When the Colorado Rockies traded Huston Street to the San Diego Padres they seemingly left a gaping hole at the back end of their bullpen, right? Wrong. The Rockies will turn closer duties over to Rafael Betancourt, who has proven to be among the league’s better setup man during the course of his career.
For a pitcher who has had over 20 holds each of the past three seasons and four of the past five, the transition should be easy. However, we all know that it isn’t quite that simple. He did get a small stint as the Rockies’ closer in 2011, posting the following line:
73 Strikeouts (10.54 K/9)
8 Walks (1.16 BB/9)
The numbers are incredibly impressive, much as they have been for his entire career. The first thing that jumps out at you is his control, which is an elite number. Before we call it an aberration, realize that he has a career BB/9 of 2.07. He also has posted a walk rate below 2.00 in four of the past six seasons and of 1.16 or better in three of the past five.
In other words Betancourt is clearly a top control pitcher, which almost assures him of posting a dazzling WHIP. Over the past three seasons he has posted marks of 1.11, 0.96 and 0.87. Since 2005 he has posted a mark higher than 1.11 just once (he had a 1.42 mark in ’08 in part due to a .311 BABIP). With the control he possesses, you can virtually count on him posting a mark of 1.10 or better.
You couple that with his ability to strikeout more than a better per inning (9.64 K/9 over the course of his career) and you have the makings of an incredible closer.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his flaws. Over the course of his career he has posted a HR/9 of 0.95, though he’s been above that in his two full seasons in Colorado. A fly ball pitcher (50.4% fly ball rate for his career), he has allowed 16 HR over the past two seasons. At the end of a game, that is the type of number that could plague you and cost you your job.
The only other factor you have to consider is if he can consistently handle the pressure of the ninth inning. It is often assumed that any pitcher can convert into the closer’s role and do so flawlessly. We all know that it isn’t always the case. If handling closing duties was so easy, fantasy owners wouldn’t have to consistently hit the waiver wire in search of saves.
Closers fail, it’s simply a part of life. Time will tell if Betancourt has the makeup to close games, though the numbers suggest he does.
You put everything together and we get the following projection for 2012:
65.0 IP, 3 W, 31 SV, 2.91 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 73 K (10.11 K/9), 11 BB (1.52 BB/9)
This all assumes, of course, that he proves that he can excel closing out games in Colorado. That is no certainty, but he has proven time and time again that he has the makeup of an elite bullpen anchor. How many other pitchers can offer this type of elite strikeout rate coupled with unbelievable control? As long as he keeps the ball in the ballpark, the sky truly is the limit.
He has the stuff to be a Top 12 closer in ’12, though you will hardly have to draft him that early. In other words, drafting him as a low-end #2 closer or a high-end #3 closer has the potential to be a real steal. You should be targeting him in all formats.
***** Pre-order the Rotoprofessor 2012 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide, complete with updates from January through the start of the season, for just $6! To place your order click here. *****
Make sure to check out our other 2012 projections: