Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Four Bad Decisions

Good morning Fackers. Over the course of the season we haven't been shy about being critical of Joe Girardi, particularly as it relates to his bullpen management. That said, I've been very pleased with his tactics this post-season. Over the course of Game Two on Saturday night, I thought he might have been burning through his relievers too quickly, but in thinking about it over the past few days he was consistent. His decisions were very similar to ALDS Game Two: aggressive, keeping the pressure on the opposition, and trying to leverage the advantage his deep bullpen offered him as much as possible. Outside of allowing Freddy Guzman to hit once and not using Francisco Cervelli to pinch run for Jorge Posada in the twelfth, he managed "all in" all game.

That said, there were a few decisions made yesterday that were downright ponderous. I know this is going to come across as Monday morning quarterbacking and second guessing, but I can assure you, and Jay can attest, these were first guesses. I imagine Girardi has his explanations for why he made these moves and others have their thoughts on them as well. In order to not let those things cloud my opinions, and because I'm probably a bit burned out at this point, I've intentionally avoided reading anything following the conclusion of yesterday's game. Without further ado, here are my thoughts as they unfolded:
  • Pinch running with Brett Gardner in the seventh. After Hideki Matsui's leadoff walk, pinch running was the absolute right move. However, pinch running with Brett Gardner was the wrong move. Freddy Guzman is on the roster exclusively as a pinch runner. Hideki Matsui is on the roster exclusively as a designated hitter. Subbing one for the other goes together like chocolate and peanut butter. Putting Brett Gardner in this spot confined the best defensive outfielder to the DH spot. (As an aside, I thought attempting to steal with Gardner as the potential tying run was a bad idea too, particularly in a count that was ripe for a pitch out, but that's not my main gripe here).

    Sure enough, later in the game Girardi used Jerry Hairston Jr. to pinch hit for Gardner, which he just as easily could have done had Guzman been in that spot. Then in the tenth, Hairston, rather than Gardner, was sent in to substitute for Johnny Damon for defensive purposes, costing the Yankees their DH and necessitating Frankie Cervelli pinch hitting in the eleventh. Lastly, even though Hairston barely missed Jeff Mathis' game winning hit, I can't help but think that had Melky Cabrera been in left and Gardner in center that the ball would have been hauled in for an out.

  • Substituting Phil Coke for Damaso Marte to start the bottom of the eighth. For the life of me, I can't figure this move out. The whole point of carrying two lefties is to have the option to match up twice over the course of the game. After Joba Chamberlain got knocked all over the yard in the seventh, Girardi summoned Damaso Marte with two outs. In doing so he forced Chone Figgins back to the right side of the plate, where he is far, far weaker, and had Marte on the mound to face Bobby Abreu should Figgins have reached. Marte retired Figgins on a lone pitch.

    I have no earthly clue why Girardi chose to burn his other lefty immediately thereafter. I realize the Yankees had a rather long top of the eighth, leaving Marte sitting for quite a while. But he couldn't face one more batter? If Coke was the guy he wanted to face Abreu, why not just bring him in the inning before to face Figgins? Why not just let Phil Hughes, who replaced Coke after a single batter and is far and away the best pitcher amongst the three, come in to face Abreu to start the inning? Instead, Girardi burned his two lefties, in back-to-back plate appearances with a grand total of four pitches. Unfathomable.

  • Pinch hitting for Mariano Rivera in the eleventh. I'll fully admit this one is borderline. It might be equally questionable to risk sending Mo to the plate, for fear of injury, but it didn't stop Girardi from doing it twice over the course of interleague play in June. I thought of it this way: There were already two outs, and no one on. The Yankees had little chance of scoring in the eleventh at that point and had three equally craptastic pinch hitting options on the bench: Cervelli, Guzman, and Jose Molina. Mo had thrown just 17 pitches, albeit high stress pitches. Why not concede the at bat, keep Mo on the mound for one more inning, and take your chances with Teixeira, A-Rod, Hairston, and Posada in the twelfth? I realize Mo threw 20+ pitches Saturday, and I realize there's a game today. But, Girardi has been very aggressive all post-season and has utilized the off days to his advantage. I would have been tempted to push Mo for another inning in Game Three and take my chances at the back end of Game Four with the off day Wendesday.

  • The entirety of the bottom of the eleventh inning. This entire half inning was a managerial abortion in my opinion. First off, I would have brought Alfredo Aceves in to start the inning. Once again, the bullpen was thin, down to just Alf, David Robertson, and Chad Gaudin (of course). There was no telling how long this game would go. And no matter how long it went, if the Yankees were going to win they would need to close out the Angels at some point and to do it without Mo. Given that there's not a huge discrepancy in talent between the two, that Alf could give them three innings if needed, and that D-Rob is the more "closer-ey" of the two, I'd rather Aceves have started the inning. Plus, that would leave Robertson and his league leading K-rate at the ready in the pen in case Alf pitched into a jam where a big strikeout might be needed.

    Instead D-Rob started the inning. Not even close to my biggest disappointment on the night. Not the move I would have made, but one I could live with. D-Rob made it look wise by retiring the dangerous Juan Rivera and the more dangerous Kendry Morales. Then, inexplicably, Girardi yanked him, after just 11 pitches, in favor of Aceves. I have absolutely no idea why this move was made. I'm completely, totally, and utterly stupefied by it. Seven pitches later Howie Kendrick had singled and light-hitting Jeff Mathis had driven him in with the winning run.
Sometimes shit just happens. The Yankees had plenty of opportunities to win this game in the earlier innings. They caught some big breaks when Torii Hunter got caught stealing, Bobby Abreu made an inexcusable baserunning gaffe, and Mo pitched out of a seemingly inescapable jam in the tenth.

While the Yankees are undoubtedly a very good team, they've also caught some unbelievably good breaks over the course of this post-season without ever really getting burned by a bad one. It was almost as if they were due for something like this to happen. I certainly didn't expect them to go 11-0 in the post-season. But, the four decisions above certainly didn't help matters at all last night.


  1. I agree with the chain reaction caused by Brett pinch-running for Matsui. It also changed the at-bat for Posada, as he was looking to hit a grounder and move Brett over to third (assuming he stole 2nd) rather than drive the ball and possibly hit a pop fly that didn't advance the runner. Once Brett was thrown out, Posada switched gears and was looking to hit for extra bases and allow someone to run for him.

    Posada wound up hitting a homerun, which is awesome because it tied the game, but sucked because I would have rather had runners on 1st and 3rd or at least a runner on 3rd to put pressure on the defense and pitcher.

    Ah well. Can't win them all, Angels are still a good team. But why did it have to be Jeff Mathis of all people!? Argh!

  2. All those things can be questioned. However the Yankees need to be able to hit off speed pitches, See ball hit ball stay on ball. lack of timely hitting cost them this one. many chances

  3. @ A-Train:
    Of the four things above, I agree that the Gardner one was key. 2 of the remaining 3 questionable decisions were a direct result of that one.

    @ Anon
    You're absolutely right. As I stated in the post the Yankees had ample opportunity to win the game. Swisher twice failing to get a run in from third with <2 outs was huge.

    But, to me at least, there's a difference between a physical failure to execute between the lines and a mental failure to make the right decision from the dugout. Managers have very little influence on what happens on the field. What they can control is creating situations with high percentages of success. In these four moves I think Girardi failed to do that.