Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Joe Girardi: Super Genius

Game 1, which I attended, was a pure delight--chilly and a bit wet, but damn near perfect. Game 2 was a test of endurance for all involved. With a healthy assist from Alex Rodriguez, and despite the fact that Joe Girardi managed himself into a Chad Gaudin-or-bust situation at the end of the game, things turned out well. Then there was Game 3, where Joba Chamberlain, Girardi, and the Yanks in general managed to spoil a Mariano Rivera performance for the ages. And it only got weirder from there.

To some extent, Yankee fans are going a little hard on Girardi. At worst, he can only claim partial credit for the many machinations that turned Joba Chamberlain from the Yanks' most promising young starter since Andy Pettitte* into...whatever the heck he is right now. The Master Plan of converting Joba from pen to starting rotation, now in its second year, was a top-down organizational decision. Since August, at the very least, it's had a whiff of fiasco to it, and in common-sense terms, it seems like something doomed to failure from the start: start his season in the starting rotation, then just when he seems to have gotten a rhythm going, make his rest between starts long and random, then put him on a strict five-day schedule, but shorten his appearances so that in September--when perhaps a starter should be building his endurance for the playoffs--he's making 3- and 4-inning starts. Then, in the last week of the season, put him in the bullpen as a short reliever. Finally, act surprised when Joba, who hasn't been consistent since all the experimentation started more than two months ago, craps the bed in a playoff game.

So, the whole organization gets to take a bow for Joba's debacle in the seventh inning of Game 3. The whole lineup--the 7-8-9 batters in particular--screwed the pooch, limiting the offense to just the runs that the Captain, A-Rod, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada could produce on solo homers. But Girardi gets sole credit for the Tony-LaRussa-on-crack way he's been overmanaging since the regular season ended. The game was lost in the bottom of the 11th inning--an inning which in which Dave Robertson took over for Rivera, got two outs, and was inexplicably replaced with Alfredo Aceves, who allowed a single to Howie Kendrick and a double to Jeff Mathis to blow the game.**

As Pete Abraham put it, it looks like Girardi's being paid by the pitching change, given the nutty and senseless way he's been playing matchups even in games that have no set end point. The Yanks have had three extra inning games (out of six total) in the postseason, and Girardi's managed to use seven relievers in each of those games. Of those 21 relief appearances, almost two-thirds (13) have featured a pitcher throwing less than a full inning.

The big problem is, this isn't the way that Girardi managed during the season. By my calculations, Joe's relievers had the eighth-highest ratio of innings pitched to games appeared (1.12 IP/G), which is an indication that you're not micromanaging and playing matchups. For the sake of comparison, Tony LaRussa's Cardinals relievers got the second-fewest innings pitched per game (0.91) after the Rays (0.90).

Now, it's true that you manage the playoffs differently from the regular season. Joe Torre was a master of this in his years with the Yanks--his bullpen became much, much smaller in October, and his usage of Mariano Rivera much more flexible. Girardi's kept the flexible and intelligent use of Rivera from the Joe Torre era, but turned the rest of his bench and bullpen usage into a showcase for his managerial "genius." After being a fairly laissez-faire tactical manager all season long (he found a good thing with Brett Gardner as a baserunning weapon, but otherwise he managed a fairly standard AL game), Girardi's decided to get showy. Given the deepest bench the Yankees have taken into the postseason since the 70s, Girardi's opted for a roster that gives him a non-hitting third catcher and a second pinch-runner/outfielder, rather than carrying Eric Hinske or Ramiro Pena. After using just one lefthander (Phil Coke) in the bullpen most of the year, he's now carrying two. And he seems to be choking under the weight of all these options.

You see, while it's true that you manage a bit differently in the playoffs, it's not really the time to completely re-make yourself as a manager, either. Joe Girardi won 103 games this season, managing with a much lighter touch than he's shown through five playoff wins. He was far from the perfect manager for those 103 wins, but he should trust the managing style that got him here.

