Thursday, February 26, 2015

Betances, Miller or both for Yankees' closer?

The New York Yankees have a situation that many teams would kill for; two incredibly capable relievers vying for the ninth-inning job. Right-hander Dellin Betances and lefty Andrew Miller entered camp as the close-out options for manager Joe Girardi.

Girardi has stated that he would like to settle the issue before Spring Training ends, but also said he felt comfortable utilizing both in the role depending on the lineup situation of the opposition. It’s believed that Girardi would prefer to have a set eighth and ninth-inning man, and is completely fine with either Betances or Miller being the answer.

What is the better option for the Yankees?

Betances rose to the setup man role in dominating fashion last season. His amazing rookie campaign was a testament to waiting out a prospect and giving him a chance to find his role. Betances was once a promising starter in the organization, only to have control issues derail his progress. The Yankees made a last ditch effort to squeeze something out of Betances and converted him to a reliever. It has turned out to be a fantastic move.

Betances, who turns 27 in March, tossed 90 innings in 2014, striking out 135 batters along the way. He dominated hitters holding them to a .149 batting average. He racked up 22 holds and his rate stats were excellent – 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) and a 0.78 WHIP.

Projection models for Betances show a bit of a regression, but considering how exemplary he was, the Yankees will take these metrics.

The Steamer and ZiPs models via FanGraphs seem to believe that Betances will lose some of the control he exhibited last season and revert back to some to his underlying issues of the past. With little data to go on, this is understandable and his performance early on will signify if this is going to be an issue going forward or if he has completely turned the corner in this area.

Miller, 29, who saw time with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles last season, also blossomed into one of the best setup men in the league in 2014. In 62.1 innings Miller grabbed 22 holds, struck out 103 batters and posted a 2.02 ERA (1.51 FIP) and 0.80 WHIP.

Much like Betances, Miller was once a starter who was not getting the results expected of him. The Red Sox turned him into a lefty specialist in 2012 and he’s become progressively dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate.

As with Betances, the prognosis for Miller is a bit of a decline in the ratio stats and much of the same in the counting stats for 2015.

The models are also hesitant to suggest that Miller’s control is completely resolved, as it was with Betances. That said, after watching both of the players last season, it did not seem like they were having many, if any, problems with the strike zone. Until proven otherwise, it's safe to believe 2014 was not a fluke for either hurler.

Should the Yankees receive anything between the numbers Betances and Miller produced in 2014, and the projections for 2015, they’ll have no issues with whoever they choose to be the closer. Since neither pitcher has actually filled the roll on a regular basis, Girardi’s tactic of seeing if one or the other fits better during the spring makes absolute sense.

It is also incredibly intriguing to think of a two-headed monster closing out games for the Yanks. Girardi has the benefit of having a righty/lefty combination that can handle batters from both sides of the plate.

So when there is an all righty or a righty/lefty/righty situation at the plate, Betances makes sense. Likewise, when all lefties are due up or it’s lefty/righty/lefty Miller could be the call. Further, if the opposing manager tries to make a pinch-hitting move, it doesn’t really affect the pitcher. This situation can arise in the eighth inning just as easily, again giving Girardi the same options to bring in the best choice for the situation and leaving the other to close the game out.

So long as both players remain healthy, and as effective as they were last season, there is hardly a wrong way to go here. The bullpen as a whole is strong so it does not seem that either Miller or Betances will be required to log significant innings this season making them all the more dependable.

The Yankees are in a great position with Betances and Miller cleaning up the eighth and ninth innings, no matter which way the manager decides to draw it up.

Projections via FanGraphs.

Photo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.