("Umm, Skip? Why the hell are you out here?" Courtesy of Reuters)
For the most part, Joe Girardi is the ideal type of guy to manage the New York Yankees. He's level-headed, he's a former catcher, the position that usually lends itself well to becoming a good manager, he's played in New York before so he understands how the handle the pressure and media scrutiny, and he understands how to handle his players' personalities. One area that he never seems to have a firm grasp on, though, is the management of his pitching staff. It's nothing else if not inconsistent and I would describe it as meddlesome; a strategy almost always formulated based on matchup history and pages in a binder rather than the entirety of the situation playing out in real time on the field. Yesterday was another classic example of Joe bowing to the numbers in the pages and not the game situation at hand, and it cost the Yankees 4 runs.
On paper, his decision yesterday to intentionally walk Sean Rodriguez to load the bases was solid. There were 2 outs, runners in scoring position, Rodriguez had experienced some success hitting against CC in his career, and the hitter coming up behind Rodriguez had a career 4-35 batting line against CC. That hitter, Carlos Pena, was also left-handed, playing into the almost always desirable lefty-on-lefty matchup. But baseball games are not played on paper, and what was happening on the field over the course of that half inning was not captured in Joe's binder notes, could not be captured in his binder notes, and should have been just as big a determining factor in Joe's decision making as Pena's career stats against CC were, if not bigger.
The reality of the situation is that it was the bottom of the first inning of the first game of the year and Joe asked his ace starting pitcher to intentionally walk a guy with a .302 career wOBA to get to a dangerous power hitter. CC was clearly struggling with his fastball command and he was asked to intentionally throw 4 consecutive balls out of the strike zone and then bear down and find the strike zone again with no margin for error because the bases were now loaded. Rodriguez's past history against CC aside, the first inning of the first game of the season is never a good time to call for an intentional walk, and it's never a good time to ask your ace to do something like that when his command isn't there. After the walk, CC fell behind Pena in the count, worked his way back to 3-2, and then had no choice but to throw a fastball to a fastball hitter in a situation where the hitter knew he was getting a fastball. Because his command was off, he left the pitch up in the zone and Pena crushed it, end of story.
This was another instance of Joe trusting his binder and trusting the numbers instead of watching the game and managing the game based on what was happening. It was way too early to be overmanaging a situation like that, and poor timing on his part to tell his ace who was already spotty with his command to throw 4 more balls out of the strike zone instead of letting him work to find his stuff and get out of the inning. Hell, you could argue that it's never a good time to tell your ace to intentionally walk somebody, especially in the first inning. If you can't trust your best starting pitcher to make pitches and get out of trouble in the first inning, then what the hell is he out there for??
Joe's decision becomes even more head-scratching when you consider the logic he followed. Joe said after the game that he was anticipating a low-scoring game against James Shields and so he felt better about playing the CC-Pena matchup to get out of the inning without allowing any runs. As Brien Jackson of IIATMS pointed out this morning, that line of thinking is completely ass backwards. If you aren't confident that your offense is going to put up a lot of runs, why make a decision that INCREASES your opponent's chances of scoring more runs? The Rays' run expectancy with 2 runners on and 2 outs was less than it would have been with the bases loaded and 2 outs. Even if Rodriguez would have taken CC deep, the damage would have been a 3-run deficit rather than 4-run deficit it became. That being the case, and keeping in mind that it was just the FIRST FUCKING INNING, why not just let CC pitch?
CC was politically correct in everything he said after the game, which is not surprising. But make no mistake, Joe's thought process and decision-making logic yesterday was completely wrong and incredibly bone-headed in every way imaginable. He was overmanaging in a situation that didn't call for it; he overmanaged the best starting pitching on his team in the first inning of the season; he put said pitcher, who was having fastball command problems, in a situation where he had no margin for error against a power hitter who crushes fastballs; and he intentionally increased his opponent's chances of scoring more runs in a game where he thought runs would be at a premium. There were a lot of things that went wrong yesterday, but Joe's intentional walk decision was probably the worst out of all of them.