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The odd coda to all this is Mariano Rivera. He came into the game in the 10th inning, after Phil Hughes allowed a leadoff double to Angels catcher Jeff Mathis. He soon found himself in a first-and-third, no out situation, when he tried and failed to get the lead runner on a sac bunt. With the top of the Angels lineup due up, Rivera did some of the best pitching of his career, holding the Angels scoreless with the winning run 90 feet away. The fine job Rivera did in the tenth was largely forgotten after Aceves came in to lose the game the following inning. But then it was back in everyone's thoughts again...because some douchetards thought he was throwing a spitter.

Not the opposing team, mind you, or the umps, or anyone in attendance at the game. Some guys, who apparently think the name of Los Angeles of Anaheim's franchise is the "Angles," recorded and posted on YouTube a moment, apparently between pitches, where Rivera, while holding a baseball, spits. From the angle of the camera, it looks like he spits toward the baseball, but the camera cuts away so you can't see where the stream of spittle goes.

Now, when I saw this, I thought it was a joke. Folks like getting Yankee fans' goats, and crave the bit of attention that you can get by having Red Sox fans with time on their hands propagate the video around the Internet, and Yankee fans waste their time denouncing it. The joke stopped being funny when MLB had to issue a statement refuting the charges. Still some bloggers kept on acting like this was for real. Never mind that no one uses spit to load up the ball anymore. Never mind that if someone did, they wouldn't do it by spitting on the ball from nearly an arm's length away, in the open, with live cameras rolling, in front of the Angels team and some 45,000 of their fans. Never mind that some folks have made up things (like where the second base ump was or wasn't looking when the fateful loogy was spewed) to fit this idiotic claim.

Then again, just never mind. We have our dumbest subplot of the 2009 ALCS. And here I thought it would have something to do with the Rally Monkey.

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ENDNOTES

* Yeah, I know that Chien Ming Wang was after Andy Pettitte, and was pretty darn good before he got hurt. But he wasn't heralded as a top prospect, a top of the rotation guy. I'm actually not sure that Pettitte had that kind of hype, either. I think maybe Al Leiter matches the Joba situation a little better--a guy with explosive stuff who looked like a real world beater. But thinking of that comparison makes me really depressed.

** Even if Al Aceves had gotten Kendrick out, Girardi would still have burned Robertson on 11 pitches, in a game which could've easily gone 16 innings. You'd have to think that Robertson facing Kendrick with two outs and the bases empty was certain death in order for that to make sense!

4 comments:

Rob A from BBD said...

I've never heard Al Leiter described as a guy with explosive stuff. He was a low 90's guy who heavily relied on his cutter.

Tom said...

I think Girardi's managing is something that we have to look at closely for the rest of the season, regardless of the results. Last night was a tough loss. Here’s hoping they can get things done in Game 6 with ol’ reliable, Pettite on the mound against Saunders at home. I’ve got a good feeling. Definitely don’t want to go to game 7, even with CC on the hill. Anyone worried about him wearing down???


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Thanks again, LET’S GO YANKS. Let’s put up #27!!! Keep up the good work

DJ said...

Rob:

Before the surgeries to his elbow and shoulder, Leiter threw harder, mid-90s. When he first came up with the Yankees his secondary pitch was a really sharp breaking slider--the cutter didn't come until later. He was the kind of guy that other pitchers would ooh and aah about his stuff (I remember Rags was particularly taken with him) but he had little control and a recurring blister problem.

DJ said...

Tom:

More worried about not getting three CC starts in the World Series (which we won't if he has to pitch game 7 of the ALCE) than I am about him wearing down. CC's something of a throwback, and I think he definitely gets that this is what he was paid the big money to do.

Still, we can't start worrying about the Phils until the Yanks beat the Angels, and the Yanks can't beat the Angels until it stops raining. So rain, rain, go away!