Picture this: It's the fifth inning and the starting pitcher has lost his command. He needs to come out of the game in order for the team to have a chance. He got the first out, but also loaded the bases on a combination of hard hits and walks. At-bat is 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson, and on deck is perennial Destroyer of Baseballs Jose Bautista. Oh and did I mention it's a one run game in the middle of August? (Does it really matter who has the one run lead here?) The Yankees, luckily, have three of the best and most dominate relief pitchers in baseball. I'm going to pretend to be Joe Girardi now and run through some scenarios.
Scenario 1: I have Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances. But those guys are my late inning relievers I can't use them now. Branden Pinder, I choose you!
Scenario 2: I have Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances. I could use one of these guys right now to get out of this jam, and use my second tier guys to bridge from this guy to the other two guys in my bullpen. Miller and Chapman can lock down the end. Betances, I choose you!
I'm not sure why Girardi thinks he's Ash Ketchum in his head, but he does in my head. Now in Scenario 1, sure Pinder could come in and do the job and all could be well and Girardi can stick to his formula. But why take that risk when there's a Goliath in Betances available who can just stomp down on his opponents? Again it's not like the team is facing Brendan Ryan here, it's Josh Donaldson. In case the MVP award didn't give it away, he's a really good baseball player. Even if he doesn't get it done, barring a double play Bautista is up after him, and he destroys baseballs. Considering Miller and Chapman are still there for the late innings, there's almost no reason not to use Betances in this situation. Well maybe if the date was September 28th, 2011 then Betances shouldn't be brought in (funnily enough he started that game, but I'm talking about 2014-16 Betances here), but in 2016, when there's a three-headed monster named Fluffy, one would be remiss not to bring in Betances.
If Betances can come in and handle the heart of the opposing team's lineup in a bad situation, then he also makes the job easier for the subsequent "second-tier" guys who would bridge the gap to Miller and Chapman. With bullpen pieces like this, it's up to Girardi and Larry Rothschild to be creative in how they use these guys and not to just limit them to specific innings. Betances recently said that the ideal situation is for the starter to go six innings, then Fluffy comes in; three innings, nine up, nine down, nine strikeouts. Obviously this would be fun for any fan to watch and probably just as much fun for him to be a part of that. The thing about baseball though, or any sport really, is that no matter how much one tries to have things go perfectly to plan, it doesn't always work that way. During those not so perfect times, Girardi needs to move away from his "this inning belongs to this reliever" philosophy that he has seemingly always deployed, and accept a brand new style of relief pitching.
There are obviously going to be concerns regarding his workload, and while those concerns are not without merit, they shouldn't really affect how or when Betances is used. I trust Girardi and Rothschild to properly monitor his workload and not give him more than he can handle, but I do worry they will not take advantage of the opportunity presented. Brian McCann made a comment saying that Betances was the team's MVP last year, but there were quite a few candidates who could have been anointed that honor. If the Yankees stick to this strategy and allow Betances to be a true "fireman", he might run away with the team MVP designation.
Obviously this is a strategy that may not be able to be implemented right away, due to the circumstances surrounding Aroldis Chapman and whether or not he is suspended by Major League Baseball (and for how long). In that case, the Yankees bullpen can operate like it did last year with Betances and Miller shoring up the late innings and then hopefully getting solid contributions from the likes of Chasen Shreve and James Pazos (or Jacob Lindgren depending on his injury status). When all three are available, it's in the best interest of the Yankees to not keep Betances tied down to any specific role. This is a season for him to emerge as a true fireman and put out all the potential fires that may come the Yankees' way. Plus, he looks good in that helmet.
One of the bigger issues in doing this, though, is in how pitchers operate. Pitchers have a routine that they like to go through, and they like to know when they're pitching to get themselves mentally and physically prepared. Granted, relief pitchers don't always know when they'll be needed, unless they're tied down to a certain role. Closers and setup-men pretty much know when they're coming in, or at least have a good idea so they have time to get themselves ready and start warming up. In these "fireman" situations, though, there's no telling when they'll be needed. Some might argue that this could have a negative mental effect on Betances, but someone with his talent and ability should be unaffected by that, as long as he just comes in and does what he does.
There's always talk about how some relievers can't close because they don't have a "closer's mentality" and that they "can't handle the pressure", in fact, this is partly why the Yankees were supposedly hesitant to give David Robertson the closer job after Mariano Rivera retired. However, Robertson proved, and Miller proved, sometimes it's about keeping it simple and just doing what they know they can do. The same would go for Betances. Whether it is the 5th, the 7th, or even the 9th, whenever his number is called, he just has to come in and pitch his game. It would be the perfect opportunity for Betances to emerge as the true hero of this bullpen.