This year has been a frustrating one. After an absolutely dreadful start in April, the Yankees have since played a dance with .500; they go on a tear and seem to break through, only to topple back below it. There is no discernible "star" either, and that takes away from the experience. Contrast that with, say, the Mets or Cubs or Dodgers, for example, whose fans tune in with baited breath to watch Noah Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, or Clayton Kershaw.
The one bright spot, though, is the back-end of the bullpen. Even though they don’t get an anointed day by virtue of what they do, watching Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman shut down a game from as early as the sixth inning is a sight to see. In 80 innings combined, they have allowed just 22 earned runs, and they have struck out 142 batters.
It’s essentially unprecedented in baseball history to have three relievers on one team with generational talent, and naturally the first instinct of Yankees fans is to ask when it’s all going to end. Chapman is obviously on the trading block come July because he becomes a free agent after the season, but the Yankees can weigh a possible return against what he can provide down the stretch, combined with a likely draft pick if he were to decline a qualifying offer. Miller has also been talked about for well over six months now, and there are contenders that could definitely use him. He is signed to a contract until the end of 2018, so the return is likely much higher. Betances, as of now, is untouchable.
What’s interesting about all of these trade talks, though, is that it brings up discussions about these players’ long-term value. To be honest, value in the now is probably pretty similar across the board. While each projection system, team, and scout is likely to have a different opinion as to how they should be ordered in terms of overall talent, the small sample size likely means their 2016 performance will be ranked in a more random way. One bad outing, or even a couple of bad pitches, could mean that one has a better year than the other. What is more important, though, is who has more long-term value to a club in the future. That pitcher, in my opinion, is Miller.
In terms of actual performance over a three-year span, the clear winner is Betances. This is largely because he pitches about 20 more innings than the other two. But in terms of rate stats, they have all been pretty similar since 2014: 230 ERA+ for Betances, 199 ERA+ for Chapman, and 217 ERA+ for Miller. What we care about, though, is future performance, and this is where Miller has the slight edge.
In a recent piece from Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs, Miller has actually improved in his plate discipline numbers: as of now he produces more swings on pitchers out of the zone than in the zone, which is crazy. He notes, "...Henderson Alvarez had a higher O-Swing% than Z-Swing% as a hitter".
Not only that, but he does that with about a fastball a few miles per hour slower than both Betances and Chapman, largely because of much better command. While ZiPS sees Betances and Chapman as having a true talent 3.17 BB/9 and 3.77 BB/9, respectively, ZiPS thinks Miller is at 2.36 BB/9. When the day comes that Miller likely does not have the velocity he does today, there is reason to believe he can survive with a fastball that sits at 90 mph.
With both Betances and Chapman, I’m not so sure. Chapman is effectively wild and relies heavily on his fastball, and Betances, while unbelievably great, has a shorter shelf life if we subscribe to the only-so-many-bullets philosophy of pitching. There are only so many 90 inning seasons a pitcher can have before slowing down. Miller, on the other hand, looks to show no signs of slowing down. If you can throw strikes, command the zone, and fool hitters into swinging at more pitches out of the zone than in the zone, then you likely have a good shot at long-term viability.
All of this is to say that Andrew Miller is an absolute gem. I think on paper it’s tempting to say that Chapman is the best because he throws the hardest, or Betances is the best because he has more flexibility and better stuff. In terms of long-term value, though, no one can really best Miller. He does not need the velocity of Chapman, or the curveball of Betances; he can thrive on spotting his fastball on the corners, then inducing whiffs on his slider. I think the Big Three is a lot of fun to watch, and I truly don’t know when it will all go south. If I could place my money on who will still be fun to watch five years from now, it would be on Miller. Cherish that man, Yankees.