Torre v. Girardi: Better managing a bullpen


As the Yankees head west in an effort to continue their run of amazing baseball, the team is dealing with a few consequential injuries. While Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are nursing HBP-induced bruises, Mariano Rivera is out with a cranky shoulder.

For Rivera, as Joe wrote last night, the mid-August slump-and-injury is an annual rite of passage. What the real deal is, no one knows. In his Under the Knife column today, Will Carroll claims that Rivera’s shoulder is “inflamed and a bit sore.” Rivera is, after all, 49 innings removed from off-season shoulder surgery.

While I believe that Phil Hughes would inherit the closer mantle were Rivera to be unavailable this weekend, what struck me about Carroll’s coverage of the Yanks’ pen was his claim about Joe Girardi‘s reliever usage patterns. “The back of the bullpen,” he wrote, “is being treated like Joe Torre never left, and that could be an issue.”

Carroll’s claim directly contradicted a Baseball Prospectus article from Wednesday. In that piece, John Perrotto praised Girardi’s mixing and matching out of the pen. Wrote 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.”

As we attempt to assess Joe Girardi’s managerial efforts, let’s try to figure out which BP author is telling the truth. Submitted for your approval are a few select years of Yankee bullpen usage. I’ve chosen this year and last year to see how Girardi employs the pen and three years of Joe Torre’s recent tenure — 2007, 2004 and 2002. I picked 2007 because it was his last year in the Bronx, 2004 because he killed a few arms that year and 2002 in memory of Steve Karsay. To me, those bullpens are what Carroll means when he writes that “Joe Torre never left.” The cutoff for innings was 30 by game 114, the current point in the 2009 season.

Year Player Games IP
2009 Alfredo Aceves 29 54
  Mariano Rivera 48 49
  Phil Coke 55 48
  David Robertson 34 33.1
  Philip Hughes 25 32.1
2008 Player Games IP
  Mariano Rivera 45 49 1/3
  Kyle Farnsworth 45 44 1/3
  Edwar Ramirez 38 41 2/3
  LaTroy Hawkins 33 41
  Ross Ohlendorf 25 40
  Jose Veras 39 39
2007 Player Games IP
  Luis Vizcaino 58 59
  Scott Proctor 52 54 1/3
  Mariano Rivera 44 47 2/3
  Kyle Farnsworth 48 45 1/3
  Brian Bruney 50 42 1/3
  Mike Myers 55 40 2/3
  Ron Villone 26 30 1/3
2004 Player Games IP
  Paul Quantrill 63 74
  Tom Gordon 56 64 2/3
  Mariano Rivera 55 59 2/3
  Tanyon Sturtze 16 47 2/3
  Felix Heredia 34 32 1/3
2002 Player Games IP
  Ramiro Mendoza 46 70
  Steve Karsay 59 65 2/3
  Mike Stanton 58 61 1/3
  Mariano Rivera 37 38

From this, we can see that Joe Torre really liked to overuse his relievers. Mendoza, Karsay and Stanton were utterly overworked by game 114 in 2002. Two years later, Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera had all thrown their fair shares of innings by mid-August. In 2007, Joe Torre loved him some Luis Vizcaino and Scott Proctor.

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.

This year, things have been a bit less spread out. Because of some early-season moves involving Jonathan Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez, only three Yankee hurlers — Al Aceves, Rivera and Phil Coke — have exceeded that 40 innings mark, and all have reached the upper 40s or low 50s. For what it’s worth, Coke is on pace to throw just 68 innings despite his team-leading 55 appearances.

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.

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. JGS says:

    Don’t forget 1996, in which Mo appeared in 43 games and threw 79.1 innings by team game 113

  2. I think it is fairly obvious that Girardi is far superior in terms of bullpen management. as for Will Carroll, color me unimpressed. i do not recall ever reading an intelligent Will Carroll opinion.

  3. Nick says:

    Of the pitcher’s listed, Mendoza’s and Aceves’ workloads are understandable, since they were/are long relievers and work multiple innings at a time. The rest are short relievers, and in the cases with higher workloads, its just too much to sustain.

  4. pat says:

    In Torre’s defense, methinks The Protein Shake has better weapons at his disposal than papa Torre.

    • JSquared says:


      • pat says:

        Um yes, imo Girardi has a much better pen with which to work thus making it easier to spread the innings around. In his twilight years Torre didn’t have such a luxury. I could be horribly horribly mistaken though.

        • 2 horribly’s is pretty rough, dude. I think just 1 would suffice. You’ve earned that much leeway, at least.

