Over the last 6 seasons, Joe Girardi has demonstrated how attached he is to his binder and his strategies. For as good Girardi is at getting the most from his bullpen, his formulas are incredibly simple and predictable. The manager chooses a closer, an 8th inning guy, a 7th inning guys, a specialist, a long-man, and a couple of middle relievers.
Of course, we’ve seen more intelligent decisions than just assigning a hierarchy in the bullpen and hoping for the best, Girardi does a great job of platooning players based on handedness, as well as their style of pitching. For instance, pitchers that we expected to be long-men, Adam Warren and David Phelps, have emerged in situations where runners are already on base. These two pitchers both command good sinkers/two-seamers, and have the ability to earn both ground ball double players and strikeouts.
While Girardi remains one of the most successful managers at commanding his bullpen, one knock against him is his strict adherence to the reliever hierarchy based on innings. Instead of having a 7th inning guy, 8th inning guy, and a closer, many analysts believe that the most effective way to assign your best relievers is based on predicted leverage. Your best reliever should theoretically be placed in the highest leverage inning of the game, and although the 9th inning usually carries the most deadly scenarios, there are times when the 5th or 6th inning are make or break in a close game.
Over the last month, Girardi has unintentionally put one of his best relievers in these high-leverage middle inning scenarios. Dellin Betances has not earned all of Girardi’s confidence, but it hasn’t been through poor results. Betances’ incredible stuff has played up well to the major leagues, and at the moment he owns nineteen strikeouts and just four hits in 11.2 innings.The problem is that Betances also walked seven batters, which isn’t entirely surprising for those that know his history of command issues. The wildness has prevented Betances from leapfrogging his way up Girardi’s bullpen hierarchy.
Keeping Betances in the middle-relief fireman role could be one of the best inadvertent successes of Girardi’s bullpen this year. With David Robertson pitching well as the closer, Shawn Kelley in the 8th inning, and Adam Warren in the 7th inning, it’ll be difficult for the rookie Betances to jump his way up to these late innings. Instead, his best place at the moment is in the 5th or 6th inning. When starters work their way into a jam with high pitch counts, the Yankees now have a reliever that can immediately come out of the bullpen and strikeout the middle of a lineup. Even Betances’ biggest weakness, his propensity to walk batters, plays well into these high-leverage spots as long as the bases aren’t loaded.
At the moment, Betances may have the best stuff in the bullpen, and his poor command is actually forcing Girardi to keep one of his best relievers in a middle-inning high-leverage situation. Hopefully we see his walk rates decline as his season grows on, but at the moment, Betances looks like one of the best firemen the Yankees have had since Robertson was promoted to the setup position in 2010.