Girardi ranks among best bullpen managers

Poll: What was your favorite moment of the second half?
Arangure: Yanks were interested in Sano

Joe Girardi might seem to make some odd decisions when choosing relievers, but on the whole he’s done a fine job of managing his bullpen this year. I make this claim not based on stats, but based on what I’ve observed of the situation. Sometimes it seems he gets too cute in a LaRussa-like way, using multiple relievers to get just a few outs, but it works. Despite in April in which the bullpen had a 6.46 ERA, the Yanks pen currently sports a 3.94 ERA, fifth best in the AL. Of the things the Yanks have to worry about, the bullpen doesn’t appear to be one of them.

*If you don’t believe in advanced stats or believe that everything in baseball is self-evident, then you won’t want to continue.

Advanced stats support Girardi’s bullpen management. Jeremy Greenhouse at The Baseball Analysts looks at each team’s bullpen using a number of WPA-based figures: WPA/LI, Clutch, and pLI. The Yankees rank atop the league in Clutch from the bullpen, and up near the top in WPA/LI. In that neat Google Motion chart embedded in the article, you’ll see the Yanks dot hanging out by itself on the right. They’re easily the closest to the ideal position: top right.

Further supporting the argument is pLI, which is the Leverage Index for each player. The relievers with the highest pLI are mostly those with the highest WPA. The higher pLI means that these pitchers have the best chance of picking up WPA, since WPA fluctuates the most in high leverage situations. But because we’re seeing a high WPA, it means that for the most part the Yanks relievers did their job. Mariano Rivera was used in the highest leverage situations, 1.71 pLI, and has the highest WPA. Phil Hughes is second with a 1.43 pLI and a 2.4 WPA. Had these two failed more often, their WPA would not be as high.

Two names appear misplaced on the list: Phil Coke and Al Aceves. Aceves has the fourth highest pLI on the team, 1.07, but has a WPA of 1.92, third best in the bullpen. It would appear that Girardi should move Aceves up into higher leverage situations, and perhaps he would have if not for his late-season role as Joba’s caddy. Because Aceves was facing hitters in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings — sometimes with a run deficit — his pLI dropped. Under normal circumstances, Aceves would move up into higher leverage situations. I expect him to regularly appear in the seventh inning this October.

The other is Phil Coke. It’s hard to get a good read on the rookie lefty’s season. He’s had great stretches and he’s had poor ones. He’s had games where he’s given up six runs, and he’s had appearances where he throws nothing but strikes. The bad appearances have hurt his WPA (as they should), leaving it at 0.88, yet his pLI is 1.29, third highest on the team. Girardi trusts Coke in big spots, and for the most part he comes through. It just seems that when he doesn’t come through, the results are beyond disastrous.

Aside riff:


I’ve always thought that ERA is a terrible indicator of effectiveness for relievers. One bad outing can kill your ERA. See Phil Coke’s blowup against the White Sox. He’s clearly pitched better than his ERA this season. The biggest issue is that relievers work with such small samples. It’s why we see so much volatility from year to year in reliever performances. While WPA is a great narrative tool, I think it can also bring some insight into a reliever’s value. Relievers work in the context of a situation, unlike starters, who help create the context. The game is usually over halfway unfolded once a reliever appears, so he’s mainly pitching in the situation. WPA captures the situation. I’d like to see a bit more work go into this.


Pitching staffs get shortened in the postseason. The Yankees will only need three starters — if they’re willing to start CC in Game 4 of the ALCS on three days’ rest — in the first two rounds. They should also only need three relievers, maybe four. They’ll carry more, but chances are we won’t see pitchers not named CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves get the ball very often, if at all. These are the guys who have performed best for the Yankees this season, and they’re the ones that will decide the team’s fate.

Given the circumstances, Girardi has done a good job not only of distributing the innings out of the pen, but of putting the right pitcher in the right spot. Sometimes he might make the wrong call, and when he does the fan base is quick to jump on him. Those instances tend to stand out in our minds, though, giving them a bit more weight. When we take a step back and look at the season as a whole, Girardi comes out ahead. Thankfully, other than a few lefty-righty matchups, he won’t have to think much about who to pitch and when. The Yanks relievers have done their job of proving it to him this season.