          • pat says:

            I must be missing something. I guess I’m riding the failroad home today.

            • (“I could be horribly horribly mistaken though.”)

              You’re not missing anything, it was a terrible comment on my part. I’ve already committed seppuku twice to atone for it.

              • pat says:

                Heh, I understood you Raul, I guess I’m mistaken in thinking Girardi has a better pen to work with than Torre did.

                • Rob H. says:

                  it also could be more that Torre never gave guys a second chance. Girardi has given guys like Robertson, Melancon, and even Bruney second and sometimes third chances to show themselves. Torre never did that. They failed him and they were banished to mop-up duty.

                • No I agree with you, I think Girardi has had better pens to work with due to the increased flexibility the Yanks now have to mix and match pieces during the season. I just thought you were being a little too hard on yourself with the 2 horribly’s.

                • pat says:

                  Word. I’m not saying Torre didn’t abuse the shit out of guys because that’s indisputable. I’m thinking he didn’t have the Roberstons and Melancon’s to work with. Maybe I’m just misrememebring how good Torre’s bullpens were as a whole.

                • pat says:

                  Haha, thanks.Once again Mondesi you have proven why you’ll have my Yankees Congressional vote ad infinitum.

                • DR says:

                  Girardi has better players this year, but last year he had typical Torre bullpen, certainly worse than 2004 one. But Girardi works with his bullpen, he tries to get something useful from relievers who start badly, and he gives rest to trusted relievers who pitch badly. If Torre had this year’s Robertson, he would pitch less than 10 innings, not over 30.
                  Remember that lefty in 2003 who replaced Stanton? He was solid, but after one bad game against Red Sox in summer, he was glued to the bench. Girardi would at least try to see if that was only one game hiccup, or if he maybe needs a few days off, but he wouldn’t just throw him away.

  5. Will says:

    Troncoso’s 66 IP is insane.

  6. jsbrendog says:

    are those 55 for ace counting his spot start?

  7. zs190 says:

    Isn’t this also partially a result of us getting better starting pitching in the last couple months (Mitre notwithstanding) and we had all the bad relievers that are now in AAA when our starters were struggling?

    I think Joe leans on his main guys a lot too but there are less situations that require it this year (anecdotal, I don’t have data to back it up) and the injury to Bruney and Marte spread out the late inning work too.

    • Rob H. says:

      I think the main point here is that Girardi has spread the innings around evenly, regardless of the situation for the most part this season and even last season. You don’t see two or three relief pitchers having far and away more innings pitched under Girardi like you do with Torre.

    • Jersey says:

      I sorta wondered the same thing, if I understand you. Here are the innings totals for starters from the relevant years; full years only, I couldn’t figure out how to get BR to compile the splits. This at least tells you how long starters were generally lasting.

      2009 – 666 so far (AAAHHH!!) / on pace for ~945
      2008 – 898
      2007 – 921
      2004 – 942
      2002 – 1042

      So at least regarding the four years besides 2009, Torre had even less cause to overuse a few guys because there was slightly less of a need, while in 2008 at least Girardi had a greater need for relievers…yet managed to spread around the usage more effectively (based on data from the first 2/3rds of the season, listed in the OP)

      • Rob H. says:

        I think that also shows to an extent that Girardi is willing to give pitchers another chance. If this team is managed by Torre then pitchers like Robertson, Bruney, etc. would be in AAA or riding the pine after faltering early. Girardi has shown he’s willing to give guys second chances and sometimes a third chance to show himself to be reliable. Torre hardly ever did that and just rode two or three arms to death.

      • zs190 says:

        You understood correctly but missed one of my points. We might be on pace for 945, but the pace feels like it has picked up some lately. I mean CC was struggling earlier, Joba and Phil were averaging 5ish, Wang was averaging like 3+. Lately seems like every game we get 6+ innings from our non-Mitre starters.

        Maybe it just feels that way, I really haven’t looked it up to see if that’s true.

  8. jsbrendog says:


    sorry, i couldn’t resist.

    • TheLastClown says:

      But Mo was a starting pitching prospect, who was converted in about August/September to reliever, in 95. He threw 67.2 Major League innings that year, coupled with 30 in AAA. That’s 97.2 innings.

      In 94 he threw 131 innings in the minors.

      The 107 in 96 doesn’t seem like a huge stretch for me.

