Both Matt and I have been critical of Joe Girardi's bullpen tinkering for a variety of reasons, but not because they haven't been successful. He's been pulling the strings and things have worked out well for him this year. That's terrific and all, but manager can deploy too many resources at once. It's called overmanaging, and we've discussed this before.
Let's roll the tape:
Once Girardi called on Marte with men on first and second and no one out, Maddon pinch hit for journeyman first baseman Chris Richard with righty Gabe Kapler. Fair enough. It would only have been Richards' fourth plate appearance of the year and Kapler is an upgrade at the plate. Those two moves essentially made themselves.
Due up next for the Rays were catcher Greg Zaun and lefty outfielder Gabe Gross, with the obvious pinch hitting candidates being two switch hitters, catcher Dioner Navarro and outfielder Willy Aybar.
Joe Girardi knew this, and had surely noticed that Marte had given just one baserunner (via a walk) in his 4 1/3 IP since being recalled from the DL. On three recent occasions Marte has pitched a scoreless inning or more, so despite the fact that Girardi said he thought of him as a LOOGY upon recall, he has undeniably been more than that. But rather than test Marte in a game that had the atmosphere and set up but not the import of a postseason one, he brought in Brian Bruney to face one of two guys who were just going to spin around and bat left handed against him anyway.
Even more questionable, Joe Maddon was the fact that called on Dioner Navarro who has a 53 OPS+ in 363 plate appearances this year, to hit for Zaun who was at 95 in 235. Navarro was slugging .266 against righties this year. Bruney got Navarro out, but was it really worth burning Damaso Marte after just one out to get Bruney face a guy who has been far, far, FAR below replacement level as a hitter this year?
Due up next was Gabe Gross, who about as strict of a platoon player as you will see in the majors today with about 9 times as many plate appearances against RHP than LHP. Girardi saw the opportunity to force Maddon's hand, and he did. Phil Coke came on, and Maddon went with Willy Aybar, who spun around to bat from his slightly weaker side, the right. Coke walked Aybar to load the bases but then got lefty Akanori Iwamura to ground out to end the inning.
All is well that ends well, right? Well, not really.
First of all, with two switch-hitting players on the bench, does it really make sense for Girardi to match up with them? Neither Navarro nor Aybar have significant platoon splits and neither are great hitters to begin with. If Girardi had just left Marte in, Maddon would have had to make the same moves.
Secondly, by burning through three pitchers who are all capable of throwing a scoreless inning or more each, Girardi fired three bullets and got only 3 outs. The security blanket of Hughes and Rivera were there, but as we saw last night, it's not fool proof. Thanks to Nick Swisher, the Yanks didn't have to go to extra innings, but if they did, their 5 of their best available relief pitchers would have already been used, as Jason pointed out in the comments, leaving a rather unappealing slew of possibilities for the later innings, when the game theoretically becomes increasingly important.
One of the reasons that this excessive matching up doesn't make that much sense to me is that it happens most often in close, low scoring games, a.k.a. the ones that are most likely to go into extra innings. Yes this was a September game with the safety net of expanded rosters, but every guy Girardi used projects to be on the 25 man for the playoffs, meaning that he wasn't treating it like one.
Ripping through a total of four pitchers and three pinch hitters in one inning is a luxury only afforded to managers one month out of the season and they are more than willing to use that option to prove to everyone how smart they are. Not only does it create even more commercial breaks and annoy the shit out of me personally, it's not really great strategy, even for games in September.
If someone could prove to me that bringing in three pitchers to face one batter each is somehow better than leaving in one pitcher (who is better than the other two) I would be open to that idea. However, given the fact that excessive pitching changes waste capable relievers after only a fraction the service they are capable of performing, leaving the bullpen exposed if the game goes into extras, I question it every time it happens.
Last night's game had a playoff feel to it and if that's what Girardi thinks is going to be proper strategy when the rosters contract and the games start to really matter, color me a little concerned. The fact that this hasn't backfired on Girardi yet is scary in that it very well might in October.