Oct
29

The at-bat that sealed the game

By

For seven innings last night, CC Sabathia kept the Yankees in the game. After a rough first inning he settled down, hurt only by a pair of Chase Utley home runs. But, because he’d done such a good job of keeping the Phillies off the base paths, they were both solo home runs. Unfortunately, with Cliff Lee in his groove, it would take a serious offensive effort just to make up those two runs.

What the Yankees needed was for the bullpen to keep it a two-run game so that maybe, just maybe the offense could pull off a late-inning rally. That did not happen. Phil Hughes walked the first two batters he faced, and while Damaso Marte did his job, David Robertson failed to record the inning’s final out without allowing the Phillies to extend the lead.

His first opponent was Jayson Werth. With a righty on righty matchup, this is the guy the Yanks wanted to retire. Robertson started him with a fastball that ended up a bit low for ball one. To the fastball he went, and he missed three straight times for a four-pitch walk. But did he really miss? As pitchf/x records it, the second and third pitches of the at-bat were strikes. The second pitch was debatable, hanging up at the top of the zone, a place where umpires don’t always call strikes. But the third pitch was right there, a 93 mph fastball that came in a bit high, but certainly within the zone’s confines.

Robertson then missed badly for ball four, a fastball low, loading the bases for Raul Ibanez. Girardi could have gone to Phil Coke, but with three righties following Ibanez, and considering Robertson’s favorable splits against lefties, it was probably the right move to leave him in the game. Robertson then went to work, and he set up Ibanez nicely.

The first pitch he kissed the low, outside corner with a fastball for strike one. He then tossed another low fastball that missed the bottom of the zone to even the count. Keeping the ball low again, Robertson placed his third pitch, a 93 mph fastball, on the inside part of the plate for strike two. With Ibanez down in the count, he had to be prepared for the curveball, but Jorge and Robertson went back to the fastball, this one high and outside. It was a nice change of pace, and that’s going to get a swing and miss sometimes. Ibanez, though, managed to foul it off.

With the count still 1-2, and with Ibanez having seen four straight fastballs, Posada and Robertson went to the curve. It missed by a decent margin, though, evening the count at 2-2. I’m not sure if they were going for the swing and miss, or just poor contact, but again Posada called for the curveball and set up on the low outside corner.

Robertson delivered, and Ibanez bounced one through the hole on the right side for a two-run single that opened up the game for the Phillies. The pitch was supposed to stay away, but as you can see below, Posada had to move his glove towards the middle of the plate. That allowed Ibanez to get enough of his bat head on it to get it into the outfield.

Just how much of the plate did that curve get? The pitch sequence strike zone plot from Brooks Baseball shows us.

It was low and kind of away, but not where Robertson and Posada wanted it. It was still a decent pitch, but not a great pitch. Ibanez, a good hitter, did what he could with it. Cano, playing a bit to his right, had no shot.

Had Robertson placed that pitch just slightly further outside, perhaps Ibanez would have bounced it right to Cano. He might have even swung and missed. But, because the ball was towards the middle of the plate Ibanez could handle it, and while it wasn’t the difference in the game it certainly changed the tone. Instead of being down two with six outs remaining, the Yankees were down four with the bottom of their lineup due up in the eighth.

“A game of inches” is a cliche for a reason. Robertson had done a good job setting up Ibanez, but made a small mistake on one pitch and it ended up costing them big. It’s the nature of the game, and it happens to the best of them. Just ask CC Sabathia who, after throwing three good pitches to Chase Utley in the sixth, left a fastball right over the middle of the plate.

After all this, I can’t help but wonder how the game would have unfolded if Robertson got even one of those strike calls against Werth. If he’d retired him, our moods might be different right now.

Categories : Analysis

51 Comments»

  1. You know, that’s the first time I’ve heard that phrase (“It’s a game of inches.”)

  2. Cam says:

    I know Hughes is frustrated with himself right now, but does anyone ever remember him walking off the mound this season barking at the ump? Clearly there was a lot of frustration with the ump in those later innings.

  3. the artist formerly known as (sic) says:

    fantastic screenshots. where’d you get them?

  4. Yeah, home plate up seemed to be squeezing both sides last night, just terrible both ways.

  5. Ellis says:

    Umpires seem to call balls “high” waaaay too often. Look at this page and graphic to see the definition of the strike zone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strike_zone

    The top of the strike zone is “a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the batter’s shoulders and the top of the uniform pants.” From my experience watching many games this season, any pitch that’s even slightly above the batter’s beltline is called high. Am I crazy?

    • DocBooch says:

      it’s been like that for years. About 10 years ago they got on a kick to call the high strike, but it quickly faded.

  6. DocBooch says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the sequences to Werth and Ibanez. Ibanez actually has worse numbers in his splits for righties, so leaving Robertson in was the right call in my mind.