  9. mike HC says:

    Torre threw Mo to the wolves for 107.2 two innings his very first year as manager in 1996

  10. The Artist says:

    When looking at bullpen use, it would also be good to look at WHEN guys were used. It’s the nature of bullpen work that it’s inconsistent, and overall innings don’t always tell the story.

    For example, if Luis Vizcaino logged a ton of innings in the 1st half, then spent most of August on the DL his overall innings might not look so bad. But he was used horrendously by his manager.

    Also, the patterns of use are important. Working every day for a week straight without rest and then getting no work the following week could be the what the games called for, but is begging for an arm injury. They need to get regular rest to stay healthy, and just as importantly to stay effective. I blame Torre for some of his relievers ineffectiveness, because of his misuse of them. Girardi, on the other hand, has managed to get a lot out of largely no-name pitchers.

    • Jersey says:

      I’d also be curious about patterns related to high-leverage innings. You’d expect the key guys to regularly pitch in higher-leverage situations and let the mopup guys pitch in lower-leverage situations; I remember clearly Proctor and other guys coming in during the occasional blowout. I suspect that the key guys (Mo + setup) under Girardi might have a higher percentage of high-leverage innings than the “key guys” under Torre, indicating again that Girardi is much more discerning in which situations call for which guys.

      • The Artist says:

        Well, as he stated he doesn’t ‘fall in love with certain guys’ the way Torre did. A big reason why he got the job is Cashman was sick of giving Torre bullpen arms that he would go through like tissues. Also, Cash was insituting a youth movement and he didn’t trust Torre with his prize prospects. Torre even took offense to the ‘Joba Rules’ as some sort of personal insult, which tells you how far apart he and Cash were.

  11. Bob Stone says:

    During the Girardi regime, my eyes have told me that he managed bull pen usage better than Torre. It’s good to see the numbers.

    Torre definitely overused some of his relievers, case in point being Scott Proctor. On the other hand, Girardi goes a little too far the other way for my tastes sometimes . . like when he uses Hughes for one or two batters.

    • The Artist says:

      Bringing in Mo for Save situations is automatic, there’s no debate involved. It’s tough to argue against bringing in the greatest closer of all time to shut the door. And if it’s a 1 run game, and Hughes let up a game tying HR in the 9th, then everyone would KILL Girardi for not having Mo in there.

    • ” On the other hand, Girardi goes a little too far the other way for my tastes sometimes . . like when he uses Hughes for one or two batters.”

      You know, i think this is an important point. I’m happy with Girardi’s bullpen management, on a macro-level, as this post and most of the comments seem to agree. But, at the same time, I’m not always so impressed with Girardi’s bullpen management on a more micro-level, if this makes any sense. I think he does a great job of keeping guys fresh and spreading the workload around, but some of his in-game decisions (the recent Hughes one–batter outings, for example) leave me questioning those decisions’ underlying wisdom.

      Not a profound point, but I thought I’d throw it out there. Someone will inevitably join this discussion just to say something like “you guys should get your noses out of Girardi’s ass” or something, accusing everyone of being too much in Girardi’s corner. I just don’t think that’s necessarily accurate. I think you can like Girardi’s overall bullpen management scheme while still questioning some of his bullpen-related decisions.

      • The Artist says:

        The one out stuff with Hughes is just him going Righty-Lefty late in games. Then once you get to the 9th, bringing in Mo is automatic. I know it’s happened a few times recently, but it’s not something he’s done a lot of.

        Also, I kind of like it to be honest. Hughes is our “Fireman” or “Relief Ace” in the classic, Bill James sense of the term. That one out, late innings with men on base that could tie the game, could very well be the biggest out of the game. Going to you best in that spot isn’t a bad use of Hughes, it’s a good one. Girardi gets as many low leverage outs from his lesser guys as he can, then goes to Hughes with the game on the line.

        • Yeah I hear you, and if his name was anything but Phil Hughes it wouldn’t bother me. But it’s Phil Hughes, and I don’t really want him used that way. I know there’s a perfectly reasonable argument on the other side of this issue, I’m not telling you you’re wrong. I’d just prefer to not see Hughes used that way. I never wanted him in the bullpen in the first place, and now that he’s there I’d prefer if he were used for slightly longer outings, with a little more rest in-between outings, than he’s been getting.

          • The Artist says:

            If you’re worried about Phil’s innings, that horse has left the barn. He’ll have to get some in winter ball, and be on an innings limit next year. As a 2010 5th starter, I don’t think its a big deal either way.

