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2010 Rockies Player Review: Rafael Betancourt

One of the more comforting things in baseball is knowing that when your starting pitcher is done, your team has a solid bridge to the closer. We can argue about proper bullpen utilization another time, but as long as we know that the Rockies are going to be pitching their bullpen ace in the 9th inning, it's good to know that the 8th inning is pretty much locked down.

Rafael Betancourt began the season on the losing side of the health battle, having dealt with sickness during a lot of the offseason and then shoulder inflammation to begin the season - and it showed. During his first 18 games (16IP), Betancourt saw his ERA balloon to 7.31, he was allowing a .357/.378/.529 line to opposing hitters, and frankly, he was downright hittable. But there was still hope for Betancourt, as 1. there was no way that .451 BABIP was going to hold up, and 2. His 18/3 K/BB ratio was downright excellent. Take out the 1 IBB that was issued and Betancourt was striking out 9 men per unintentional walk allowed. Something simply HAD to turn around.

May 26th was ultimately the high watermark for Betancourt's season. On the 26th, Betancourt allowed 3 runs to score in his one inning of work. Fan frustration smoldered, and when the early season 9th inning struggles of Franklin Morales were factored in, it seemed like the bullpen was going to be the sinking point for the Rockies.

That's when Betancourt turned it around.

From May 27th through the end of the season, Raffa became one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. The rest of the season, Betancourt posted a 2.33 ERA, struck out 71 men in 46.1 innings while walking only 5 (4 unintentional), and allowed a .163/.187/.319 line to the opposition. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a 13.8 K/9, 0.97 BB/9. Granted, some of that batting line is deflated by a .227 BABIP.

So, miserable first-third and outstanding last two-thirds of the season totaled up yield a 3.61 ERA (2.49 FIP, 2.29 xFIP), 62.1IP, 89K, 8BB (6 intentional), and a .220/.245/.381 batting line against.

If I could make one knock against Betancourt, it'd fit right in with his areas of praise. His strikeouts (12.9 K/9) and walks (1.2 BB/9) were downright elite - like ALL-TIME elite (his 11.3 K/BB ranks 5th all-time behind Dennis Eckersley - twice - Mariano Rivera, and Edward Mujica), but his home run numbers were somewhat unimpressive (1.3 HR/9).

But chew on this:

Betancourt allowed more home runs this season than he did walks, intentional or otherwise. 9 home runs, 8 walks (6 unintentional).

When you allow so few runners to get on base via walk (or hell, via hit) and get so many outs via the punchout, a 1.3 HR/9, while still unsightly, is completely manageable. Take a look at the last few years of Ted Lilly: unpleasant HR numbers, but low BB numbers, good K numbers, and a decently good ERA to go with it. There are obviously differences between Lilly and Betancourt, but the similarities (both extreme flyballers) draw the comparison.

Anyhow, when you factor in the injured first bit of the season and the otherworldly rest of the season, I'd make the case that Rafael Betancourt overall had a very good season.

Final Grade: A-