Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

The 2015 Yankees will not be a good team.  Certainly not "good" by typical Yankee standards.  Much of that is due to some odd acquisitions this winter and a sudden fiscal responsibility.  One choice the frugal Yankees made this off-season was to let incumbent closer David Robertson depart for the White Sox rather than attempt to resign him.  Though it left a Mo-sized hole at the back of the bullpen, the Yankees are prepared to fill that hole with a very big body. 

Newly-acquired reliever Andrew Miller, a 6'7" lefty, join's last year's 6'8" set-up man, the right-hander Dellin Betances, to form the last line of defense for New York.  How those two will be deployed is one of spring training's early story lines.  I would advocate moving away from the traditional (and some would say silly) model of having one guy designated as the closer and one as the 8th-inning set-up man.  I'm not the only one with this idea, and Joe Girardi has even been asked whether he'd consider a closer tandem:
It would not be my first choice, but it’s something you can definitely think about.
Okay, Joe, let's think about it.  For one, both Betances and Miller present the same interesting fact: neither one is appreciably better (or worse) against lefties or righties, making the two of them virtually interchangable:


You can still play lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty, figuring that even perceptibly hitters are less comfortable facing a guy throwing from the same side.  Then it's up to Girardi: who's coming up in the 8th?  Is Robinson Cano slated to bat second?  Let Miller start the 8th.  (The lefty Cano is 1-for-12 against Miller.)  Won't see Miguel Cabrera until the 9th?  Save Betances for the end, as Cabrera has come away with 3 strikeouts in 3 trips against him.

Another benefit of an interchangeable 1-2 punch: gone are the days of the too-tired closer.  Some nights, even the infallible Rivera was unavailable if he'd pitched in three straight games.  With a pair of arms to choose from on any given night, there should always be a powerful (and fresh) arm to close out a game.  It also makes the lives of opposing managers more difficult.  If you can't guarantee who's pitching in the 8th or the 9th, you can't effectively line up your late-game pinch-hitters. 

There's also something to be said for sharing the burden.  Neither Betances nor Miller has been a full-time closer before, and certainly neither has done so in the pressure cooker of Yankee Stadium.  Knowing that the whole world isn't riding on your shoulders has to be a relief.  If an anointed Betances blows a couple of April saves, how would that affect his confidence moving forward?  How would it affect him if Miller got the next save opportunity?

But if each pitcher knew that the manager was going to use each pitcher to the best of his abilities, dictated by the situation, each would know that his role was safe.  A blown save on Tuesday and an 8th-inning role on Wednesday wouldn't portend anything for Thursday.  That's not to say that one player won't excel in the closer role and make him the de facto choice.  But why force the issue before we really know?

It's an interesting "problem" to have, and I wonder how it will work out.  With a team that's likely to struggle for runs again, protecting a late-game lead becomes even more important.  The Yankees would seem to have the weapons.  How those weapons are to be deployed is the real question.

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