            Plus, any time I discuss pitchers I always have in the back of my mind that he’ll probably tweak or sprain something, spend a month on the DL and all this worrying would have been for nothing. These things tend to work themselves out. Remember how we had too many OFs in Spring Training?

            • “If you’re worried about Phil’s innings, that horse has left the barn.”

              Oh I hear you, clearly I agree to a certain extent. That’s why I said what I really have a problem with is Hughes being in the ‘pen in the first place. I would like to see him handled a little differently out of the ‘pen, though. All I’m saying is that if he’s going to be used and get his innings out of the ‘pen this year, I’d prefer he be brought in with the intent of leaving him in there to pitch an inning or two at a time, as opposed to coming in for a batter at a time like other relievers might be used.

      • Bob Stone says:

        You stated the point much more completely and eloquently. It does make me crazy watching his “overmanagement” at times. Last Saturday, when Girardi pulled Hughes after one batter for Robertson against the Sox in the ninth inning (and Hughes hadn’t been getting much work in the preceding days) I wanted to scream.

        • The Artist says:

          Managers who spread the workload around get accused of “over managing” Managers who fall in love with a few guys get blamed for “burning them out”.

          I’m not sure any manager will ever make fans happy, but I certainly prefer Girardi’s approach. There’s a lot of good sports medicine that backs up his was of doing things.

  12. Tony says:

    Here’s the problem with these Torre/Girardi BP comparisons: Torre is hands down the worst BP manager in baseball. That doesn’t necessarily mean Girardi is great at it. Joey G has also seen his fair share of arms (starters and relievers) go down.

    Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and Joba Chamberlain (!) for example might have thoughts to share about his handling of pitchers.

    • The Artist says:

      Josh Johnson did share his thoughts, and absolved Girardi of any blame whatsoever for his injury.

      • While I don’t think the words “Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and Joba Chamberlain” add up to a valid argument that Joe Girardi doesn’t handle pitchers well, Josh Johnson absolving Girardi of blame for his injury also certainly doesn’t add up to a good argument that Girardi bears no responsibility for Johnson’s injury.

        • The Artist says:

          OK, Mr Argument Police, how should me and Tony debate this to make YOU happy?

          • Instead of getting sensitive and personal about it why don’t you explain to me how Josh Johnson absolving Girardi of blame for Johnson’s injury is a valid argument that Girardi, in fact, bears no responsibility for Johnson’s injury?

            • The Artist says:

              Fine, I’ll be more clear. Instead of telling both of us you don’t like either of OUR arguments, why don’t you simply present one of your own? Then we at least have something to debate.

              • Look… I’m sure someone could do a little research and figure out if Girardi’s usage of Johnson, Sanchez and/or Chamberlain might put them at higher risk for injury, or whether a higher or smaller percentage of Girardi’s young pitchers have seen the DL, or any number of other things… My only point was that Josh Johnson absolving Girardi of guilt for Johnson’s injury is not a valid argument that Girardi bears no responsibility for Johnson’s injury.

                If you or anyone else disagrees with that statement, I’m all ears. If not, that’s great, too. I think something you said was wrong so I said so, it wasn’t a personal attack on you. If you post a comment here you run the risk that someone might, gasp, disagree with it. It doesn’t have to be a war every time that happens.

                You are such a delicate flower sometimes.

                • Moshe Mandel says:

                  I did a post on this a while back. It is not entirely scientific, but it suggests that he did alright. He had some guys with jumps in innings, but a manager is generally not the one who sets innings limits. It was way overblown.


                • Nice, thanks. You know, I think those numbers don’t look so great for Girardi, but as I was reading your post I kept having one thought that apparently some AL GM expressed as well, to Sherman: He didn’t have any choice but to give those guys a bunch of innings, because he didn’t really have any other options. I guess the response would be “well they should have just used other young pitchers, called them up from the minors, to soak up some innings and not overburden their top starters like they did,” but for much of that season that team was right in the thick of a pennant race, so that really wasn’t an option unless they wanted to raise a very obvious white flag over their season (and that would also be more of a GM-level decision than a manager-level decision, anyway). I don’t really see, other than how hard he rode Willis, how he could have done things too much differently that season.

                • Moshe Mandel says:

                  The real question I have is if the manager has any say in these innings limits. What would have happened if Girardi had decided to stop using Sanchez to protect his arm? Can he make that decision? Does he have input on how many innings Joba gets?

