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Archive for August 9th, 2010

For the second time in just over a week, Joe Girardi’s bewildering managerial decisions gift wrapped a series finale to a division rival. As a result, Boston escaped from the Bronx with a vital split, and the Yankees forfeited an opportunity to further bury the Red Sox and increase the pressure on the struggling Rays.

Jacoby Ellsbury corals Marcus Thames double, which just missed clearing the fence for a game tying home run. Instead, the Yankees wound up squandering a base loaded, no out opportunity (Photo: AP).

For six innings, the game was dominated by the strong pitching of Jon Lester and Phil Hughes. The Red Sox nickel and dimed Hughes for two runs in a 37-pitch second inning, but after limiting the damage, the young Yankees righty rebounded to retire 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. Meanwhile, Lester kept the Yankees hitless until an Austin Kearns single in the fifth and carried a shutout into the seventh inning.

After Jorge Posada led off the seventh with a single, bad luck intervened when a Marcus Thames opposite field drive bounced off the very top of the wall. Had Girardi used a pinch runner for Posada, a run would have scored, but instead the plodding catcher only reached third base. Lester then loaded the bases by hitting Kearns with a pitch, but not before some more bad luck befell the Yankees. Two pitches before taking a ball off the foot, Kearns lofted a deep foul fly down the left field line that Ryan Kalish almost snagged by leaping into the stands. Had he made the catch, Posada would have scored and Thames may have advanced to third. Instead, the subsequent HBP loaded the bases and set the stage for Girardi’s ill conceived game management.

Curtis Granderson has not hit well against lefties over his entire career. This season, he is batting .212/.250/.283 against southpaws, many of which aren’t the caliber of Jon Lester. So, with the game on the line, the situation screamed for one of two strategies: using a pinch hitter for Granderson or employing a safety squeeze. The ideal candidate to pinch hit would have been Brett Gardner. Despite also being a lefty, Gardner sports an OBP of .375 against southpaws. What’s more, Gardner’s strikeout percentage of 22% against lefties is significantly lower than Granderson’s 27.1%. In other words, every indicator pointed toward making this switch.

Another sound strategy would have been to have Granderson remain in the game and attempt a safety squeeze. Even with the slow footed Posada at 3B, a well executed bunt would have carried with it an element of surprise, especially with the inexperienced Mike Lowell manning first base. Besides, even if the Red Sox were able to force Posada at the plate, the strategy would still have removed the slowest runner from the bases. Compared to letting Granderson swing away against a dominant lefty like Lester, the possibility of a beneficial outcome resulting from a safety squeeze seemed to be much greater.

As we all know, Girardi opted for the worst alternative and paid the price when Granderson struck out on four pitches. In the post game, Girardi defended the decision because he thought Granderson had good at bats off Lester earlier in the game. Those “good at bats” were harmless fly balls, however. Considering that the situation called for keeping the ball out of the air, Girardi had to know that Lester would pitch Granderson much differently? Then again, maybe not. After all, Girardi’s response to being questioned on his decision was to ask “where I am supposed to go there”?

After Granderson struck out, Terry Francona called on Danial Bard, who then promptly blew away Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher. By failing to strike at that key moment in the ball game, Girardi hand delivered to Francona the matchups that he needed to extricate his team from the inning and potentially save their season.

Following their missed opportunity in the seventh, the Yankees finally broke through when Mark Teixeira belted a titanic homerun against Bard, after which Arod lined a single up the middle. Girardi once again raised eyebrows by removing his cleanup hitter from the game in favor of Gardner. Now, if he had Gardner going on first move, the strategy may have made some sense. Of course, everyone is well aware of Gardner’s reticence to run in such situations, so it came as no surprise that he remained anchored at first and only advanced when Robinson Cano grounded out weakly to the second baseman. The ill-fated decision had further repercussions later on in the inning when the absence of Gardner’s bat on the bench forced Girardi to let Kearns face Papelbon. One pitch later, the rally was thwarted.

The Yankees came within inches of sending the Red Sox to Toronto nine games behind in the loss column, but the real reason the Yankees lost the series finale was because their manager completely botched two late game situations. Girardi obviously has his strengths as a manager, and his players seem to like his clubhouse style, but his increasingly bewildering game management decisions continue to cost his team in important situations. Hopefully, they don’t wind up costing them the A.L. East division title.

