A few days ago, Joe Girardi discussed the possibility of using Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller interchangeably as closer this season with MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. "I'm sure we'll have a lot of meetings about that," Girardi said. "We'll decide what's best. We want to see how they're both throwing the baseball at the end of Spring Training. There will be just a lot of discussion of how we feel our team is built. Could they be interchangeable? Yeah."
Even as more and more MLB teams have moved towards using analytics greatly in their decision making, every team still uses the closer traditionally in the ninth inning. The notion in anlaytics is that it is smarter to use your closer --who is your best relief pitcher-- whenever the biggest spot is in the game. That could be in the sixth inning with two runners on base in a tie game. They should not be saved for the ninth inning just because. No manager has had the guts to do this yet, because if it didn't work out the backlash would probably be huge. It's much easier for them to go the easy way out.
However, the Yankees did have the luxury of doing this last season. As good as David Roberston was last year, Betances was still the best relief pitcher on the team and Girardi was able to use him anytime between the sixth and eight innings whenever he was most needed. Girardi is a great bullpen manager and more often than not Betances was brought in at just the right time. Betances' role as a fireman last year will be more valuable than if he is just a conventional ninth inning closer this year. This was the biggest reason why I was a big advocate of bringing Robertson back.
The Yankees are very deep into analytics as an organization, which is a great thing. It was pretty obvious that the acquisitions of Chase Headley, Brandon McCarthy and Nathan Eovaldi were analytically driven. However, all this co-closer thing seems to be is based on lefty and righty matchups in the last two innings.
"It would not be my first choice, but it's something you could definitely think about," Girardi said. "If you had in the eighth [inning] right-left-right, and then in the ninth, left-right-left, I don't know. I've got to see where they both are at the end of Spring Training and how interchangeable they are, and then we'll make a decision, but I would like to have it ironed out before we leave.
So, nothing in there about using Betances in a big spot in the sixth or seventh inning and having Miller ready to close. The argument against it for the traditional folk is that not everyone can have the mentality to pitch the ninth inning. It's not something I really buy.
If Betances and Miller both pitch close to what they did last year it would definitely be worthwhile to use them interchangeably as closer and fireman, not as closer and eight inning guy. It might happen sometimes, but it's doubtful to actually happen on a consistent basis. I just can't wait for some manager to have the guts to actually use his best relief pitcher in the most important part of the game.