I like Joe Girardi. He’s passionate. He cares as much about his team as I do. But I think sometimes that his intensity causes him to overmanage.
Example number 1, which overshadows all others, is his obsession with bunting. There are a good amount of Yankee fans who clamor for more bunting and moving runners and playing small ball, but that is simply not how the Yankees are constructed. Derek Jeter doesn’t make $20 million a year to move runners over. The Yankees offense, especially when Posada returns, is designed to wear down pitchers, get on base, and score runs. When you bail the pitcher out by giving up an out, it defeats the entire plan. Now you’re not making him work and you aren’t increasing his pitch count. The biggest flaw in the Yankees offense is that they don’t always put the ball in play because they do take alot of pitches. They are at their best when they are up there waiting for a good pitch, content to take a walk, not looking to hit a fly ball. Consequently, when you bunt someone to 3rd, you’re now putting a tremendous amount of pressure on a hitter to do something that they normally wouldn’t do. And if THAT hitter doesn’t get the job done, now you have a 2-out situation that almost seems desperate.
This is not all conjecture on my part; statistics show that bunting decreases the amount of runs scored in a particular inning. This is why I get annoyed when people refer to Girardi as a “stats guy,” because that’s hardly the case. Sure, Girardi does his research and looks at the numbers, which might seem weird compared to Torre’s method of looking for mystical signs in his Bigelow’s Green Tea. But Girardi’s number-crunching is pretty much limited to mathups.
So now I’m going to be a bit of a hypocrite and criticize the way Girardi DOES use numbers. He is obsessed with getting good matchups out of the bullpen. First, let me state that over the past year and change, Girardi has handled to bullpen very well. He’s a gigantic upgrade over Torre, but any manager who doesn’t treat his middle relief like a bunch of rented mules would be.
This season though, Girardi appears to be over-thinking. He’s making far more changes than he did last year, in an attempt to get the best matchup possible. Of course getting a good matchup is a positive thing, but you’re playing with fire when you have to rely on a plethora of bullpen arms to all have a good day. If one reliever is in and throwing well, should you remove him because some other reliever has slightly better numbers against the current hitter? What happens if that hitter gets on base anyways and the matchup isn’t good for the next guy? Now you might be making another change.
What I’m getting at is there needs to a significant enough matchup advantage to make the change worthwhile, as well as a decent option should that pitcher fail. I complained about this earlier in the season when the Yankee’s bullpen let one get away against Kansas City when Girardi make a series of rapid pitching changes. Last night’s game is also a good example though:
Coke was pitching well, having allowed a single off his body but otherwise retiring the O’s two best hitters. Mora was coming up, who was 3 for 3 but isn’t much of a homerun hitter. Sure, he’s the tying run, but the Yankees are playing at home and about to face the weak Baltimore bullpen.
This isn’t that high leverage of a situation, so why would Girardi go to Rivera there? If you want to go to a righty, go to Veras at least for one batter (though it’s a lock that he’d walk him). Then the Yankees inevitably crushed the O’s bullpen in the bottom of the inning, leaving Rivera to close out a blowout. What happens if we need Rivera tonight and then again on Friday? Will he be available?
All this bullpen stuff is really nitpicking; it’s the bunting issue that’s much more important. Girardi will figure out the bullpen (or at least so I believe). But if he continues to play his lineup like it’s comprised of a bunch of light-hitting, defensive-minded players, it will be a serious detriment to the offense. This lineup is meant to score runs in bunches and wear people out. Let them do it.
You know those gritty, gutty Red Sox that everyone likes to emulate these days? Well, guess how many sacrifice bunts they have this season. That’s right: zero. When you have a deep, powerhouse lineup that gets on base, you let them hit. End of story.