    They could have also put that 1-2 curveball a little closer to the plate but he missed too far outside. He probably could have froze him on the outside corner. That corner that expanded all night for the Ump. Marte’s strike calls were clearly off the plate.

  7. TheLastClown says:

    My favorite baseball cliche:

    “It’s a round ball and a round bat, and you got to hit it square.”

    -Should-be HOF Pete Rose

  8. stew says:

    I know it’s unrelated, but just got a yankees/YES update text saying hairston is starting over swisher tonight… dunno if this is old or not.

  9. Fire Joe Girardi says:

    BOTH Swisher AND Posada are benched tonight. Hairston in RF.

    This is the real Clueless Joe.

  10. CubanC says:

    Hairston in for Swisher… really? I know Swish has been downright awful but Hairston? I’d rather see Hinske.

  11. DocBooch says:

    With Hairston’s numbers, he just might be Enrique Wilson re-incarnate.

  12. I’m not going to delete 15 comments right now, but to all posting about tonight’s lineup, please review the commenting guidelines. This isn’t a free-for-all race to see who can post news we already know first. If you have a tip, use the form in the sidebar. Otherwise, keep comments on topic.

  13. adeel says:

    Edited by RAB: Off topic. Deleted again. Don’t make us delete the same post a third time.

  14. DontChaKnow says:

    It would have been so nice if Roberston got him and the score stayed the same. Jeter and Damon get those 2 hits, Manuel gets nervous and puts Lidge in. Lidge faces Tex and ARod. Game Over. What if’s are the worst.

  15. D M says:

    A lefty should have faced Ibanez

  16. [...] after reading a great post by River Ave Blues about the at bat that really did the Yankees in, the one where David Robertson surrendered two RBI’s to Raul Ibanez in, I found out that maybe Hughes wasn’t getting squeezed, maybe the umpires are doing a better [...]

  17. jsbrendog says:

    technically the at bat that sealed the game was the final out

    \i’m a dick

    but it could also be utley’s 2nd hr

    \still a dick

    sorry, everything you say i agree with and is well written and well thought out but regardless of any phils at bat to me after 2 innings of getting in troubl and pitching behind in counts for cc and having 4 ks out of 5 or 6 batters I kind of had a vibe.

  18. Joe D. says:

    As Yankee fans, we casually point out a couple of god-awful calls, admit that they likely wouldn’t have made a difference, then sweep them under the bridge.

    If I was wearing my halo, I might have to headline with “Umpires Greenlight Phils Game 1 Victory”.

  19. Lanny says:

    Numbers. The book. Etc. A lefty should be facing a lefty in that situation. If you went by numbers Marte would be throwing in Tampa right now.

    Its almost like Girardi has ZERO feel for the game. Taking Pettitte out at 80 pitches. Leaving Burnett in that 7th inn. Taking RObertson out with 2 outs in the 11th.

    • Numbers. The book. Etc.

      Yes?

      A lefty should be facing a lefty in that situation.

      He should be, yes.

      If you went by numbers Marte would be throwing in Tampa right now.

      No, not at all. This makes no sense. Batshit insane. Neither by numbers, nor by any non-number type of evaluation would Marte not be on the team right now.

      Its almost like Girardi has ZERO feel for the game.

      Wrong.

      Taking Pettitte out at 80 pitches. Leaving Burnett in that 7th inn. Taking RObertson out with 2 outs in the 11th.

      All moves backed up not simply by a “numbers” approach that you decry (that isn’t real, but whatevs) but also by a “gut” approach to managing (that also isn’t real, btw.)

      OAKTAG all of this.

  20. toad says:

    Had Robertson placed that pitch just slightly further outside, perhaps Ibanez would have bounced it right to Cano. He might have even swung and missed. But, because the ball was towards the middle of the plate Ibanez could handle it,

    But isn’t there a question as to whether Ibanez “handled” it or just got lucky?

    In a way, this is your fallacy of the preordained outcome. If the pitch had been in a different place maybe Ibanez’ swing would have been different also.

    Even on the actual pitch Ibanez might have swung a millisecond earlier or later and made an out. Given that he did not hit the ball hard, how much leeway did he have on the timing?

    No, Robertson didn’t throw it exactly where Posada was set up, but I’m just wondering if this is not overanalyzing a case where the dice just came up wrong for the Yankees.

  21. 44FAN says:

    I thought it was only Angels fans that complained about umpiring calls after they have lost a game.

  22. [...] after reading a great post by River Ave Blues about the at bat that really did the Yankees in, the one where David Robertson surrendered two RBI’s to Raul Ibanez in, I found out that maybe Hughes wasn’t getting squeezed, maybe the umpires are doing a better job [...]

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