Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Query: how do you know it's September? Because the Yankees manager's bullpen decision have begun to defy reason and worse, because he won't deign to explain them.

The Yankees won a World Series' last year, but it wasn't because of Joe Girardi. To the contrary, they won in spite of him.

For some reason, the frequently mercurial and arbitrary rationale governing Girardi's allocation of his bullpen earned him the extenuating charge of "overmanagement". The characterization is misleading however. Haste is no less culpable a vice than complacency. A manager's consistently premature removal of his relievers jeopardizes his team no less than unwarranted faith in them. The former, in fact, begets the latter. Using and discarding his best relievers, as Girardi so often did through the playoffs, ultimately compelled him to rely on inferior ones. Having deployed and removed Robertson and Chamberlain before circumstances warranted, Girardi had then to rely on the likes of Coke, Hughes (8.54 ERA in the '09 post-season) and Bruney. The most infamous instance cost the Yankees Game 3 of the ALCS and perhaps, Game 5 as well. Mismanagement wears many guises.

Last night in Tampa, a new one arrived. With the Yankees having lost three consecutive games and six of their last seven; with the team playing to decide 1st place; and with the Bombers tied 0-0 in extra-innings against the divisional rival poised to snatch the pennant from them, to whom does the manager entrust the game? One of his most forbidding relief pitchers, Joba Chamberlain? No. One of his most consistent andd reliable arms, David Robertson? No. Instead, the manager selects two of his worst. First, Chad Gaudin. Next, Sergio Mitre. Gaudin comes within one strike of walking in the winning run. Mitre promptly finishes the job by ceding the game winning homerun.

Perhaps, Gaudin and Mitre superficially impressive ERAs hypnotized Girardi. If so, don't let them deceive you. A closer look at the game logs available on Baseball-Reference.Com reveals that Gaudin owes his 4.00 ERA largely to stifling teams like Oakland, Seattle, and Kansas City. Likewise, Mitre and his 3.65 number. Neither fares well against opponents that can hit. AL East teams have a combined .300 batting average against Gaudin in 2010; against Mitre, it's not much better.

Joba Chamberlain, by contrast, despite his inflated 4.72 ERA has amassed a 2.00 ERA over the 18 innings he's pitched since July 30, and through all of 2010, he's held AL East teams to a .215 batting average. While Robertson boasts a 2.64 ERA since the 1st of June.

So with 1st place hanging in the balance and the Yankees in danger of losing for the seventh time in eight games, where exactly were Robertson and Chamberlain? Indeed, after Girardi's baffling decision sealed his team's fate, reporters asked the manager this very question during the ritual post-game interview. Consider not just his guarded and circular responses but his adamant refusal to elaborate upon them.

  • Kim Jones: "In the extras, to go Gaudin and Mitre there, in those spots... did you have everyone available?"
  • Girardi: "No, I did not... So I used the people available and we'll go from there," says the manager with a dismissive flick of his hand.
  • Kim Jones, again, "Any injury concerns there?"
  • Girardi: "Well, they've [Chamberlain and Robertson] been used a lot lately so it's something we thought we had to stay away from."
  • The Daily News' Mark Feinsand: "Joe, Joba hadn't pitched since Friday, the two days off didn't help?"
  • Girardi: "We just thought he needed another day."
  • Feinsand: "Was it something you saw?"
  • Girardi: "No, No, we just thought he need another day."
  • Jones: "Was it the pitchers who indicated to you that something wasn't all right"?
  • Girardi: "No, we talk to our guys and make sure they're all right. We communicate with them them and that's what we do."

Unfortunately, the transcription above doesn't fully communicate Girardi's terseness in response. Worse than the manager's condescending refusal to justify why he felt it necessary to rest Chamberlain for a third straight day (or to withhold, Robertson, for a second) are his curt antagonistic tone and his surly contemptuous manner.

Granted, Kim Jones, still, after all these years, can ask some inexplicably foolish and bumptious questions, but her inquiry above reflects the very questions that occurred to practically every Yankee fan watching last night's game and as it happens, to the YES broadcasters calling it.

First of all, unless Chamberlain is injured or has complained of arm fatigue, it defies explanation that he would NOT be available last night. Joba has pitched a sum total of ONE inning since Wednesday, September 8th, five days ago. And Robertson hasn't pitched much more either. He has pitched a sum total of TWO innings in the identical period.

No one denies the value of apportioning relief pitchers' innings and resting their arms as the season nears its end and the team prepares for the probability of playing in the post-season. But the significance of the Yankees' game with the Rays' didn't materialize out of thin air. A pennant race has embroiled the two teams for months now. If Girardi didn't anticipate the importance of having his premiere relievers rested and available in advance of the series, then the manager, at best, has been remiss. Still, Girardi claims he expect his two relievers to be available Tuesday. But what if neither is needed Tuesday or Wednesday? (Thursday happens to be an off-day.)

In that event, Girardi hasn't just been remiss in squandering his best starter's remarkable outing against his team now leading the Yankees in the standings. Should it prove unnecessary, in fact, for Girardi to use either Joba or Robertson Tuesday or Wednesday against the Rays, then Girardi's allocation of his relievers over the last week and a half will look outright delinquent. Don't forget: while ostensibly "conserving" his bullpen, Girardi also deployed his forty-year-old closer Friday night in 90 degree Texas heat-- a Texan heat that contributed to at least two Yankees starters sustaining injuries over the last four seasons.

Watching Joe Girardi's post-game interview last night recalls something The New Yorkers' Roger Angell wrote a few years ago in a review of "The Yankee Years" about the current manager's predecessor. No, Torre can't claim to have distributed the bullpen's workload with any more foresight, prudence, or equity than his successor. Yet as Angell observed, in a game that, too often, encourages men to act like boys, Joe Torre never ceased to play the role of adult among men. (Perhaps, this explains why the Yankee players who deported themsevles likewise through Torre's tenure and continue to do so to this day have stayed so loyal to him.)

Girardi could stand to learn from them a lesson or two in civility and professionalism. Because treating the press like a petulant and antagonistic adolescent would a captious parent, however exasperating the loss, profits no one. We forgive an adult the occasional unhinged outburst. But smoldering disdain leaves a toxic odor that lingers for a considerably longer duration.

After all, professional athletes earn our respect and our admiration through their willingness to fail in public and to stand at their lockers afterward and to endure with stoicism the disappointment and the criticism it incites.

If the Yankees manager can't fulfill the expectations the world asks of his players, when his contract expires, he should do us all a favor and find another job.