The Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman and immediately fans became excited about the notion of a team having three closers. Between Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances, they had three of the best relief pitchers in baseball, each one acquired a different way–through trade, through signing, through development. Almost as soon as the Chapman trade was announced, people began to wonder who would be the team's closer in 2016. So far it's been a mystery, but according to comments made by Joe Girardi, it won't be Dellin Betances:
Regarding Girardi pen usage, could use Betances for more than 3 outs. Might be days where he "saves" Miller or Chapman to close the next day— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) December 28, 2015
Whether or not he means to turn Miller and Chapman into 'co-closers' this season, it's fairly clear that Betances will not be considered one of them. Betances will continue to be the set-up man behind the other two, which is not really a problem. The actual issue comes into view depending on how we interpret Girardi's words.
Perhaps literally, he means that he can use Betances for multiple innings, like he's been doing all along, which will allow them to save one of Miller and Chapman when they can. That sounds like a great strategy, since Miller in the eighth and Chapman in the ninth seems like overkill and an improper use of their value, especially when you have Dellin able to pitch multiple innings. It would make sense to get as many of the three into as many different games as possible, meaning pitching only two per game when they can get away with it.
However, the deeper implication behind this idea could ignore Dellin Betances' own workload, a very serious issue the Yankees might have to deal with soon. If you remember, after another dominant year at the backend of the bullpen, Betances began to falter just as the Yankees were heading into the home stretch. His control took a nosedive to 6.48 BB/9 in a month that saw him pitch 16.2 innings, his highest of the year. He also wasn't very effective in the Wild Card Game against the Astros either. Of course, it's a small sample size to panic over, but the Yankees have voiced concern about his workload in the past. He might have the endurance to pitch a lot of innings, and he's been healthy so far, but do they want to continue to risk it moving forward?
Over the last two seasons, the 27-year-old reliever has thrown the most innings out of any other reliever in baseball with 174–nearly 20 more innings than the next highest. He's also been used in the 12th most games with 144. Obviously his former life as a minor league starter has allowed him to throw so many innings, but he's pitched an average of 1.2 innings per game, which only Jeurys Familia has approached with his 1.0 innings per game. Basically, Dellin is the most used reliever in the game, which is of course due to his talent, but is also due to a lack of reliable options before him.
Last year he managed to pitch 84 innings, which was actually lower than his 2014 total of 90, while appearing in 74 games–four more than the year before. This meant he could have pitched a lot less if it wasn't for all the times they had to bring him in because someone else couldn't be trusted. The Yankees had Justin Wilson and Adam Warren before Dellin last year, and he still needed to appear in 45% of the team's games. Now that both are gone, he's only going to get more work. Girardi is now talking about using Betances to give Miller and Chapman more of a break, but if you ask me, they should be helping to give Dellin a break.
The problem is that neither Miller nor Chapman have much experience pitching so much. Over Chapman's career, he's averaged only 1.0 inning per game as the Reds have used him as their closer since 2012. Miller, on the other hand, is a former failed starter, so you would think he'd be able to take on a larger workload, however, once he was transitioned to the bullpen, he averaged even less than Chapman due to his usage as a lefty specialist. Neither have eclipsed 70 games in a season and only Chapman has exceeded 70 innings in a season–four years ago. It feels like the only thing that Miller and Chapman will do for Dellin is push his innings from 7th-8th to 6th-7th, and that won't help him avoid fatigue or injury, unless Yankee starting pitching decides to regularly head into the sixth and seventh this year.
Three closers are obviously better than two and even better than one, but it doesn't help if one of them wears down and becomes ineffective. While the Yankees don't really have the means to help Betances right now, it would make sense to see if Miller, given his past experience, could be stretched out a bit and used over a larger body of work. He pitched 61.2 innings over 60 games last year, so the Yankees have almost exclusively used him for one inning, but there's no reason they couldn't expand that to 1.1 or 1.2 innings when it makes sense. After all, Miller is a lefty, and though he's proven to be very effective as a specialist, Girardi never used him as a match-up reliever. With Chapman here now, maybe it's time they did that. Both of them have been fine with their workloads. It's time to focus on Dellin for a change.