Back before the 2016 season started, the Yankees had Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman on the roster. At the time, fans were excited about the team’s bullpen possibilities. After all, having three closers on one roster just seems like an unfair advantage. Imagine at any point in the game, bringing in a pitcher as talented as any of those three and still having someone just as talented to close out the game?
It’s straight nightmare fuel for opposing teams. Unfortunately, Joe Girardi didn’t play to his advantages at the time. Sure the thought of facing Betances, Miller, and Chapman in a row was still scary, but he almost always exclusively used them in strict 7th, 8th, and 9th inning roles. Fast forward to 2017.
Andrew Miller now plays for the Cleveland baseball team, but David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle were acquired from the White Sox to bolster the bullpen that still featured Betances and Chapman. Say what you will about his recent struggles, Kahnle would be closing on almost any other team that didn’t have an established star closer, like the three the Yankees have. Which essentially gives the Yankees four closers.
While enough time hasn’t passed for it to be as formulaic, Girardi still had his formula. Kahnle would come on first, then Robertson, Betances, and ending with Chapman. There was always the pecking order. Sure there were a few exceptions, depending on the game situation but if it the Yankees had a lead or were tied late in the game and all four were available, this was the order. Until recently.
Aroldis Chapman has been awful this year. He’s had a couple good outings, but anytime he came in for the save, there was just a sense of impending doom. After Joe Girardi finally decided he no longer wanted an ulcer, he officially took Aroldis Chapman out from the closer’s role.
"He's been scuffling over the past 10 days, two weeks," Girardi said. "I just thought for us to get him back on track, maybe the best way would be to move him around a little bit until he gets going.
So who’s going to close then? The heavy favorite was David Robertson. And if Girardi had decided to go with Robertson, no one would’ve faulted him. It makes sense. However, Girardi said that he’ll have Robertson and Betances both close and go off match-ups.
While neither Robertson or Betances would have been a bad choice to name as closer, not naming a closer was the right choice. The Yankees have three Proven Closers™ and four pitchers capable of closing. Having four pitchers capable of closing means they don’t need a closer and they don’t need defined roles either. It should always be based off match-ups and situations.
Sure there are advantages to having assigned bullpen roles for the players. Back when Adam Warren was with the Cubs he had struggled greatly. One of the things he attributed that to was that he said he never knew when he was coming in to a game. With the Yankees, he and Joe Girardi were on the same page. So it makes sense to a certain extent.
I’m also not here advocating for any of the four to come in just all willy-nilly in the third inning of a blowout or anything like that. It’s just not assigning players to specific innings gives Girardi more flexibility. Match-ups make sense. The inning shouldn’t dictate the pitcher but the batters should. It’s good to see the Yankees finally accept that line of thinking.
The last time Girardi didn’t name a specific closer, it was actually Andrew Miller aka the “Game Enderer.” Except it took a while for Girardi to officially give him the title. Hopefully, Girardi doesn’t end up just having a de facto closer this time around. Match-ups make the most sense. And it’s good to see the Yankees leaning towards that.
I’m sure Girardi will still have some sort of pecking order and that’s okay. Just can’t be too rigid with it. As of now, all four of those pitchers have made appearances as early as the sixth inning. We don’t know how long this will last though. Girardi has already said that if Chapman can regain his form that he might get the closer’s role back.
Hopefully that’s not the case. And that’s not just an anti-Chapman agenda either. There shouldn’t be any closer when the team has more than one. Especially if Chapman can return to form. That just adds another weapon for Girardi to use creatively. At least for right now though, the Yankees are finally playing to their strength.
*Season statistics provided courtesy of Baseball Reference.