Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Torre: Adding Insult to Injury

I have to start off by saying that I love Joe Torre. He brought sanity and stability and most importantly, championships, back to the franchise when all were sorely missed. I had hoped that he would return for a final season as manager and still feel that he deserved better than what he got on his on way out the door.

But that isn't to say the man is without his faults. My principal gripe with Torre over the latter part of his tenure was his bullpen management, or mismanagement to be more precise. To be fair, as we've seen with this year's pen, the skipper can only play the hand he's been dealt. But as the Graeme Lloyds, Jeff Nelsons, Mike Stantons, and Ramiro Mendozas of the world departed and were replaced by inferior arms, Torre refused to alter his managerial style, instead choosing a select few of his "guys" in the pen to beat like rented mules. These guys were virtually always veteran players who had established themselves elsewhere, and no matter if their best days were behind them, Torre always chose the known quantity over the unproven youngsters. There's no telling how many cost-controlable, effective young arms went by the wayside while the Yankees dumped millions of dollars into multi-year contracts for the likes of Steve Karsay, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, and Kyle Farnsworthless and actually traded for Armando Benitez. Armando Benitez!

Torre's insistance upon handling his pen that way became so bad that when Joba Chamberlain arrived in the pen in August 2007, Brian Cashman implemented the infamous "Joba Rules", essentially to protect the stud prospect from his own manager.

This really should be water under the bridge at this point, and I would let it be if it weren't for a little blurb on River Avenue Blues Tuesday. There, they link to an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in which Torre essentially states that Proctor's willingness to pitch while hurt led to his recent Tommy John Surgery.

I might even be willing to let that slide, but consider the Yankees' all-time single-season appearance leaderboard, courtesy of
1). Paul Quantrill (2004) 86
2). Scott Proctor (2006) 83
3). Tom Gordon (2004) 80
T-4). Tom Gordon (2005) 79
T-4). Mike Stanton (2002) 79
6). Steve Karsay (2002) 78
T-7). Jeff Nelson (1997) 77
T-7). Luis Vizcaino (2007) 77
9). Mike Stanton (2001) 76
T-10). Dave Righetti (1985) 74
T-10). Dave Righetti (1986) 74
T-10). Mariano Rivera (2004) 74
Granted, relievers as individuals and bullpens as a whole have been used far differently for about the last twenty years. None of these guys (with the possible exception of Proctor in 2006) pitched as many innings as the "firemen" of old. But there are some things worth examining:
  • Of the 12 seasons that comprise the list, 10 appeared under Torre's watch.

  • Of the 10 Torre seasons, 9 of them occured after the Yankees let Jeff Nelson walk over a few thousand dollars following the 2000 season. That decision cost the Yankees far more in the long run as they tried to replace him with the likes of Todd Williams, Mark Wohlers, and Jay Witasick in 2001 alone.

  • Of the 9 post-Nelson seasons, 6 of them occured after the other two rocks of the dynasty set-up core - Stanton and Mendoza - departed (the first time at least) following the 2002 season.

  • Of the 6 post-Nelson/Stanton/Mendoza, 3 of them occured in 2004 as Rivera, Gordon, and Quantrill combined for 270 appearances - 55% of the bullpen's total.

  • The Yankees qualified for the playoffs in all of the Torre years, but made it as far as the World Series in just one of the seasons (2001) that made the list. This could be coincidental, but a shallow bullpen with limited reliable arms certainly isn't a strength, particularly if that bullpen's only good arms are worn out come playoff time.
But more, to debunk Torre's claim of innocence regarding Proctor, let's examine what happened to the pitchers on the list:
  • Quantrill was essentially finished the last half of 2004. After a superb first half, his second half ERA was 7.09 and his OPS against was over .900. Yet Torre still ran him out there every other day because - well I'm not sure why. He pitched for 3 teams in 2005, his final season, and it was ugly to the tune of a 75 ERA+. Quantrill was 35 in 2004 and had led the league in appearances in each of the previous 3 seasons, so he already had a lot of miles on his tires. But at the very least Torre accelerated his demise.

  • Gordon stayed healthy enough after 2004 to make the top 10 again in 2005. He then left for Philly, had a good 2006, and has been hurt on and off ever since. But he was 37 when he left New York and has been injury prone throughout his career.

  • Stanton would survive relatively unscathed, lasting through the 2007 season. He would have 2 decent seasons after his initial departure from the Bronx, but had a disastrous 2005 return to the Yanks.

  • Nelson, whose departure started the madness, would last parts of 6 seasons after leaving and for most of that time he was still a usable reliever. He too would have a brief return encounter with the Yanks, his coming in 2003.

  • Mo, praise all that is holy, only appears on the list once, and that's at the bottom. I shudder to think what would have been the past several years had Mo been abused into ineffectiveness. Perhaps even Torre knew Mo was too valuable to be used that way.

  • Steve Karsay's career was ended by Joe Torre. After struggling through a Nelson-less 2001, Torre fell in love with Karsay upon his arrival in 2002 and rode him into the ground. He would miss all of 2003 and all but September of 2004, and make only 56 more appearances before retiring in June 2006 at age 34.

  • Luis Vizcaino spent time on the DL last year and after his career high 77 appearances in 2007. His 43 appearances last year was his lowest total since his rookie season of 2001. He's now with his 3rd team in the season-plus since he departed the Yankees.
Special consideration should also be given to Tanyon Sturtze. Sturtze became a Torre-crush late in the '04 season (it was the summer of love for Torre and his bullpen), and was then pitched what seemed like everyday until his arm fell off in early 2006. Sturtze, like so many others on this list, was older at the time, but I doubt age was the sole cause of his injuries. Like Proctor, he was reunited with Torre in LA last year. It may be the last team that for which Proctor and Sturtze will ever pitch.

After riding the Columbus shuttle in 2004 and 2005, Proctor stuck with the Yankees for good in 2006. With Gordon gone and Sturtze becoming less effective by the day, Torre soon annointed Proctor as his new go-to guy. In a way, it was an unprecedented move for Torre, as Proctor was 29 and relatively unestablished. By season's end, he had pitched 102.1 innings, all in relief, spread out over his near franchise-record 83 appearances. He led all of MLB in relief innings pitched, and was a very effective part of the Yankee bullpen.

In 2007 he had made 52 appearances by the trade deadline, when he was mercifully shipped to the Dodgers. He would finish the season with 83 appearances for the second consecutive year, again finishing in the MLB top 5, but his performance dipped somewhat from the previous year. In 2008 they were reunited and it didn't feel so go. The wheels came off for Proctor, his ERA, WHIP, and BB/9 all poor. Yet he was still handed the ball 41 different times.

Proctor was/is a gamer, and I'm sure he and others on this list took the ball when they probably shouldn't have. But part of the manager's job is to utilize his team's considerable medical resources to protect the even more considerable investment his organization has made in its players. To use or abuse a possibly injured pitcher is bad enough, to claim that an injured pitcher's surgery is his own fault for taking the ball is adding insult to injury. If Torre knew Proctor was that bad off, as his own quotes imply, then it's borderline unconscionable that Torre would continue to use him so much. I think Quantrill, Karsay, Sturtze, and others would agree.


  1. 1:00 PM. Don't you ever work, Matt?

  2. Sure I do. This post was written the night before, after work hours, and then scheduled to publish at 1:00 PM. Thought it might be nice to give our 10 readers something to peruse during their lunch breaks.