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Poll: What was your favorite moment of the second half?
Arangure: Yanks were interested in Sano
  • andrew

    *needs play off baseball now*

    • http://ibleedblueandwhite.com Jamie

      I agree man. I’m starting to lose my mind.

  • MikeD

    I’m surprised when I hear some people question Girardi’s bullpen management. Sure, it’s easy to pick on individual moves over the course of 162 games, but the Yankees and Girardi have done an excellent job of extending the bullpen down from the big club into AAA so they always have arms they can switch in and out until the right mix has been achieved. A welcome change from Torre’s later years where it was one guy abused to the point of no return, thank you very much Scott Proctor or Tanyon Sturtze.

    The bullpen and Girardi’s bullpen management is a strength, not a weakness.

    • Moshe Mandel

      Totally agree. He has done a great job with usage, properly weighing the right moments to use certain relievers, as this post reflects. That allows him to use his best guys in the biggest spots without overusing them.

      If you click through, you will note that Torre’s Dodgers, despite having an excellent bullpen, are one of the worst in this regard.

      • JMK aka The Overshare

        I was going to say, “Experientia docet,” but Torre has been in the game for decades and hasn’t learned yet. So there goes my kick-ass Latin phrase.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          So there goes my kick-ass Latin phrase.

          Tu stultus es.

          /Onion’d

          • JMK aka The Overshare

            I didn’t even have to look that up. Jerk.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
              • JMK aka The Overshare

                My hero! I now feel like taking up smoking again. You’re a lifesaver (and an asshole), TSJC!

            • Salty Buggah
              • JMK aka The Overshare

                I’m pretty confident that my half-sister (who used to/still might eat her boogers) with the lisp is a better rapper than they are. Still, good post, Salty!

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                Ugh. God, no.

                I like rap, not crap.

                • Salty Buggah

                  It was like the biggest thing in High Schools here in Colorado last year. People used to just jerk in the streets and classrooms. It was OK at first but it got old fast. I mean I listened to that song in the beginning when everyone was crazy about but I don’t know why because it’s pretty dumb.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  The most important phrase in all of that paragraph:

                  “It was like the biggest thing in High Schools here in Colorado”

                  Nuff said.

                • Salty Buggah

                  The part about spaceships on Bankhead is the stupidest thing ever and basically kills the song, even though it was pretty bad already.

                • Salty Buggah

                  Exactly. I thought it was dumb but somehow it became pretty popular. Doing the jerk is very easy but very idiotic.

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                P.S. Somebody should tell the New Boyz that the “z” instead of “s” thing hasn’t been cool since people said “FACE!”

                • jsbrendog

                  that’s boss

                • JMK aka The Overshare

                  My Jnco jeans are still fly!

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  Do you rock them with your De La Soul haircut?

                • JMK aka The Overshare
    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      A welcome change from Torre’s later years where it was one guy abused to the point of no return, thank you very much Scott Proctor or Tanyon Sturtze.

      The bullpen and Girardi’s bullpen management is a strength, not a weakness.

      Wanna have some fun? Do this:

      In the embedded Google Motion Chart from the baseballanalysts.com article, slide the time bar at the bottom to 1996 (Torre’s first year), and click the “Yankees” and “Trails” checkboxes on the right, then push play.

      Torre’s bullpens are all over the place. In contrast, Girardi’s only got two years, but he’s got two straight far upper right quadrant bullpens.

      Small sample size, but impressive.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.baby-bombers.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/melky-cabrera-317x400.jpg Drew

    I thought he’s been doing great, pushing the right button more often than not.

    Sure, many people cringe when Philly doesn’t see in game action for a week but lets face it, at this point it seems moot to complain. If Phil had 4 more inning and we had one, maybe two more wins it really wouldn’t make a difference. The good thing is that Phil hasn’t been abused and I don’t think he’s been underused either. He should be primed and ready along with Mo, D-rob and Ace to continue shutting teams down post-6th inning.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Aside riff:
    I’ve always thought that ERA is a terrible indicator of effectiveness for relievers. One bad outing can kill your ERA. See Phil Coke’s blowup against the White Sox. He’s clearly pitched better than his ERA this season. The biggest issue is that relievers work with such small samples. It’s why we see so much volatility from year to year in reliever performances. While WPA is a great narrative tool, I think it can also bring some insight into a reliever’s value. Relievers work in the context of a situation, unlike starters, who help create the context. The game is usually over halfway unfolded once a reliever appears, so he’s mainly pitching in the situation. WPA captures the situation. I’d like to see a bit more work go into this.

