Girardi and Playoff Bullpen Management

Joe Girardi’s 3-year tenure as Yankee manager has largely been a success.  He won a World Series, took a team to the ALCS, and throughout has done a good job of keeping his players rested and motivated. The bullpen in particular has done well under Girardi; in each of the last 2 seasons the bullpen started the year as a weakness and turned into a strength, as Girardi found roles for people and managed workloads.

Yet, as anyone who read my mock-application from a few days ago knows (or maybe doesn’t know… judging by the comments, not everyone understands satire), I found some of Girardi’s moves in this year’s postseason to be baffling. Now let me say I don’t expect Girardi to be let go nor do I necessarily think he should be. I disagree with some of the things he does, but I can’t think of a single manager who doesn’t do those kinds of things. By “things,” I’m referring to all the sacrifice bunts and intentional walks that drove me crazy all season. The intentional walk got out of hand in playoffs (walking David Murphy, a bottom of the order hitter? Really?) but usually those small examples of managers over-managing don’t have that great of an impact on a season.

One thing that continues to get me though, looking back now on the Yankees’ 2010 playoff run, is how did Girardi not have more urgency? We’ve since found out that Andy Pettitte was pitching hurt, so the way he was used makes more sense, but what about some of the other decisions? It rarely seemed like Girardi was managing an important game. Finally, in Game 5, Girardi said he would do whatever it took to win (ie – use Mo for 2 innings) but shouldn’t you have that sense of urgency in every playoff game? The playoffs are spaced out in such a way that a reliever can pitch just about every game; yet we were still subjected to Sergio Mitre twice in the ALCS.

The irony here is that Girardi loves pitching changes. He can frustrate fans by making moves in the 9th inning of a game the Yankees are winning by 5 because he likes the matchup. Yet in the postseason, he seemed content to leave his guys out there to take a beating. In Game 2, Girardi clearly decided the game was not that important, as he left Phil Hughes on the mound for inning after inning, even once it was clear that Hughes didn’t have it. Personally, I would have gone to Joba Chamberlain early for 2 innings and seen if he could have righted the ship, but the way I’d use Joba is certainly different from how the Yankees apparently want to use him. Either way, it seemed silly to allow Hughes to struggle out there. Sure, it wasn’t an elimination game, but every win counts in a 7 game series.

Which leads us to the elimination game itself. Going in, the recipe seemed simple: Girardi had a rested bullpen at his disposal, including CC Sabathia available for 2-3 innings and Rivera available for 2 innings. Throw in Kerry Wood and a Boone Logan LOOGY appearance, and really Hughes only needed to go 3. He did one better, getting through 4 and 2/3 rather cleanly (1 ER) and I assumed we’d see CC warming at the first sign of trouble. That sign of trouble came with 2 outs in the 5th, with a man on 2nd for Josh Hamilton. This seemed like a tailor-made time to go to CC, yet instead Girardi just walked Hamilton and watched him come around to score on the Guerrero double. David Robertson proved incapable of getting the Yankees out of it without further damage and that was essentially the game.

So instead the Yankees ended up using Rivera for 1, low-leverage inning (the 8th) and CC never appeared in the game at all. The game was decided in that 5th inning and Girardi’s best options stayed glued to the bench. I know that there is no manager who is willing to use their closer in the 5th inning; it just doesn’t happen and I don’t necessarily blame Girardi for not going to Mo. But if the Yankees are going to go down, I would want to have at least used my best bullets, and Girardi never did that.

Situation leverage is still somewhat of a new concept and I don’t expect managers to start managing differently any time soon. But hopefully Girardi will begin to realize that just because an out is recorded later in the game does not mean that out is more important – and also that every game is crucial in a short playoff series where so much luck is involved.

This entry was posted in Editorial and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.