                • Yeah, agreed, that’s a big question hanging over this discussion. In Florida, for example, it seems to me like they gave him the horses and he ran them out there, especially since it seems that by the second half the F.O. wasn’t even really communicating with Girardi much. Who knows how much latitude he had to use those horses as he saw fit, though (i.e. sit one of them to rest them a bit, etc.).

                  So, yeah, you’re right… It’s tough to really analyze this issue without more information than we’ll probably ever have. I guess we can look at the front office’s (including the manager) performance, but it’s tough to pin anything on the manager because we don’t know how much leeway/autonomy he’s given.

      • Tony says:

        Can you link me to the time when Mark Prior bashed Dusty Baker in the press?

    • Zack says:

      how are you putting Joba on Girardi? that was a management decission

      • Tony says:

        It’s always a “management” decision. “Management” decisions work both ways, too. If Cashman saw Girardi burning out a player, I would expect him to say something. Same thing if Cashman tried to impose a development plan that Girardi felt would hurt the baseball team.

        • Zack says:

          Dont buy that. So if Girardi thinks Joba being on a pitch/inning limit hurts the team then Cashman should eliminate it so Girardi can have Joba as a starter all year long? Because Gaudin/Mitre taking starts away from Joba obviously is going to hurt the team.

    • Salty Buggah says:

      You are on fire today

  13. john whitney says:

    Let us not forget how Torre would warm up relievers multiple times a game and not use them. that also wears on the arm. I remember sitting in the bleachers and watching Proctor warm up 4 times in two straight days.

    • Nick says:

      That’s really the great unknown in this discussion. Bullpen usage that didn’t result in game usage would also wear a pitcher out. I don’t believe that’s tracked anywhere.

  14. CB says:

    It’s not just Carroll over at BP who hasn’t thought much of Girardi’s use of the pen.

    This is what Joel Sheehan wrote after that last game in the Boston sweep where Hughes was unavailable:

    “With Philip Hughes apparently unavailable after pitching Friday and Saturday—but for just one out each day—Girardi reacted by making none of his other righties available. It mattered less in the important matchup—letting Coke face Victor Martinez, batting right-handed, would have been the play in any case—but had Coke retired Martinez, he would have been asked to get Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay with the tying run on base, and that would have been a huge risk. It was yet another odd decision by a man for whom running a bullpen is a daily challenge.

    While he was commenting on a specific move, “yet another odd decision,” isn’t a real enodorsement of bull pen management.


  15. Kiersten says:

    All I did was read the title of this post and I asked: Is this even a question?

    Girardi may overmanage sometimes, but he is FAR better than Torre ever was at managing a bullpen. Managing a lineup. Managing anything, really (I’ll give the nod to Torre on the personalities thing).

  16. LiveFromNewYork says:

    Joe Girardi stays awake for games and for the most part seems genuinely interested in them.

  17. Lanny says:

    Torre was so abusive that Rivera never got hurt and thrived every single year. Again we blame him for scrubs like Proctor and Sturtze and Quantrill getting arm injuries. Didn’t see Rivera or Stanton or Nelson or Mendoza breaking down and getting blown out.

    Girardi is the same guy who goes to Mo for 4 out saves in July against the Orioles. It is getting ridiculous. No wonder hes sore.

    • leokitty says:

      I’m not really interested in fighting about Joe Torre’s bullpen habits, but Paul Quantrill was not anything like a scrub before joining the Yankees.

      The 2004 bullpen he was a part of was worked very hard that year and Quantrill had a very bad second half after a good first half.

    • Kiersten says:

      Yes, let’s use Mariano Rivera, your average, everyday relief pitcher, as the measure by which to compare all other relief pitchers.

      Also, see: 2001 postseason.

  18. wilcymoore says:

    Bottom line: nobody could wear out a bullpen like Joe T.

    I also blame Torre (maybe irrationally) for screwing up Edwar Ramirez. Edwar came up from the minors in 1997 like a house afire, an absolute strike-out machine with his changeup. He K’d the side 1-2-3 in his first ML appearance. He got in one more game a couple days later, then Torre left him on the bullpen bench for about 2 weeks.

    By the time Ramirez got into his third game he was rustier than a hinge on the ol’ barn door. He had a disastrous outing, and I don’t think he’s ever fully recovered from that bruise to his confidence. Thanks, Joe.

  19. Ross Yanks Looking for 27 says:

    Let’s not forget 2006. Scott Proctor pitched over 100 releif innings and appeared in 80+ games. Wore his arm. He was pretty good that year. Posted mid 3′s ERA. But he’s worn out now.

  20. [...] 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. [...]

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