The Love Pours in For Girardi

Columns — By on August 14, 2009 3:39 pm

Courtesy of BadgerBC in the Yankees Google Group, a summation of the Girardi love-fest, which only coincidentally happens near the anniversary of Woodstock.

From Steven Goldman:

Nothing magical about it. The secret is that the bullpen ranks, somewhat miraculously, as the best in baseball. When you have a reliever corps that can prolong games indefinitely so that the potent offense can get one more at-bat, and then another, and another, you’re going to have a lot of last at-bat wins. Joe Girardi takes some flak for the way he runs a bullpen, and there are certainly some eccentricities in the way he handles things, but his relentless pursuit of a working pen (as opposed to Joe Torre’s relentless pursuit of one reliever he could pair with Mariano Rivera) is commendable.

John Perrotto:

In the course of getting there, Girardi is being lauded for turning a bullpen that, beyond closer Mariano Rivera, was perceived to be a weakness to many mainstream observers coming into the season into a strong point. Girardi has pieced together a quality bullpen without having any of his pitchers ranking in the top 10 in the AL in relief innings pitched.

“The bullpen, to me, is something you really have to watch,” Girardi said. “You have to be careful that you don’t fall in love with one guy because then you wear him down and he can no longer be effective. The key is to be effective for the whole year, not just two weeks or a month.”

Ben Kabak care of RAB:

With those three years in mind, examining the last two years is a breath of fresh air. While none of us wanted to see Kyle Farnsworth too often, Joe Girardi had used six pitchers for 39 innings or more at this point last year, and none had thrown in excess of Mariano’s 49.1.

Lately, Girardi has been spreading the wealth. Phil Hughes has been getting the ball in key situations, but Girardi has been willing to rest his overworked pitchers. Brian Bruney, not on this list due to his mid-season injuries, has earned some bullpen trust lately, as has David Robertson.

In the end, I am comforted by this list. When Joe Torre left New York, one of the key criticisms pertained to his bullpen usage patterns. As the Dodgers already have one pitcher with 66 innings pitched this year, Torre’s bullpen abuse has continued on the West Coast. Joe Girardi, though, has tempered the calls to the bullpen, and the eventual return of Damaso Marte could further even the load. As the Yanks head into the stretch drive nursing a six-game lead and a sore shoulder for Mariano Rivera, the bullpen should be both fresh and effective.

I’m not a huge fan of Girardi.  If you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ve probably figured that out already.  Given that, it’s hard to complain about the results this team has achieved to this point.

The question in my mind is, exactly where do you give the credit?  You have to figure that Brian Cashman has had some input into who has come up and down from the minor leagues to assemble this bullpen.  He is the general manager and it stands to reason that his prespective on the Scranton AAA squad is more informed than Girardi at this point.  I’m sure he consults Girardi about players but ultimately, I believe the decisions are Cashman’s.*

*Let’s not forget also that this pattern that we’re seeing, where the bullpen has started as a liability only to solidify around the All Star break, happened almost exactly the same way in 2008.  I would guess that if Girardi was sprinkling fairy dust on his relievers to make them somehow better, that magic would come earlier in the season.  As such, it is as much about how the roster built and the decisions on who is on it (and moved about the minor league system) as anything else.

Also, it’s easy to spread out the innings totals as Perrotto suggests when the only pitchers that have been on the staff since day one are Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera.  As a matter of fact, of the Yankees 360 relief innings this year (10 IP above the MLB average), 108.1 of them came from guys who aren’t even on the roster anymore.  Half of Hughes innings were as a starter.  Alfredo Aceves has been, until the acquisition of Chad Gaudin, the de facto long reliever despite averaging under two innings per appearance, with only 7 of his 30 appearances at 3 innings or above.

So, yes, Girardi has done a good job with the bullpen that has been built for him, but looking at the innings total doesn’t tell you much about the staff.  Saying Girardi hasn’t been abusive to any of his relief pitchers ignores the innings heaped upon Alfredo Aceves who, despite his history as a starter, has been bounced back and forth between short relief and long relief.  Phil Hughes is a reliever that has been used under some guidelines in order to protect his eventual starter’s arm.  Phil Coke has made 55 appearances out of 115 games, the most on the staff, but has thankfully been kept to only 48 innings pitched, leaving some to question whether he could go a little longer in appearances and not left to more of a LOOGY role.

In short, Girardi hasn’t had much opportunity to fall in love with many of his guys.  The guys he has had with him most of the season (Rivera, Coke, Aceves) have had their share of innings, strange use, or flat out misuse in the case of Aceves.

For now it’s working, but considering the second half success of the 2008 bullpen, the Yankees didn’t simply run with those guys again.  And it’s safe to assume in 2010, half the guys may not be in the picture.  Relief pitching is volatile and the Yankees have rode the hot hands as much as possible.  I don’t know how much credit Girardi can take for that without bringing Brian Cashman into the conversation.

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