    Huge +1 to all this.

    Damaso Marte and Phil Coke both have horrid ERA’s but they’ve both been good, solid lefty relievers this year. I like WPA and LI as better metrics for relievers, as ERA is designed to judge a pitcher on how good he is over 9 innings, while WPA and LI are about judging a pitcher on how good he is batter to batter.

    • jsbrendog

      agreed. i take marte over coke every day of the week, however.

      • Tom Zig

        twice on sundays?

        • http://www.newyorkjets.com/image_assets/8997/052109_coach_rex_ryan_presser_320.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          That’s what she said. (To both of you guys.)

  • Jersey

    With so many other terrific options, Torre waited too long to pull the plug on Wade, who’s been in the minors for the last couple of months.

    I’ve seen this movie before.

    It’s also interesting to watch the Yankees’ bullpen performance rise from mediocrity to proficiency during the title years, then decline in Torre’s last years, and now improve again. Backs up the anecdotal observations on both managers.

  • jsbrendog

    girardi has been very good with the pen. it just bothers me how he seems to use marte as a loogy sometimes.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Yes, but, even if Marte and Coke are capable of getting righties out, wouldn’t you agree that Aceves and DRob are better options to face righties?

      It’s not about them only profiling as LOOGYs (because they don’t), it’s about the marginal utility upgrade of the better righty relievers over the slightly less impressive lefty relievers.

      • jsbrendog

        depending. in october sure, but it seems that joe sometimes plays the loogy with, like, a 3+ run lead and I find myself going why are you taking out marte?!?!

        i guess it is also a result of all the douchers who were complaining how much marte sucked. it really grinds my gears when he comes in, gets one guy out on like 4 pitches and then gets taken out for the righty with no one on base and a 2 or 3 or 4 run lead.

        just sayin.

        • jsbrendog

          ps, it is such a small concern as is aid it is mostly insignificant but even so…gears be grinded.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          You know what really grinds my gears?

          You, America. F$%# YOU.

      • Ed

        Your points are right, and are probably roughly what Girardi is thinking.

        The other side of that of course is the value of getting through an inning using 1 pitcher instead of 2 or 3, which gives you more flexibility later in the game or possibly in tomorrow’s game.

        I side a little more towards using less pitchers than Girardi does, but I don’t think there’s a wrong answer unless you go really far towards an extreme on the issue.

        It’s a meaningless issue at this point anyway, as all the off days in the postseason schedule makes it a lot easier to keep pitchers fresh.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          True.

          I’ll agree that Coke and Marte probably shouldn’t be used as LOOGYs during the regular season, but they probably should be used that way during the playoffs, considering how effective Hughes, Ace, and DRob have been.

  • Tom Zig

    chances are we won’t see pitchers not named CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves get the ball very often, if at all. These are the guys who have performed best for the Yankees this season, and they’re the ones that will decide the team’s fate.

    This excites me

    • jsbrendog

      mr zig, you have a massive erection.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I’m as hard as a diamond in an ice storm right now.

      /RickyBobby’d

  • YankFan

    Stats that prove my eyes correct. What is the world coming to?

    I’ve loved the job that Girardi has done, even if he keeps on going back to Bruney, Veras, Edwar when they’re bad. He gave them a chance to work out of their funks & didn’t abuse any of the others. Nice to not have any relievers have season-ending arm surgery.

  • The Lodge

    *If you don’t believe in advanced stats or believe that everything in baseball is self-evident, then you won’t want to continue.

    “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you can not express it in numbers your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science.”

    -Lord Kelvin, William Thomson, 1891.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Did Lord Kelvin, William Thomson 1891 ever play competitve baseball? I don’t think so. Therefore, his opinion is worthless.

      Sincerely,
      JD NYC

      • JD NYC

        I would have said it less elegantly and left myself open for another 1000 insults, but yeah, that’s about right.

