Early on, one of 2014′s pleasant surprises has been reliever Dellin Betances, who’s followed up an impressive spring with five scoreless outings to start the season. Betances throws gas, which is why was thrice ranked as one of the game’s top 100 prospects by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. Betances’ bread and butter is his mid-to-high-90′s four-seam fastball, which he’s thrown 56% of the time per Baseball Savant. The balance of Betances’ pitches have been knucke curves (39%), and cutters (4%).
Using PITCHf/x data for Betances’ 40 four-seam fastballs from this year, I pulled minimum and maximum ranges set by Betances so far in 2014 for velocity, vertical and horizontal movement, break angle, break length, and spin rate. From there, I compiled a list of pitchers with the highest percentage of their four-seam fastballs falling within these thresholds. This list includes all pitches thrown since 2008, when PITCHF/X first became available. Only pitchers who have thrown at least 200 fastballs are included.
Unsurprisingly, this group is mostly comprised of hard-throwing relievers. There are a number of solid pitchers on this list — Chris Perez, Jim Henderson, and Cody Allen –but guys like Andrew Carignan and Merkin Valdez stand as reminders that it takes more than a good fastball to make it in the big leagues. Even relief pitchers have to be able to locate their pitches and preferably keep hitters off balance by mixing in a quality secondary pitch or two.
With a blazing fastball and a knock-out knuckle curve, Betances has the raw stuff to be a dominant pitcher; and his recent performance suggests he’s finally putting it all together. Hopefully, Betances’ control issues are a thing of the past and he’s able to emerge as a reliable late-inning option for the Yankees. Here’s to hoping Betances’ career trajectory is more Jim Henderson than Merkin Valdez.