The Yankees have a deep and imposing bullpen with Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers, Adam Warren and eventually Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren. However, since none of them have more than Carpenter’s four career saves it would make sense for the Yankees to employ a closer by committee approach, at least for the first two months of the season.
In 2014, David Robertson saved 39 games for the Yankees after taking over from the retired Mariano Rivera, but he made sense to be the full-time closer because he had been the top set up man for Rivera for the previous four seasons and even had experience closing. The Yankees rightfully decided to not bring him back on a four-year contract, which has helped give the bullpen more options. However, it does not have a pitcher who has been a top set up man for more than three seasons, which means that the closer position should be earned by Betances or Miller.
Betances would be a logical and sentimental choice because he was an All-Star last season with the Yankees and grew up in the Lower East Side, but last season was his first full season as a relief pitcher. He could not have been better as he used his four-seam fastball that averaged 96 MPH, a devastating slurve (which is a mixture between a curve ball and slider and often freezes hitters) and a changeup to record an outstanding 135 strikeouts and a 1.40 ERA in 90 innings (70 games). He broke Mariano Rivera’s record for strikeouts in a season by a Yankee.
However, even though Betances proved that he has the stuff to be an effective closer as Robertson’s set up man last season, he still likely needs more time to prove himself. This is because before last season the only bullpen work he had was 32 innings for Triple-A Scranton during the 2013 season after being converted from being a starter. He was once a top starter prospect in the organization, as he was the fifth best prospect in 2009 and had an ERA of 2.11 in 17 minor league starts in 2010, but it was downhill from there for him as a starter.
Miller is similar to Betances in that they were both starters earlier in their career before being moved to the bullpen because of ineffectiveness. Miller was in the rotation for the Detroit Tigers, Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox before being sent to the bullpen because he never had an ERA below 4.84, but Miller has been in the bullpen for the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles for the last three seasons.
Miller had an impressive 2.64 ERA while only pitching in 30.2 innings in 2013. He season was cut short in 2013 because of torn ligaments in the lisfranc zone of his foot. His 48 strikeouts led to an outstanding 14.1 strikeouts/nine innings, and he limited the opposition to three homers. One drawback of his productive 2013 season is that he walked 17 batters in those 30.2 innings, which led to a high 5.0 walks/9 innings.
Another similarity between Betances and Miller is that – even though Miller pitched well in 2013 and was one of the top relievers when healthy – they have both truly had one elite season. In 2014, while pitching in 50 games for the Red Sox and 23 games for the Orioles, Miller had a 2.02 ERA in 62.1 innings, a dominating 103 strikeouts, only 17 walks and a phenomenal .802 WHIP. His 2.5 walks/9 innings and 14.9 strikeouts/9 innings were also by far the best of his career. In 2014, Miller threw a fourseam fastball (95 MPH), a slider (85 MPH) and very rarely a changeup (91 MPH). His slider generates a higher amount of swings and misses compared to that of other pitchers.
Since they are both capable of closing based on their stuff and overall effectiveness last season, but can both pitch multiple innings, it would make sense if Joe Girardi went based on match-ups the first two months of the season since Miller is a lefty and Betances is a righty. Whoever proves to get better results in the ninth inning while limiting the walks could get the closer position for the long haul. The Yankees are shaping up to have a bullpen to be reckoned with a top four of Betances, Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson.
They are both coming into their own, which is a definite positive, but have both only shown the ability to perform for a full season at an elite level once. This means that neither of them has earned the closer spot going into the season and since they can both pitch more than one inning it would make sense to utilize them in that way. They could handle the eighth and ninth innings, and Justin Wilson, David Carpenter, Esmil Rogers, Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve etc. can look to execute and be counted on in long relief and in the sixth and seventh innings.
Miller was given a four-year, $36 million contract earlier in the offseason, which means that he should get an opportunity to close just like Betances. Based on how Betances and Miller pitched last season, and if Carpenter pitches like he did in 2013, the Yankees bullpen could be just as potent as last year’s Royals bullpen that helped them essentially end games after six innings. In 1996, the Yankees had one of the best closer & set-up man combos in John Wetteland (2.83 ERA/43 saves) and Mariano Rivera (2.09 ERA/130 strikeouts/107.2 innings). However, in 1997, the Yankees had one obvious candidate to close but they now have two.
Teams definitely benefit from having defined roles, but Betances and Miller are both unselfish players, so Girardi should have them share the role to see who is better suited for the pressure of the ninth inning.