During his tenure as Yankees’ manager, Joe Girardi has adopted a formulaic approach to using the bullpen. During the early part of the season, his equation for winning was based on three variables: Joba Chamberlain in the seventh, Rafael Soriano in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in the ninth. However, Soriano’s injury poked a hole in the formula, causing Girardi to rejigger the components.
In order to fix his broken equation, Girardi moved Chamberlain to the eighth and David Robertson to the seventh. By doing so, however, he created a much larger void earlier in the game. Last night’s loss to the Mariners was the first manifestation of this formulaic deficiency.
After five innings, A.J. Burnett was nursing a 3-2 lead, but had thrown 97 pitches. As a result, Girardi decided to go to his bullpen, citing Burnett’s five walks and the two runs scored by the Mariners in the fifth. Considering that four of the walks came in the first two innings, and the two runs scored on ground ball outs after a cue ball double by Ichiro, this reasoning seemed to ignore not only the context of the game, but the current state of the Yankees’ bullpen.
We just thought we’d go to Boone for one out, and then go to Ayala and try to set it up for Robertson, Chamberlain and Mo.But we didn’t get there.” – Joe Girardi, quoted by the LoHud Yankees Blog, May 28, 2011
With Burnett lifted, Girardi turned to a combination of Boone Logan and Luis Ayala to face the bottom of the lineup. According to Girardi, he figured that the combination of the two relievers would be able to handle the weaker portion of the already anemic Mariners’ batting order. Of course, Burnett probably could have as well, but once you get past that decision, Girardi’s assumption is a fair one. However, once the duo loaded the bases with no outs, it was time to break from the formula. Unfortunately, Girardi did not.
Before Soriano’s injury, a bases loaded jam in the sixth would have led to Robertson being summoned from the bullpen. In fact, he had been called into two previous bases loaded situations in the sixth inning (April 19 versus Toronto and May 17 versus Tampa) and struck out all four batters he faced. Although such a level of dominance isn’t to be expected, it really isn’t that far fetched for Robertson, who ranks fourth among all relievers in baseball with a 14.4 K/9 rate.
K/9 Leaders Among All MLB Relievers
|Octavio Dotel||Blue Jays||12.4||1.55||0.224||80%|
Note: Minimum 10 innings pitched.
Instead of bringing Robertson into the game, Girardi allowed Ayala to remain on the mound. To his credit, the journeyman righty didn’t implode, but by allowing the Mariners to put the ball in play, two runs crossed the plate. Adding insult to injury, Robertson was later used in the bottom of the eighth to face two of the three batters he would have encountered in the sixth inning. And, what was the result? Two strikeouts and a harmless fly out. Had the same three outcomes occurred the previous time through the order, the Yankees would have maintained their 3-2 lead.
There is a lot of blame to go around for last night’s 4-3 defeat. The offense, which went into a shell after scoring three runs off rookie sensation Michael Pineda, and Burnett, whose early wildness led to an early exit, both failed to distinguish themselves in the game. However, a manager’s job is to put his team in the best situation to win, especially when it isn’t firing on all cylinders. By leaving Robertson in the bullpen during the sixth, Girardi failed to do that.
Unfortunately, it seems like Girardi is committed to maintaining his bullpen formula, so if the Yankees continue to play close games, there will likely be more high leverage situations left to inferior pitchers. That’s the price you pay for managing by formula. This time the cost was a loss.