Triple threat: Yanks' bullpen trio could make history
By AJ Cassavell
Even during 2015 -- a year in which strikeout rates and reliance on bullpens were greater than ever before -- only three relievers in Major League Baseball whiffed at least 100 hitters. Those three relievers are now all a part of the same bullpen.
No team has ever featured three relievers who recorded at least 100 strikeouts in a season. In fact, only six teams, including the 2015 Yankees, have ever had two pitchers reach the century mark.
It remains unclear whether Chapman will face a suspension for an alleged incident of domestic violence that took place in October. Major League Baseball's investigation under the new domestic violence policy is still not complete.
If Chapman is available, the New York bullpen figures to be dominant in 2016. But how dominant, historically? Let's take a look:
Best ever -- or best since '14?
The obvious comparison for the Yankees' trio is that of the 2014 Kansas City Royals. Greg Holland (90 K's, 1.44 ERA) and Wade Davis (106 K's, 1.00 ERA) dazzled all season. Kelvin Herrera, meanwhile, started somewhat slowly, but he allowed precisely two earned runs after the All-Star break and finished with 59 K's and a 1.41 ERA.
Those three combined to post a 1.28 ERA and 255 K's in 204 1/3 innings. No team has ever featured three relievers who pitched at least 50 innings with a combined ERA so low. For reference, in 2015, Chapman, Miller and Betances combined to post a 1.70 ERA with 347 strikeouts in 212 innings. That ERA would rank as the 10th best by a relief trio in the divisional era.
Dominance in K's and ERA
Steamer projections have the Yankees' trio on track to record at least 90 strikeouts apiece. The 2003 Astros' bullpen featuring Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge and Octavio Dotel is the only 'pen in baseball history with three pitchers to have done so.
But Lidge's 3.60 ERA in 2003 is significantly higher than the projections for any of the Yankees trio -- who are all forecast for 2.55 or better. The 2012 Tampa Bay Rays are the only ballclub in the divisional era with three relievers who recorded at least 70 strikeouts and posted ERAs below 2.55. Davis, Fernando Rodney, and Jake McGee accomplished the feat.
Bringing the heat
Among pitchers who threw at least 500 four-seam fastballs, Chapman's 99.96 average velocity was the fastest in the Majors, according to Statcast™. Betances' 97.47 mark was 11th. Miller finished a respectable 103rd out of 455 total hurlers at 94.64. (Fellow Yankees Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino and Branden Pinder all finished in the top 100.)
Miller's reputation as a flamethrower leads to the perception that he should probably be ranked higher than the 78th percentile in fastball velocity. But part of that reputation is likely the result of his lanky frame and his extension. Miller's average extension ranked 20th among those 455 pitchers -- just behind Chapman at No. 19.
When taking those extensions into account to glean perceived velocity, Chapman ranks first with a four-seam fastball perceived at 100.76 mph. Betances sits eighth at 97.66 and Miller 48th at 95.43. All three rank in the top 11 percent of Major League pitchers.
Swings and misses
Chapman, Miller and Betances missed a lot of bats in 2015. Take a look at where they finished (among all pitchers with at least 40 innings) in some important categories in 2015:
Rate of contact against 1. Miller (59.1 percent)
2. Chapman (59.6 percent)
T3. Betances (63.2 percent)
History in the making?
In Major League history, only 38 players have posted seasons with 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings. (Which is essentially 1.5 K's per inning -- or, as many strikeouts as outs recorded elsewhere.) Chapman (four times), Miller (three) and Betances (two) have nine of those seasons among them.
The Yankees' bullpen has not only led the Majors in strikeouts during each of the past two seasons -- It has posted two of the three highest strikeout totals in Major League history. New York's 571 relief K's in 2014 were the second most all-time, behind only the '12 Rockies.
Then, in '15, the Yankees broke Colorado's record, by fanning 596 hitters. With Chapman on board, it's feasible that the Yankees could become the first team in history to record 600 relief strikeouts.