In any sport, when a team has a blueprint for success, the model is often repeated. While the Kansas City Royals are hardly the ideal franchise to model after, their blend of defense and bullpen strength propelled them to the seventh game of the World Series in 2014. With their ability to shorten games due to the success of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the Royals could mix and match in the fifth or sixth inning if they needed to convert. Throughout the Yankees’ championship runs they had a strong bullpen going back to the days of Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and the unflappable Mariano Rivera.
In 2014, David Robertson did a great job closing but with his turning down of the Yankees qualifying offer, he is presently a free agent. Along with Robertson, talented rookie Dellin Betances seemingly came out of nowhere to take over a setup role in the bullpen and was a player that Mariano Rivera took under his wing. The Yankees have reached an agreement with Andrew Miller on a 4-year 36 million dollar contract to lengthen their bullpen. That wasn’t all, the Yankees also acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius to help platoon the position with Brendan Ryan. Coincidence? Maybe.
Andrew Miller had a career year in 2014. He along with Craig Kimbrel are the only 2 pitchers in history to strikeout over 100 batters while walking fewer than 20 in 65 innings or less. Miller features a 2-pitch repertoire featuring a 95 MPH fastball and an 85 MPH slider which produced a career high swinging strike rate of 14.6% this year. It seems that Miller’s career has been on the upswing since the 2012 season, culminating in the 2014 stats and new contract:
Andrew Miller 2014: 5 W, 1 Sv, 62.1 IP, 103/17 K/BB, 2.02 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
While Miller has been on a 3-year rise statistically, his career numbers do bear some watching. I do think that he is capable of a year or two more of great strikeout numbers but there are warning signs. First, here are some interesting indicators from his last 3 years with his career numbers for reference:
Miller 2012: SwStr% 9.6, K/9 11.4, K/BB 2.55, FIP 3.17
Miller 2013: SwStr% 13.2, K/9 14.1, K/BB 2.82, FIP 3.05
Miller 2014: SwStr% 14.6, K/9 14.9, K/BB 6.1, FIP 1.51
Miller’s career: SwStr% 8.5, K/9 8.9, K/BB 1.8, FIP 4.12
So perception being what it is, it has to be the recent strikeout rates that have gotten Andrew Miller a contract of this magnitude:
With the premise that groundballs have to be fielded, Miller presents a great case for being able to strikeout batters with no regard to what side the batter hits from. Here are Miller’s splits from last season:
Miller vs. LH Batters: 26 IP, 48/5 K/BB, .161/.206/.261
Miller vs. RH Batters: 36.1 IP, 55/12 K/BB, .142/.245/.202
His heat map (courtesy of Mark Simon from ESPN) only underscores the point:
If New York passed on David Robertson, their bullpen construction entering the season will be something to watch. If Girardi does in fact mix and match, it will be a frustrating situation for fantasy owners. One thing is for sure, their bullpen depth can and will be used as a weapon next year.
Overlooked in the Miller buzz is not only how good Dellin Betances was in ’14, but how much he mirrored his tutor, Mariano Rivera. Their age 26 seasons are remarkably similar:
Dellin Betances 2014: 5 W, 1 Sv, 90 IP, 135/24 K/BB, 1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP
Mariano Rivera 1996: 8 W, 5 Sv, 107.2 IP, 130/34 K/BB, 2.09 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
Rivera used his cutter to mow down batters but his heater and cutter were similar in speed. Dellin Betances throws a 98 MPH fastball, but his knee buckling 84 MPH curveball is one of the best in baseball. In fact, Betances struck out more batters in fewer innings with a lower WHIP and FIP in the years in comparison. At age 27, Rivera took over as the closer for the then defending champs and went on a historic run. This is not to say that Betances will be provided with a similar chance, but it is hard to ignore history.
Another factor in determining the closer may be the fact that Andrew Miller will be 30 at the onset of the 2015 season while Betances will only be 27. 3 years may not be a huge difference but as the great Eno Sarris have hints, the decline in velocity as pitchers age is hard to ignore:
I do believe this is a solid signing by New York. However, it does come as a bit of a surprise since the Red Sox and Blue Jays are adding in big ways and Baltimore is still the class of the division until unseated. I thought there were a good chance that we would see a rebuild out of the Yankees. Ultimately, what happens with David Robertson and how the Yankees continue to reconstruct their roster may determine what Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances roles will be going forward. If 2014 has taught us anything, it is that a deep bullpen can get you a long way not only in real baseball, but in fantasy as well.
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!