Joe Girardi is the best manager in the league at managing his bullpen. A bold statement, yes, however not so far fetched if you consider the way his teams have performed. As is always the case with baseball, however, even the best players and best managers make mistakes from time to time. Also, no one has accused Girardi of being a great manager of starting pitchers. Last nights decision to take out Phil Hughes lies somewhere in the middle of bullpen and starting pitcher management.
Looking at past history, or reading his binder may have pointed Joe Girardi in the direction he chose to go last night. Many would agree with his decision to bring in the lefty to face Denard Span, and on the surface it looks like a no brainer. Bases loaded, two outs, tying run on second. They were one out away from getting to the 8th inning, and their best relievers. This is what LOOGYs were made for.
A manager must not only consider what has happened in the past though. He must also consider what is happening in the present. In this case, Phil Hughes was in the midst of a gem. He had thrown just 99 pitches, which is more than reasonable given his performance lately and ability to go deeper into games. Coming to the plate was Denard Span, who was 0/3 against Hughes on the game. Hughes had loaded the bases one batter before with one out. It’s worth mentioning that the bases were loaded on a ground ball that would have resulted in a double play had it been placed more favorably for the Yankees.
Most importantly, Hughes was just coming off the biggest out of the game, a one out strikeout with the bases loaded. Pedro Florimon is no whiz with the bat, but any out in that spot was huge. Then, after the biggest strikeout of the game, Girardi sprints out of the dugout to remove Phil from the game without even giving him one shot at getting out of the jam he created. Instead it was left to Boone Logan.
No one will ever know what would have happened if Hughes was left in this game. A major argument can be made that Girardi made the right call. Personally, I believe that game was Phil Hughes’ to lose, not Boone Logan. It is beyond frustrating that Hughes has to get the loss in this game. Worse yet, he was taken out before allowing a single run in the inning, before his pitch count was reached, against a batter who was hitless against him all game, directly following a huge, momentum swinging strikeout.
Make no mistake about it, Joe Girardi is still an excellent bullpen manager, maybe even the best. He made a mistake last night in one of the most important games of the year, but this does not remotely make him a bad coach. He deserves a ton of credit for all that he has done with the Yankees’ bullpen over the past three seasons, and I have faith that his binder will have even more successes in the future and in the playoffs this season.
It is important for Joe to learn from his mistakes. There are times when removing a starting pitcher with the bases loaded before their pitch count is up is appropriate. This was not one of them. In the future I would like to see coach Girardi give his starting pitchers a little bit more credit than he did tonight, and not just CC Sabathia.