Colorado Rockies 2015 Crystal Ball: Rafael Betancourt

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July 14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt (63) pitches during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As the season gets underway, RoxPile.com is making some fun (but completely unqualified!) predictions about how members of the Colorado Rockies will fare this summer. In this edition: Rafael Betancourt.

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After tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in August of 2013, Rafael Betancourt missed the entire 2014 season rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, no small feat for a man now nearly 40 years old.

But, to his credit as a professional, he did it, and he’s back in Denver with the Colorado Rockies at the Major League level and, thus far in 2015, has been pitching well as a set-up man for closer Adam Ottavino.

What should we expect of him all year long, though, as a veteran leading the Rockies’ relief corps?

What The Numbers Say

FanGraphs lists various projection systems, which you can learn more about here.

Projection systems seem to be fairly skeptical of Betancourt’s work, possibly due to the combination of his age and recent injury history. ZiPS doesn’t have faith in him pitching in more than 30 games this season, while Steamer and Depth Charts give him a full year (nearly 60 games, total), but sub-par numbers (at least, by his recent standards in Denver) with a 4.10+ ERA and FIPs right around 4.00.

All systems believe he will strike out far fewer batters than his career rate, and walk nearly a full batter per nine innings more than his career to date.

Some of that makes intuitive sense for those who watch him and understand he just doesn’t throw very hard (and really, he never did), and thus, has a much smaller margin for error than Ottavino or other relief pitchers.

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  • Best-Case Scenario

    We’re seeing Betancourt’s best-case scenario thus far this season. He’s struck out more than a batter per inning in the first several weeks of the year, walked only one hitter in his first 8.2 innings pitched, and has a 2.08/1.09/.3.25 slash line across ERA/FIP/xFIP.

    An FIP bottoming out near 1.00 will (probably…) not last for, well, anyone, but Betancourt’s done exactly what he’s needed to so far, he’s come out of the gate strong to start the season, and he’s overcome his sub-par fastball velocity with a good changeup and better location.

    Surely, his 10% ground ball rate will rise… we hope. Though, for what it’s worth, he’s always been a fly-ball pitcher, with just a 29.8% career ground ball rate.

    Worst-Case Scenario

    Betancourt’s worst-case scenario will likely come from his age and declining ability. As mentioned, he doesn’t throw hard, and his margin for error on location is, well, small. Mis-placing pitches with any level of consistency (and/or just running into bad BABIP luck for an extended period of time) would make Betancourt extremely hittable, and the Rockies have already seen what happens when you run a reliever out there who doesn’t miss bats.

    Crystal Ball

    I like Betancourt’s story and perseverance (how could you not?) and his track record as a big league reliever speaks for itself, especially in his time with the Rockies. Nevertheless, I’m skeptical he has the juice to last a full season as a 40-year old, and I think he might become another Hawkins(ish) liability as the grind wears on.

    By the end of the year (or, well, by June or July), I think you’ll see Ottavino still closing (duh), and Brooks Brown and Tommy Kahnle as his main set-up men with Boone Logan doing pretty good work, too.

    Betancourt, like Hawkins, will fade into middle relief assuming good health. While those are still important innings, it isn’t the significance the Rockies were probably hoping for with Rafael Betancourt.

    Give us your predictions!

    Comment below, find us on Facebook, or tweet us @RoxPileFS and let us know. You can also use the hashtag #RoxCrystalBall.

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