(What do you think here? Gotta be Huffy, right?" Courtesy of the AP)
(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)
I've been a slow convert to the Joe Girardi management method. At first I really didn't like how he did things, and it was only in the last 2 or 3 years that I fully got on board Team Joe when it came to evaluating how he went about his job. If I'm being honest, and also a bit of a homer, I think the job he's done since the start of last season, with the teams he's been given and the injuries he's had to deal with, has been the best work of his career and arguably the best managing job in all of MLB. So now that I've prefaced this post with that setting of context, let me say that I have absolutely no clue what the hell Joe was doing with his bullpen this weekend.
Saturday night, out for a late dinner with the girlfriend. The place we were at flipped to the game halfway through the bottom of the 8th, just in time to see The Captain ground into one of his vintage rally-killing double plays. When Tanaka came out to start the 9th, I immediately wondered why. He was coming off a start in which his fastball didn't have its usual life, he was given an extra day of rest before this start, and he was already at 100+ pitches. Given the way Joe had managed him up to this point, that seemed like the perfect time to get him out of the game and go to D-Rob to hold the tie and give the offense a chance to walk off. Why let the heart of the opposing order get another crack at a tired starter when you can go to your best reliever and give them a different look?
When Mike Napoli hit the home run, the first thing I said (more loudly than I probably should have in a nice restaurant) was "Why the hell is Tanaka even in the game there?! Why?!?" That the fastball Napoli hit out came in at 96 didn't matter. The signs were there in the first 2 at-bats that Tanaka was tired. The single he gave up to Dustin Pedroia to lead off the inning was on a splitter that stayed up. David Ortiz's GIDP came on a sinker that was left a bit up as well, and it would have been a base hit up the middle had it not been for the shift. The fastball to Napoli stayed up enough for him to muscle it out and I agree with Napoli. It was an idiotic pitch to throw. Not as idiotic as the decision to leave Tanaka out there in the first place. That one's on Joe.
Then last night. It's the top of the 5th, your starter has been getting shelled, your team just got back in the game with a pair of home runs the inning before, and he starts off the next one with a 4-pitch walk to the #9 hitter so you come out to yank him. That's all fine. I'm good with that. But in a 1-run game that you'd presumably like to win with a runner on first, you go with Shawn Kelley as the first man out of the 'pen? What is that? When he crumbles and adds fuel to the fire, you call on... David Huff to save the day? Huh?
Only after Kelley and Huff combined to give up 3 runs and allow 8 of the 10 men they faced to reach base does Joe decide it's time for Dellin Betances. He brought him into a bases loaded, no outs situation in the 6th that Betances got out of and then left Betances in for what was a perfect top of the 7th. Question. If it's important enough to bring Betances into a 4-run game in the 6th with the bases loaded and nobody out, shouldn't it have been important enough to bring him into a 1-run game with 1 on and nobody out the inning prior? Wasn't that the more critical moment of the game? If you're trying to win the game, wouldn't you want Betances out there to hold the deficit at 1 and get you to the 7th? If he does that and the offense scores its 2 runs in the 5th, suddenly your team's pitching with a lead down the stretch. With everybody getting the night off on Saturday because you stretched Tanaka, maybe that turns into a situation where you try to get 9 outs from Warren and D-Rob to save the W.
Instead, it turned into a Keystone Kops routing with Kelley walking the yard and the Yankees failing to execute a rundown properly and the game was basically over at the end of the 5th. As far as I'm concerned, that one's on Joe too. What was his plan there? What was he thinking? I don't understand the logic in not using your bullpen at all for a game and then going to your lower tier relievers in a critical situation in the next game. Was he trying to avoid using Betances or Warren last night? Were they not available? That would have been good to know if that was the case last night, because if not then Joe looks bad for those decisions. And he should look bad because they were bad decisions.
I'm not going as far as to say that the Yankees definitely would have won all 3 games had Joe made different decisions. Of course there's no way of knowing that other pitchers wouldn't have given up hits or walks too. But I think it's fair to say that the Yankees' chances of winning Saturday and yesterday night's games would have been better had he made better decisions, specifically going to D-Rob in the 9th on Saturday and going to Betances to shut down the 5th last night. He didn't, the Yankee offense predictably didn't do enough to overcome the mistakes, and the Yankees lost their third straight series.