Rethinking Girardi’s ALCS bullpen approachBy
For 162 games this year, Joe Girardi had a fairly consistent bullpen approach. While the generally theory is to get the ball to Phil Hughes in the 8th and Mariano Rivera in the 9th, Joe had, through a series of mid-season auditions, figured out the best approach to the three or four outs in between the time when he removed his starting pitcher and when he brought in Hughes, and by the time early August rolled around, David Robertson had assumed the role.
Now, Robertson wasn’t given the role. He had to earn it. Early on in the season, Brian Bruney had that spot after losing the 8th to Phil Hughes, but Bruney couldn’t hold it down. After Bruney, the role was Alfredo Aceves‘ to lose, and after a shaky July brought about by some shoulder pain, Aceves lost it. It was then that David Robertson earned that position of trust, and he quickly emerged as the Yanks’ third best reliever.
On the season, Robertson had some pretty impressive numbers. He struck out 63 of the 191 batters he faced, good for a K/9 IP of 13.0. Although he walked 4.7 per 9 innings, by year’s end, he had reduced that walk rate. In the 7th, he was just as good. He faced 30 batters in the 7th inning — a small sample size for sure — but struck out 12 of them and allowed just two 7th inning runs. By most accounts, he was the Yanks’ third best reliever in 2009.
And then we have Joba Chamberlain. As we know, on the year, Joba was less than consistent and not as effective as we hoped. Sporting a lower velocity that many believe came about after his August 2008 shoulder injury and less control than we had seen in the past, Joba threw 157.1 to mixed results. He had a 4.75 ERA and a K/9 IP of just 7.6. His walk rate was up, and opponents hit .274/.363/.439 against him. By season’s end, no one really trusted him.
No one, that is, except Joe Girardi. When the playoffs rolled around, the Yanks announced that Joba would be in the bullpen, and we waited to see how Girardi would deploy Chamberlain. After watching the last few games, now we know: Joba Chamberlain will pitch before Phil Hughes in a spot customarily reserved for the team’s third best reliever.
Needless to say, Joba has disappointed. He has faced 12 batters this postseason and five of them have hits. His fastball still is topping out at around 95 and his control, as we saw yesterday, is non-existent. Robertson, meanwhile, has faced 14 batters this season and just two of them have hits. He has allowed two others to reach, but those were on intentional walks. He pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation against the Twins in the ALDS and was invaluable against the Angels during the Game 2 marathon on Saturday night.
As Girardi has gotten too cute with his pitching changes, as, in the words of Mike, he makes the game of baseball look harder than it actually is, it’s time to go back to what worked. The Bridge to Mariano should remain David Robertson in the 7th — Phil Coke is a lefty pops up — and then Phil Hughes. That approach worked during the regular season and probably would have given the Yanks a 3-0 lead yesterday. Joba hasn’t earned anyone’s trust, and should not be pitching in key situations in a close ALCS.
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As a postscript to Girardi’s approach last night: I know a lot of fans have bought the excuse that David Robertson did not match up well with Howie Kendrick. (For instance, see this defense of Girardi.) He still managed to overmanage though. If Robertson doesn’t match up well with Kendrick, then have D-Rob walk Kendrick to face Jeff Mathis, a batter who cannot handle a fastball for his life. Instead, in a tie game on the road, Girardi burned his best available reliever after all of 11 pitches. If Mathis still hits that game-winning blast, then fine. At least the Yanks go down with their best on the mound and not their 7th pitcher in 4.1 innings.