Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances projected to be MLB's best bullpen duo in 2017

Dellin Betances & Aroldis Chapman are back in the Yankees bullpen to start off a new season of Bombers baseball in 2017.|Art or Photo Credit: AP/MLB

The New York Yankees have been busy so far this offseason with acquisitions and trade talks, but one move in particular made a huge splash for Yankees GM Brian Cashman and company this winter: the re-signing of Aroldis Chapman.

After helping the Chicago Cubs capture their first World Series title in over a century, Chapman re-entered free agency and quickly became the most sought-after reliever available.

In a bizarre offseason where closers demanded asking prices normally reserved for home run kings and Cy Young contenders, Chapman was the marquee piece up for grabs.

New York, hoping to rebuild its dominant bullpen unit for the 2017 season, extended to Chapman a five-year, $86 million offer which he accepted to return to the Bronx, thus cementing the eighth- and ninth-inning personnel for the year, along with Dellin Betances returning to his setup role.

Betances was 2016's most lethal relief pitcher in terms of strikeouts, with an MLB-best 126 whiffs out of the bullpen last year for the Yankees. He also finished first overall in strikeout ratio among all MLB relievers (15.5 K/9), and tied for second in the AL for most appearances, with 73.

Betances' imposing combination of size, durability, strikeout potency and intimidation will be even more filthy in the eighth inning next season in the Bronx, as he prepares to pave the way for Chapman -- a four-time All-Star and owner of baseball's hottest heater -- to put out whatever fires remain in the ninth.

On paper, the Betances/Chapman duo appears to be one of the game's most fearsome two-headed relief units, but advanced statistics via FanGraphs and Dan Szymborski's "ZiPS" projections confirm the same thing: these two Yankees could form the best relief tandem in baseball in 2017.

Per Szymborski's custom tailored wins-above-replacement projections, Chapman is expected to post a WAR value (or "zWAR," as he calls it) of approximately 1.4, while Betances checks in at 1.9. That combined total of 2.3 WAR would rank first in MLB, one spot above former Yankees reliever Andrew Miller (1.9 WAR) and his new Cleveland teammate Cody Allen (1.1 WAR).
As Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs writes, "As for the [Yankees] bullpen, it's hardly a surprise to find that it's a strength. The combination of Dellin Betances (76.2 IP, 1.9 zWAR) and Aroldis Chapman (57.2, 1.4), in particular, appears to represent the strongest relief twosome in the majors."
That forecast bodes well for a Yankees club looking to find its identity among a new-look roster of young players and future stars. The Yankees bullpen was arguably the team's greatest asset in 2016, and the same might be said for 2017, even with Miller still wearing Cleveland's uniform.
Another intriguing relief option who scored well on Szymborski's zWAR projections was Jonathan Holder, a player who has made just eight appearances in MLB, but was tabbed by FanGraphs as the most dominant minor league pitcher of 2016, and a player with Andrew-Miller like potential. Holder received a zWAR projection of 0.6, which in comparison to Betances and Chapman's numbers might not seem noteworthy, but may foretell a big contribution from Holder in his first full season with the big-league club. The Yankees have yet to finalize which arms will be rounding out the rotation, and which will serve as long-relief swing men out of the 'pen, but Holder could soon become a household name for Yankees fans if he can lock down a job for the middle-relief innings.
The year may have just gotten underway, but it's never too early to look ahead to another season of Yankees baseball in the Bronx. Where the team will finish in the standings remains to be seen, but if the finely tuned 2017 projections prove true, New York's ferocious bullpen monster might rear its head once again next season, looking for more opponents to scorch.