New Era Statistics Help Betancourt Land on All-Time Team
By Ronnie Tellalian
The era of the set-up man as a specialized position has been relatively short in baseball history. Only over the last 25 years has the spot in the rotation been occupied by a single, regular reliever. The stat that defines the role, holds, was not invented until 1986. The parameters for a hold are basically the same as for a save, but it is measured in the eighth inning. Mike Stanton is the career leader in holds with 266. The man I have chosen as my Indians All-Time set-up man is seventh all-time in holds with 142, and the Indians career leader with 87.
Set-Up Man: Rafael Betancourt
Betancourt signed with the Cleveland Indians in 2003. He began the year in Akron at the age of 27. He never pitched beyond Double-A, but made an immediate impact. He saved 17 games with a 1.39 ERA before getting a call up to the Triple-A team in Buffalo. Four appearances in Buffalo and Betancourt made his Major League debut on July 13th, 2003. Over the last eleven weeks of the season, He recorded two wins and a 2.13 ERA. In 33 games he pitched 38 innings and struck out 36 batters while recording a 1.05 WHIP.
His first full season in the Majors came with its ups and downs. He won 5 games, but lost 6. He struck out 76 in 66.2 innings, for an average of 10.3 per nine innings pitched. He also posted a very good 4.22 strikeout to walk ratio. His 3.91 ERA left a lot to be desired, but when we look closely at that number, much of that may be attributed to poor defense. I have mentioned FIP in an earlier blog, but I’ll touch on it again here.
FIP stand for Fielding Independent Pitching. It’s a statistic that separated the influence of defense on a pitchers performance. It measures those things that are under a pitchers control and only under the pitchers control. It takes things like strikeouts, walks, and home runs, and puts them on the same scale as ERA. An FIP of 4.00 is about average, 3.00 is good, and 5.00 is awful. If we look at Betancourt’s 3.91 ERA under those parameters, his season looks a little better. His FIP was a much more solid 2.94. In his 2004 season, the Indians defense was below average. Even the great Omar Vizquel missed out on a Gold Glove that season.
Things picked up in 2005 Betancourt won four games in 54 appearances. He posted a much improved 2.79 ERA. He struck out 73 batters in a career high 67.2 innings pitched, and a 4.29 strikeout to walk ratio. He established himself as a solid set up man in the Indians bull pen during a season when the young, rebuilding Tribe won a shocking 93 games for a second place finish in the American League Central Division.
The following season was a down turn for the Indians as well as Betancourt. The Tribe finished 2006 a disappointing 78-84 after a 93 win season the previous year. Betancourt too hit a few bumps. He finished with a record of 3-4 and a 3.81 ERA. His 3.64 FIP suggests that his ERA was not the fault of his defense. A further indication of his performance was his strikeouts. After striking out an average of 10 batters per nine innings in the previous two seasons, he struck out only 48 in 56.2 innings, an average of 7.6 per nine innings.
The 2007 season was not only a turn for the better for both the Indians and Betancourt, but a dream season for both. The Indians won a league best 96 games and came one win away from their first Pennant in 10 years. Betancourt had a career year, finishing with a 5-1 record and a career best 1.47 ERA. He dominated the American League, holding batters to a miniscule .187 batting average. He pitched a career high 79.1 innings, and struck out a then career high 80 hitters. He had one of the best relief seasons in a decade of Cleveland baseball, and his .76 WHIP was nearly half of the league average of 1.41. In the Post season that year, he shut down the Yankees, not allowing a run in two appearances. Then pitched 8 innings in the ALCS allowing only a .88 WHIP.
In 2009, Betancourt was traded to the Colorado Rockies half way through the season. Between the two teams, he allowed a 2.73 ERA and 9.8 strike outs per nine innings. For his seven year career in Cleveland, he won 23 games in 371 appearances. He saved 17 games and struck out 409 batters in 410 innings pitched. In the short era of the specialized set-up man, Rafael Betancourt emerged as the best in Indians history.