That’s still more than guys like Kyle Lohse and Mike Leake had last season, and even better than Aroldis Chapman’s strikeout numbers out of the pen.
And we’re not just looking to him for strikeout help, he could certainly help improve our stats in the ERA and WHIP column more than a lot of starters can.
Watching Betances pitch, it’s hard to see his numbers falling off. His stuff is downright unhittable and relievers are far less prone to production swings than starters. With their starting rotation in shambles, expect the Yankees to lean on Betances and their pen a lot the rest of the way, and don’t miss out on the sneaky production the 26-year-old phenom can give your team.