Monday, October 12, 2009

On Bullpens and Nostalgia

Although the Yankees have played just three games in the postseason thus far, a clear pattern seems to be emerging in Joe Girardi's managerial style.

Girardi, as many Yankee fans will remember, was a member of the 1996 Yankee team and had, perhaps, one of the biggest hits in the series--a triple, hit by the most unlikely guy on the team to hit it.

So perhaps it's not much of a surprise, then, that Girardi is managing the Yankees as though the year still was 1996, some 13 (!) years ago. In all three games, Girardi went to the bullpen no later than the seventh inning, and while CC Sabathia's pitch count may have warranted the move, Andy Pettitte's, at a meager 81, did not.

In 1996, the starters left after six for the shut-down duo of Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland.

In 2009, the starters are being removed for the trio of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera. At least, theoretically, this is what's supposed to be happening.

More than once, however, Chamberlain was pulled before getting the final out of the inning. The example I am thinking of here is Friday night's game, where Chamberlain was pulled for Phil Coke. At the time the move worked, Coke got the strikeout that the Yankees needed, but it hurt the team later on when Damaso Marte was the only, and not very good, lefty in the bullpen in the eleventh inning.

The idea to use a shutdown bullpen a la 1996 is one I understand in theory, but not necessary execution.

It's one thing when you have a game where the starter is clearly gassed by the seventh inning, and thus there is no dilemma, but quite another where your playoff-experienced starter is pitching extremely well and you remove him for a relatively inexperienced (postseason, here) set-up crew.

What happens, then, is that when a game goes into extra innings, Girardi is soon left with a depleted bullpen that may have been avoided.

Again, the idea to shorten the game and get to Mariano as quickly as possible has a lot of merit, both historical and theoretical, but sometimes you will have a situation such as last night, where letting the starter go one more inning or even just one more out is just as prudent as going to the bullpen.

The Twins are easily a weaker opponent than the Angels, and any questionable bullpen decision could be obscured by the Yankees' brute strength that allowed them to overcome deficits in every game. With the Angels, the Yankees are unlikely to have this luxury, so Girardi's use of the bullpen has the potential to become true tabloid fodder.

The major difference I see between the 2009 and 1996 Yankees is that in 1996 the Yankees went to Rivera so quickly not just because Rivera was that good (and he was), but also because the caliber of the starters were not what they are in 2009.

The Yankees shortened the game in 1996 because they had to in order to succeed. The 2009 Yankees are lucky enough that this is not necessarily the case.


So I realize this is kinda a downer post from me, so to cheer you up, have a look at the TV and radio calls of the final 2009 ALDS out