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vs. Jon Lester PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 32 0.333 0.375 0.333 0 2
Nick Swisher RF 25 0.211 0.360 0.632 2 4
Mark Teixeira 1B 20 0.211 0.250 0.368 1 2
Alex Rodriguez 3B 23 0.273 0.304 0.773 3 6
Robinson Cano 2B 28 0.269 0.286 0.346 0 2
Jorge Posada C 20 0.167 0.250 0.167 0 0
Marcus Thames DH 7 0.200 0.429 0.800 1 2
Austin Kearns LF 3 0.500 0.667 0.500 0 1
Curtis Granderson CF 2 0.500 0.500 0.500 0 0
Total 160 0.259 0.313 0.448 7 19
             
vs. Phil Hughes PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Marco Scutaro SS 16 0.267 0.313 0.267 0 0
JD Drew RF 13 0.556 0.692 1.222 1 3
Victor Martinez C 7 0.429 0.429 0.571 0 0
David Ortiz DH 9 0.667 0.667 1.500 1 4
Adrian Beltre 3B 9 0.111 0.111 0.111 0 1
Mike Lowell 1B 5 0.400 0.400 1.000 1 2
Ryan Kalish LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Bill Hall 2B 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jacoby Ellsbury CF 5 0.333 0.600 0.667 0 0
Total 65 0.364 0.446 0.655 3 10

 

Yankees vs. Red Sox    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
NYY: 7-4 TIED: 9-9 TIED: 9-9 NYY: 1124-937

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  Last 10 Last 20 Last 30
Yankees 5-5 12-8 20-10
Red Sox 5-5 11-9 14-16

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  Home vs. LHP
Yankees 37-19 22-15
  Road vs. RHP
Red Sox 29-26 43-33

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Despite missing out on a no-hitter, Brandon Morrow's historic outing was still worthy of celebration.

Brandon Morrow came within one out of pitching a no-hitter, but even more impressive than his brush with immortality was the dominance he exhibited along the way. Had Aaron Hill been able to coral Evan Longoria’s groundball that squirted into right field, Morrow would have recorded the second highest strikeout total (16) in a no hitter. The record of 17 was set by Nolan Ryan when he not hit the Detroit Tigers on July 15, 1973.

Despite being denied a no hitter or a place in the record book, Morrow still turned in a historically impressive outing. For perspective, Morrow’s performance against the Rays registered a Game Score of 100, a level reached only 18 times since the height of mound was lowered to 10 inches in 1969. If you remove extra inning games from the equation (it’s not Morrow’s fault that his team was able to score a run), the number of performances with a Game Score of at least 100 is whittled down to only seven (or nine, if you extend the timeline back to 1920), with only Nolan Ryan’s no-hitter against the Blue Jays on May 1, 1991 (101) and Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game against the Astros on May 6, 1998 (105) being higher.

Highest Recorded Game Scores, Nine Inning Games Since 1920

Player Date Team Opponent IP H ER BB SO GSc
Kerry Wood 5/6/1998 CHC HOU 9 1 0 0 20 105
Nolan Ryan 5/1/1991 TEX TOR 9 0 0 2 16 101
Sandy Koufax 9/9/1965 LAD CHC 9 0 0 0 14 101
Nolan Ryan 7/9/1972 CAL BOS 9 1 0 1 16 100
Nolan Ryan 7/15/1973 CAL DET 9 0 0 4 17 100
Curt Schilling 4/7/2002 ARI MIL 9 1 0 2 17 100
Randy Johnson 5/18/2004 ARI ATL 9 0 0 0 13 100
Brandon Morrow 8/8/2010 TOR TBR 9 1 0 2 17 100
Warren Spahn 9/16/1960 MLN PHI 9 0 0 2 15 100

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Had Brandon Morrow been able to secure the last out, it would have been the sixth no-hitter of the season (really the seventh if you include Armando Galarraga’s “should be” perfect game). Even with the one blemish, the game still topped all others thrown this season and increased the number of performances with a Game Score over 90 to 16. With just under one-third of the season still left to play, that total would rank as the most since 2002. If pro-rated to a season total of 22, only five other seasons since 1969 would rank higher than 2010 in terms of starting performances with a game score higher than 90.

Top-10 Seasons Since 1969 (Game Score >90)

Year Total  
1972 34 Ind. Games
1988 28 Ind. Games
1969 26 Ind. Games
1973 25 Ind. Games
1971 24 Ind. Games
2010 22* Ind. Games
1976 22 Ind. Games
1998 21 Ind. Games
1974 20 Ind. Games
1970 20 Ind. Games

*pro-rated figure
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Because of the proliferation of no-hitters and the all around improvement in pitching statistics, 2010 has been dubbed by many as the new “Year of the Pitcher”. There are countless theories being put forth as to why pitching has been more dominant, but regardless of which one you subscribe to, it does seem as if the pendulum has swung back toward the pitcher. In the American League, the combined ERA of 4.18 is the lowest figure since the 3.95 rate recorded in 1992. The same trends holds in the National League (albeit on a lesser scale), where this year’s ERA of 4.11 ranks as the lowest since the 4.05 rate posted in 1993. Both the NL and the AL are also in the process of compiling their highest strikeout rates ever at 7.18 K/9IP and 6.8 K/9IP, respectively. Once the season is over, the level of pitching dominance can better be put into its proper context, but in the meantime, it sure has been exciting to watch.

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