Before the season began, seemingly everybody was projecting the Yankees to have a down year – by their standards that is. Yet here we are in the middle of May, and the Bronx Bombers stand where they have for a majority of the past 20 years, atop the American League East standings.
This year has been radically different from a Yankee fan’s perspective – the last remnants of the core four (or five if you will) are gone and have been replaced by Didi Gregorius and Carlos Beltran’s crappy right knee. Stephen Drew has been a major disappointment at second base, and the front office has focused more time on vilifying their second-best offensive player, Alex Rodriguez, than Arte Moreno has Josh Hamilton.
Despite some dysfunction on offense, the Yankees have been able to ride strong pitching to the top of the division. Michael Pineda has been a revelation in the rotation, and Adam Warren and Nathan Eovaldi have been serviceable. Even CC Sabathia is starting to show signs of figuring it out and finally adjusting to his new skill set.
But one of the real drivers of the Yankees success – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – lies at the back end of the bullpen. Only this time it’s not Mariano Rivera and David Robertson, or Jeff Nelson, or Tom Gordon, or Scott Proctor, or Paul Quantrill, or Joba Chamberlain, or Rafael Soriano; it’s Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
The Yankees eighth- and ninth-inning men have been spectacular. For further evidence, here are their stats this year (entering Sunday):
While they are both candidates for major regression, getting that kind of production at the end of the ballgame is pretty amazing. The Yankees have been able to mildly surprise everybody in large part owing to the contributions of Miller and Betances.
What’s intriguing about the duo is that they are basically opposite-handed clones of each other. They’re both tall, Miller stands 6'7" and Betances 6'8"; throw their fastballs above 94 and their breaking balls around 83 mph; and throw their respective pitches with roughly the same frequency. Take a look at the pitch usage data for the two, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
For Miller, opponents are hitting .028 against his slider this year and hit just .071 last year. Against Betances, batters are managing only a .107 average against his fastball, and .130 against the curveball.
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What a luxury it is for Joe Girardi to be able to turn to two of the best relievers in the game to secure victory in the late innings. While it is unrealistic to expect both to sustain a 0.00 ERA for the remainder of the season, it’s not like their peripheral stats are bad, and Miller and Betances have FIPs- of 59 and 33, respectively.
Even after regression takes its course with Miller and Betances, the back end of the Yankees bullpen will still be in good shape going forward, and with just enough offense, the Yankees could be positioned very well for October baseball.
Joe Vasile is the Assistant General Manager and Voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League. He also writes about the Mets at Mets 360.
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