        Seriously though, I don’t mind being the object of your scorn, especially because I’ll never match your persistence and that you seem to be good at it, but for the record I don’t think you need to have played the game to analyze it. I know the players are usually terrible at analyzing it and often refuse to acknowledge/adopt all the breakthroughs statisticians have made. But there are some things that go on between players and in clubhouses that they can help shed some light on sometimes. I thought the sign-stealing thing was such a case.

        • jsbrendog

          while in theory you may be right, and in theory i might agree with you, every former player turned analyst begs to differ with their idiotic commentary and complete mind boggling lack of knowledge about baseball

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          We’re just razzing you a little. It’ll pass.

          And, for the record, I believe you when you say that you don’t truly think you need to have played the game to be able to analyze it, but that’s what you said initially. Those words were your introduction to us here at RAB. You’ve gotta do some smart commenting to undo that initial dumb commenting to allow people some counter-evidence to forget that slip-up.

          But like I said, we’re razzing you. It happens. Chin up.

          Welcome aboard.

          • JD NYC

            Sucker! competitive violence (experience), that’s why you’re (I’m) here!

    • JMK aka The Overshare

      +273

      • Tom Zig

        +0º C

        • JMK aka The Overshare

          =Intelligent Design??!!

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            By his noodly appendage…

      • The Lodge

        icwudt

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      “…it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science.”

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V83JR2IoI8k (safe)

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siYKRL4I3UA JobaWockeeZ

      Love it.

  • pete

    I think Girardi’s biggest strength as a manager is his ability to see long term over short term. You rarely see him manage a game as if the season depends on it, simply throwing out the best guy because it’s close or something. I think he saw from the beginning that the bullpen was deep in talent, and the team would be insanely awesome even if the bullpen struggled in the beginning, and he distributed innings very well all season. Now there isn’t a single reliever out there who has been overused or particularly underused.

    The other thing is, while people have questioned his occasional using 3 guys to get 4 outs, I actually like this style. Firstly because the combinations of guys he uses in the situations always gives him the best chance, percentage-wise, of successfully navigating the situation (I would argue that ace-coke-krob-marte will get the job done more often than any single one of those guys, and of course the team’s numbers back it up), but also because he gets the guys who aren’t going to be as effective getting 3-4 outs as 1-2 (in other words, everyone but Mo, Phil, and Ace) used to pitching about 5 times a week without getting abused at all. Throwing 20+ pitches in 3 straight games might blow your arm out, throwing 10 pitches in 3 straight games probably won’t.

    Sure there have been a few games where, looked at in isolation, Girardi has made “the wrong call,” but looked at in context not only with their neighboring games, but in the context of the season as a whole, his moves have made sense. Anybody could have said ace for the 7th, phil for the 8th, mo for the 9th whenever we have the lead and have an amazing bullpen era, but this team has the lead a lot. by mid-august those guys would be toast, and everyone else would be underused and ineffective. Now, heading into october, you can use those guys in those situations and be confident that they are at full effectiveness, and also, should the situation dictate it (down a run/extra innings/whenever else), you have many more usable pieces.

    As for the common PeteAbe complaint about the underuse of phil hughes, i personally think his low workload is an organizational decision to protect him. Girardi is great about not abusing his bullpen pitchers, but the nature of the bullpen is unhealthy for an arm to begin with. No matter what, even with Girardi, work is going to be irregular, warmup routines get cut down, and every pitch is thrown with maximum intensity. Phil hughes’s arm is more valuable than the 2 or 3 games we might have lost because we didn’t pitch him.

  • Jamie G.

    The Yanks will be fine as long as we dont see Coke on the mound in October. Coke looks like he is going to shit himself every time he is on the mound. He is out there waiting for the disaster he knows he will cause. Joba should get Coke’s spot on the postseason roster.

  • Amol

    Some credit for this should also go to Brian Cashman, who did a great job in constructing a bullpen with a lot of minor league options. The ability to replace players who weren’t working out with a minimum of roster shuffling turned out to be invaluable this season.

  • Sleepy Carl

    Pretty awesome that Hughes has the highest WAR of any relief pitcher (not that this for 1 second makes me think he should be in the pen next year).

  • Gatorglory

    “…if they’re willing to start CC in Game 4 of the ALCS on three days’ rest…”

    What? They’re guaranteed to take the longer series. In that case, CC would pitch Wednesday (Game 1) and Monday (Game 4), on normal rest.