Aroldis Chapman will join the New York Yankees bullpen on Monday after serving a 30-game suspension due to MLB's newly instituted domestic violence policies. Chapman will join an already dominant bullpen spearheaded by the dynamic duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Miller is the game's top reliever in fWAR entering Sunday and Betances finds himself in the Top 20, so it is fair to suggest that the Yankees likely possess the game's top reliever tandem. The addition of the league's best reliever from 2012-2015 should no doubt make an already daunting bullpen that much more ominous to face for those in the batter's box.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi will now have three strong pitchers to choose from when devising a plan for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. So far he has gone with Betances as the setup/eighth inning pitcher while Miller has played in the closer role. The veteran lefty Miller has been awesome in that role, converting 42 of his 44 save opportunities since joining the Yankees last season. Chapman meanwhile was the Cincinnati Reds' closer throughout his stint with the team and one of the elite players at that position.
Does Chapman's presence mean shifting away from Miller? It is an interesting question. Miller has no doubt earned that spot and has been a standup individual, doing absolutely nothing to warrant a demotion to the eighth or seventh innings. He has extinguished any questions about a closer controversy by insisting he doesn't care about saves or when he pitches, as long as the game ends in a victory. Unless your name is Wade Davis, it is hard to argue that any reliever out there in baseball has been better than Andrew Miller since last season, and that's saying something.
The phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" may ring true in this case. If Chapman is thrust into the closer role, Miller, a consummate teammate, would accept the role but is that worth messing with especially in a season where wins have been hard to come by as it is? Chapman played in spring ball but has not played in the regular season; rust may be a factor in the early goings.
The best idea from the jump might be to mix Chapman in with Betances in the setup innings and continue to have Miller be the final boss of sorts for hitters to try and get through. Miller has been formidable when he has been on the mound in the ninth inning. Chapman had dominant stuff in 2015 as well but messing with a good thing might not be the wisest choice.
If Girardi does indeed put Chapman in the closer role (as he plans), then he has the option of getting somewhat creative with his approach. Does he go lefty-righty-lefty in the last three innings? Doling out Miller, Betances and Chapman back-to-back-to-back regardless of order sounds frightening, and it would be hard pressed to think the Yankees' opposition would stand much a chance if they find themselves behind. Any combination of the three is daunting in reality so Chapman's presence will add some much needed flexibility when it comes to managing the bullpen. There should certainly be days when the starting pitcher goes seven innings and only two of the three are necessary.
What's more is that other arms will be fresher. Pitchers such as Kirby Yates, Johnny Barbato and Chasen Shreve would keep their arms intact as the season wears on and would not have to be used as often. By proxy, so too could one of Chapman, Miller and Betances if Girardi decides to go with one of the other three aforementioned hurlers in the Yankee bullpen.
Already, Yates, Barbato and Shreve have shown abilities to strike batters out at high rates. Each of the three, though in a small sample size, has a K/9 of over 10.2 with Yates' standing at a lofty 12.1 while Shreve finds himself at 10.24. Barbato meanwhile finds himself sandwiched between the two at 11.25. That, too, will become a big factor in the bullpen as Betances, Miller and Chapman each have shown an uncanny ability to miss bats and induce a hoard of strikeouts.
Chapman's presence in the Yankees bullpen will make a fierce bullpen even fiercer. The catalog of strikeouts that could be composed by the arms in the bullpen could be unprecedented if things work themselves out. Fans will catch their first glimpse of Chapman on Monday. Hopefully for the Yankees, things get off to a fast start.