Let's forget about a closer for a little while

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has yet to name a closer for this season. Hopefully, it stays that way.

Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are the two big arms for the back end of the Yankees bullpen and Wednesday was a glimpse in how they should be used this season. Girardi brought in Betances, a righty, to face the Toronto Blue Jays’ big right-handed bats in the heart of their order in the eighth inning: Russell Martin, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Miller, a lefty, finished the ninth in order.

Betances didn’t pitch a clean inning, giving up two walks, but he was brought in when New York was down 2-1 in the eighth to keep the Yankees within striking distance. Even though an unearned was given up on Brian McCann’s throwing error, the Yankees still had life, and they took advantage of it the next inning by scoring three runs.

The key is that Betances and Miller knew their roles heading into the game based on the lineup. They were given the task of facing specific batters and not specific innings they were going to pitch.

Had Bautista and Encarnacion batted in the ninth, there is a good chance Betances would have thrown then instead.

"They want us to be flexible," Miller told reporters after the game. "It's my job to be flexible because they asked for that, and I think that makes perfect sense. I'm perfectly satisfied with the way that they've prepared us. It's our job to get outs when called upon. That's all we know."

Miller earned just his second career save, but it would be nice see that stat abandoned for the Yankees this season. Rather, Girardi should continue to use his best pitchers in high-leverage situations late in games, holding leads or keeping a game close without concern for who should get a save.

It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of having a set closer. New York had been spoiled with one of the greatest ones for more than a decade. But with a new look to the bullpen, it’s time for a new way to use it efficiently.

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Optimism For Betances

What ever happened to the Killer B's? Just two years ago, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman were three of the top 5 or 6 prospects in the Yankee system. Obviously Brackman was cut loose because of control issues, and Banuelos is now in the process of recovering from Tommy John surgery. (Though he's already in Tampa for some reason) Betances has faced his own set of issues. His fastball and breaking pitches are as strong as ever, but control has eluded the 24 year old.  I've seen a few top Yankee prospect rankings that still kept Banuelos in the top 10, but good luck finding Betances on any of them. The tall right-handed pitcher was awful last year, pitching to a 6.44 ERA between Scranton and Trenton. He maintained a decent 19.6 K% through that time, but his walk rates skyrocketed. In Scranton, Betances was nearly striking out as many hitters as he was walking (19.0%), but did fair better in the demotion to Trenton. There he maintained a 19.7 K% and an 11.2 BB%. In comparison to Brett Marshall, a top 10 prospect for many, Betances' strikeout and walk rates were a bit higher than Marshall's 18.1 K% and  8.0 BB%. Though the numbers are a lot closer than perceived, Betances put up a 6.51 ERA where Marshall put up a 3.52 ERA. Obviously there's a stark difference in results, and this is largely due to Betances' incredibly low 58.0 LOB%. This is one of the failures of ERA, and FIP offers us a much more realistic look at both pitcher's performance, with Marshall sporting a 4.09 FIP, and Betances at 4.15.

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Betances Discusses Simplifying His Mechanics

betances11-12 Chad Jennings at LoHud provided us with some quotes about Ivan Nova's new arm motion earlier this week, and now we have some quotes from Dellin Betances on simplifying his mechanics. As I pointed out on Tuesday, Betances has done some major tinkering to his mechanics since 2011. Among them, he's maintained the position of his hands to his chest at the beginning of his delivery, and cut down on the movement of his back leg on the follow-through. He's made some other changes as well, which I couldn't catch from the video comparison.

I’m trying to be quicker, trying to get my arm up quicker. Sometimes I drift and my arm doesn’t catch up, and that’s when I (struggle). When I get it out quick, I feel like I’m good.”

It's hard to see a difference in arm quickness in the image above, but if you watch Betances pitch, you'll see that one of his biggest problems is repeating his delivery. As he points out in his quote, he can sometimes "drift", and it looks like this has an effect on his release point. When watching Betances throw, especially in his first outing this Spring, his arm slot looked like it had considerable range from around 10 O'Clock to 11 O'Clock.

In his more recent outing, his arm slot looked much more stable, and perhaps simplifying and repeating his arm motion has fixed that. Although it's only two appearances, on Febrauary 28th, Betances threw 1.0 innings where he walked two and hit one batter. He was visibly wild. On March 11th, he looked much more consistent with his release point, throwing 2.0 innings with 1 hit, no walks, and one hit by pitch.

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How Young Yankee Pitchers Have Altered Their Mechanics (GIF's Included)

Ivan Novanova11-13

There's been a lot of talk about the slider that Nova added in the middle of the 2011 season, but few talk about his changed mechanics. His hand position is the biggest difference.

In 2011, Nova brought his hands above his head during the windup. Sometime in 2012, he changed this by keeping his hands level to his chest. This does a number of things, but most importantly it allows him to keep his head steady and maintain eye contact with the catcher. When he had his hands over his head, Nova was forced to drop his head, thus causing him to lose focus of home plate and slouch prior to his stride.

Since 2010, Nova's BB% has dropped from 9.2%, to 8.1%, to 7.5%. Keeping his hands to his chest may be one factor in his improved walk rates.

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The Shallow Depths

Though the season hasn't even started, the Yankees have already had their depth tested in two positions. Curtis Granderson's injury has opened up a spot in the outfield, and the catching situation has been much maligned since the Yankees declined to re-sign Russell Martin and passed on signing A.J. Pierzynski. And with Derek Jeter's ankle injury, we'll see the infield depth tested as Eduardo Nunez and/or Jayson Nix get some time at short to spell the Captain.  On the other hand, the pitching seems to be fairly deep. The bullpen is well-stocked and some pitchers (think Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley) will not last the year on the 25-man roster. Likewise, though not quite as widely, the starting rotation is considered to be an area of strength. It's certainly a talented rotation featuring CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda. But is it as deep as we think?

Phil Hughes has already suffered an injury. Andy Pettitte is coming off an injury (granted it was a freak, batted ball thing). Kuroda, though he showed few (if any) signs of injury last year, is coming off a career high in innings pitched. Sabathia, godly though he may be is coming off of (relatively minor) elbow surgery. It's easy to imagine one or more of them missing time over the course of the season. If (when) that happens, where can the Yankees turn?

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