Monday, August 10, 2009

How Joe Girardi outmanaged Terry Francona

Managers, believe it or not, have less influence on a game's outcome than you'd think. Even so, it's still possible for managers to lose jobs based on one bad decision--Grady Little in 2003 may be the most notorious modern example.

This weekend, the Yankees sweeping the Red Sox had, for the most part, less to do with the managers than it does the Yankee offense in game one and starting pitching the rest of the time.

However, there were two clear instances in which Girardi managed (in my mind, anyway) better than Francona--and it may have cost Terry Francona both games.

1) Friday

Scoreless ties are both easy and hard to manage.

The easy part is that you can just let your starter pitch, at least into the seventh inning.

The hard part comes when the scoreless tie goes into extra innings. Which relievers do you use? Do you go by conventional baseball wisdom, in which you pitch your closer at home but not on the road? How much faith do you have in your offense?

Once the game reached the bottom of the ninth inning, Francona and Girardi employed two distinct strategies:

Joe Girardi used his relievers as long as it was reasonable to do so. Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth--conventional wisdom at work here--, but Girardi didn't push him for the 10th. Instead, Girardi called on long man Alfredo Aceves who was spectacular for three innings. Given that Aceves has been sore of late, even three innings may have been pushing it a tad, and there was no question of a fourth, so Girardi went next to Brian Bruney. Bruney has struggled of late, but on Friday night he was stellar in the first inning so Girardi brought him out for a nail-biting second. Coke was used in the top of the fifteenth, and all told the Yankees managed to stay away from David Robertson, Mark Melancon and did not overuse Phil Hughes.

Terry Francona decided, instead of using his relievers for multiple innings, used more for shorter stints. For the relievers like Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard, this might not have been a bad thing--they are, after all, short relievers, but it did mean that more relievers had to be used--and the Red Sox, apparently, don't have a true long man in their bullpen. It meant that in the fifteenth inning Junichi Tazawa was making his Major League debut in a spot where he was probably destined to fail. A starter, in the fifteenth inning, at Yankee Stadium...ycch.

Does this have more to do with bullpen construction--Girardi had Aceves, Francona didn't--or how the two managed? In this case, the most likely explanation is that the former led to the latter. The game was, after all, important enough for Francona to use Papelbon while the game was still tied, which goes against the grain of conventional wisdom.

Still, one has to wonder if it would have been possible for any of Boston's other relievers to pitch even just an extra out or two--and thus not have to resort to the last man in the bullpen.

2) The second instance came in last night's game. Twofold.

A: Joe Girardi used Phil Coke for two reasons:

1) Phil Hughes had pitched four games out of five. This has less to do with total innings pitched or pitches thrown than it does the process of getting into a game--getting hot, as it's called--is exertion itself. Even the great Mariano doesn't pitch five games out of six, except in the postseason.

2) If the game--a one run game at the time went into extra innings, the Yankees needed to save the pitchers, like Chad Gaudin, that could pitch multiple innings, and as long as the game was close, Mariano Rivera was probably going to pitch the ninth.

The two-run home run to Victor Martinez stung for a number of reasons, but Coke, the lefty, would be who you want pitching to Martinez, who has far better numbers against righties.

After the home run, it should be remembered, Coke did induce a double play to end the inning.

B: In the bottom of the inning, Daniel Bard got two quick outs for Boston, and then gave up the solo home run to Johnny Damon. After Damon's home run, then, one has to consider why Francona did not bring in Okajima to pitch to Mark Teixeira. Okajima--along with Papelbon--had been warming in the bullpen, and it may have made some sense to have Teixeira batting from the other side.

It could, of course, simply be that the events unfolded too fast for Francona to think about it much, but then Francona still left Bard in to face Rodriguez and Posada--who both reached base. At that point Francona went to Okajima, but it could be argued that by then the damage had done.

Of course, some of the blame here should be on the relievers themselves. Bard and Okajima didn't get the job done and spotted the Yankees four runs and a bat-around inning all after two outs.

This is not to say that Girardi has not made bad decisions, or that it's not a heck of a lot easier to manage when your team is winning, but these moments stand out.

There's a much different feeling in NY this morning if it's a 2-2 split and not a 4-0 sweep.