Late in last night’s 6-4 loss to the Angels, Yankees manager Joe Girardi made a pair of very questionable moves that may have been the direct cause for last night’s loss and they certainly have people up in arms.
The 1st Bad Move
The first move came in the form of a pitching change involving David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain. With one out in the 7th inning, Robertson came in to relieve starting pitcher AJ Burnett. Bobby Abreu was then thrown out stealing second and D-Rob ended the inning with a strikeout to Torii Hunter. It took Roberton all of six pitches to get out of the inning and since he hadn’t pitched since April 15 he was rested enough to go the 8th if needed.
Instead Girardi decided that since it was the 8th inning, even though D-Rob was plenty rested, he made a pitching change and went with Joba. The move backfired as Joba struggled through the 8th inning and allowed a go-ahead two-run homer that eventually was the difference in the game.
The 2nd Bad Move
In the top of the 9th inning Girardi made another questionable move. The Yankees, down two runs, needed base runners, and Nick Johnson was leading off the inning – the perfect man to get on base in this situation. But Girardi decided to pinch hit for Johnson because the Angels had left handed pitcher Brian Fuentes on the mound so Girardi wanted to go with a right handed batter.
Now, typically you do want the lefty-righty matchup, but in this instance the numbers just were not there to backup Girardi’s decision. See, Girardi removed Johnson who has a career .423 OBP percentage against lefties for the right handed Marcus Thames who only has a .332 OBP against southpaws. In a situation where the Yankees are down by two runs and they have their power hitters Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez coming up, they literally needed a simple walk from the leadoff man in this situation. Instead Thames struck out and we are left wondering why Johnson was lifted.
The second move probably didn’t mean that much since Teixeira and A-Rod were retired anyways, but that doesn’t mean that Robinson Cano couldn’t have done something had their been a runner on base. The troubling thing here is not the loss, it’s just one after all, the problem is that Girardi is not recognizing that even though he didn’t have the lefty-righty matchup he wanted, Johnson was easily the better choice in this situation. It is a lot easier to get a walk and a blast than a pair of home runs and with Nick Johnson’s OBP nearly 100 points higher this was just a flat out bad decision.
The first move had a more direct impact on the loss, but I feel that this move is at least defensible. Pitchers, even relievers, are creatures of habit. Just the day before Girardi had admitted that Joba was the 8th inning guy. So in a close game he is obviously going to want to go with his 8th inning guy. The problem is that Robertson, or K-Rob, made easy work of a good hitter and was well rested. There is no reason to lift him in this situation except for some idea that you need to have strict bullpen roles.
I personally hate strict bullpen roles and this is the reason why. The situation should dictate the game, not some meaningless labels that are largely applied by the media because it makes it easier to write about players when you pigeonhole them into certain roles. Girardi probably only used Joba in this situation because of what he had said the day before. Instead he should have gone with the well rested pitcher and gone to Joba if K-Rob struggled.
Two bad decisions that came at the wrong points in the game and it cost the Yankees. Last night was on Girardi. At this point one loss is no problem for the Yankees, but if Girardi doesn’t learn a lesson from this game, it will cost the Yankees again down the road.