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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Second-guessing Girardi

In the wake of the Yankees' loss (and the Angels' win), Jason Rosenberg was angry. Among his reasons: the bottom of the (decisive) 11th inning ... Look, I'm perfectly happy to question Girardi's play-calling in this one. I was thrilled to see him use Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation, and Rivera did throw 17 pitches. But Girardi used left-hander Damaso Marte for one pitch, and replaced him with another left-hander, who was allowed to throw three pitches. Later, Dave Robertson threw only 11 pitches before giving way for Aceves.

In a game like this one, the manager has to balance two competing impulses. He's got to treat every batter as a potential game-changer, but at the same time he's got to worry about the game continuing indefinitely. Because the great majority of close games do end before the 12th inning, we may forgive a manager for running through his relievers quickly. Particularly when he's employing a three-man rotation and so has more spare pitchers than usual.

Why, specifically, did Girardi replace Robertson with Aceves? We know it's not because of any specific history, because Robertson had faced Howie Kendrick only twice before Monday, and Aceves not at all. Girardi simply mentioned "matchups," suggesting that his charts showed Kendrick faring worse against pitchers like Aceves than against pitchers like Robertson.

As for Robertson's strikeout rate ... yeah, it's incredibly impressive. But getting to the heart of the thing, which is actually retiring hitters, Robertson's and Aceves' ERA's were essentially the same this season, and Aceves' strikeout-to-walk ratio -- thanks to his low walk rate and Robertson's high walk rate -- was significantly better than Robertson's.

In retrospect, it seems like an odd move for two reasons: 1) Robertson had thrown so few pitches; and 2) Girardi was running out of, if not relief pitchers per se, then reliable relief pitchers. But Girardi wasn't playing some wild hunch; he seems to have based his decision on some actual information, the sort of information that's stood him in good stead all season long. It just didn't work out this time.