Bullpen management extends beyond one game (or, DMORM)

(Frank Franklin II/AP)

Predictably, the complaints came rolling in last night. Joe Girardi used his second best reliever for a second straight day in order to preserve a four-run lead. When Rafael Soriano went on to essentially blow the game, the outrage was equally predictable. Girardi’s bullpen management had struck again, costing the Yankees a game they seemingly had in the bag.

Yesterday represented the first opportunity fans had to first- and second-guess the manager. It will hardly be the last. A field manager has hundreds, even thousands, of decisions to make every season. It is inevitable that he will screw up on multiple occasions. The better ones make fewer mistakes than their peers, but even the best will blunder and cost their teams games.

Thinking about it in stat nerd terms, this is akin to replacement level. There is a baseline for decision making — that is, there is a certain level of blundering that all managers will reach during the course of the season. We can essentially forget about that, since you can find a random manager on the street who will still make those errors of judgment. A manager’s on-field value lies in his ability to stay as close to that baseline as possible. Let’s call it Decision Making Over Replacement Manager. I think that Girardi’s is quite high.

When we question a manager’s moves, we’re mainly focusing on the micro. That is, the moves we feel are correct count for that game and that game only. Maybe it takes immediate past and immediate future games into account — part of the reason for disliking Girardi’s use of Soriano is that he pitched yesterday, and there’s a game tomorrow — but it doesn’t take into account the management of an entire season. That’s something that Girardi, or any manager, has to consider when he makes his moves. While he’s managing to win the game, he’s also managing to win throughout the season. In the last three years, Girardi has shown that he’s very good with long-term management.

While the bullpens during Girardi’s tenure have typically gotten off to slow starts, they’ve always finished among the best in the league. When we get to long stretches of games in August and September, he always has a fresh, quality reliever to use in a tight spot. That’s because he does a good job of managing each pitcher’s workload throughout the season. This stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, Joe Torre, who went only with his favorites. Questioning his decisions was one thing, because it seemed as though every year he’d tire out his best relievers and ended up with a bare cupboard later in the season. This just has not been the case with Girardi.

This isn’t to say that I agreed with the use of Soriano there. After the game Girardi explained that the idea was to use Soriano in his normal role, the eighth inning, so that he could hand the ball to David Robertson, and not Mariano Rivera, in the ninth. I guess that means he had more faith in Soriano than Robertson to pitch a scoreless inning. You can agree or disagree with that logic — I don’t much like it, for the record. But this is just one of many decisions that go into a season’s worth of bullpen management.

Maybe another manager wouldn’t have made this specific mistake. But he might err in other areas that make it tougher for him to manage an entire 162-game season. During the last three years Girardi has proven that, while he makes odd decisions at inopportune times, in the long view he takes care of his bullpen. That’s all that’s really important. His individual decisions might set us off, but his overall decision making, as proven in three years, has been well above his peers.

If you want some proof, watch another game for an extended stretch and see how their manager deals with bullpen management. Read another team’s blog for a while — we have a growing list of team blogs that we use as a resource. You’ll see plenty of instances where the manager’s decision gets questioned. Yet few of these managers have the track record that Girardi has when it comes to managing a bullpen during a full season. That is, in the long run, Girardi’s DMORM is higher than that of his peers.

When Rafael Soriano showed up on my TV screen last night, I scratched my head. Why use him there, with a four-run lead, when Robertson had been warming up the previous inning? But then I appreciated Girardi’s refusal to take a four-run lead for granted. Then I remembered his long-run track record during the past three years. It all made the decision easier to bear. I might not have liked it. You might not have liked it. But given what he’s done with the bullpen in the last three years, I’m not about to complain about one game. It seems kind of silly, given what we know about the bigger picture.

2011 Season Preview: Joe Girardi & Co.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Two years ago, it all clicked. The rebuilt starting rotation was one of the league’s most effective units, the offense was devastating, and the bullpen corps was deep and effective. Joe Girardi didn’t have to do much managing and his coaching staff didn’t have to do much coaching, they just rode their talent to the World Championship. It’s easy to look good when you have that team playing for you.

Last year was a little different. The rotation, stronger on paper than it was going into the 2009 season, fell apart at the seams down the stretch. The offense still led the world in on-base percentage and (not coincidentally) runs scored, but several notable players had down years. That the Yankees still won 95 games and were two wins away from the World Series is pretty remarkable. After the season, the Yankees rewarded both Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long with new three-year contracts. Pitching coaching Dave Eiland was replaced with Larry Rothschild, but the rest of the staff came back intact.

Ben put best when he previewed Girardi last year, so allow me to excerpt…

In that sense, Girardi is a fairly average manager. He changes pitchers as we would expect; he bunts a little less than we might expect him to; he doesn’t need pinch hitters and doesn’t use them often at all. Yet, he has gotten a handle on the media, and he knows what it takes — a trope really — to win in New York. He has made nice with the sportswriters who cover the team after a rough first year, and he has commanded the respect of his players, including the four with whom he was teammates not too long ago.

On the flip side, though, Joe Girardi doesn’t need to do much to manage the Yankees. He has the pieces to make up a great team, and it doesn’t take an expert strategist to know that A-Rod should bat clean-up, that Derek Jeter should leadoff, that CC Sabathia should be the ace, that Mariano Rivera will close games. It’s the Joe Torre argument all over again: All Girardi has to do is make sure everyone gets along well and no pitcher is overworked.

All of that applies again in 2011, though perhaps the decision to bat Jeter leadoff isn’t as obvious as it was twelve months ago. Penciling Andruw Jones‘ name into the lineup against left-handers and properly deploying not one, but two lefty relief specialists is the extent of the strategic managing Girardi has to do. Given all of the information we don’t know (who’s banged up, etc.), quibbling with those decisions is a fruitless endeavor. Girardi is no longer a lame duck manager and in reality he never really was. He was hand-picked for the job by Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner three years ago, and his job is secure as ever. All he has to do is not screw it up, and the last three seasons suggest he won’t.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Long has drawn rave reviews for his work with pretty much every hitter in the lineup, most notably Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, though Jeter is his latest project. They haven’t revamped his swing, just shortened his stride, and the early returns in Spring Training are promising. Eiland spent a month away from the team last summer for undisclosed personal reasons, an issue that may or may not have led to his departure. “He knows why [he wasn’t brought back],” said Cashman. “He was given conditions that needed to be followed. So he knows why.”

Rothschild, the bullpen coach for the 1990 World Champion Reds and pitching coach for the 1997 World Champion Marlins, came over from the Cubs after spending seven years on Chicago’s north side. During his tenure, the Cubbies had the third best overall pitching staff (4.18 FIP) in the National League, and their starting rotation (4.15 FIP) was the the best in the league and third in all of baseball, behind the Red Sox (4.11) and Yankees (4.12). He has a reputation as a guy that helps his pitchers maximize strikeouts and reduce walks, two very welcome traits for a pitching staff that was just middle-of-the-pack with a 2.14 K/BB ratio last year.

His biggest project in 2011 will be getting A.J. Burnett back on track following a dreadful season. The two met at Burnett’s home over the winter, and so far Rothschild has him working on being more compact in his delivery and direct to the plate, modifications that have been on display in camp. Beyond A.J., he’ll have to coax quality innings out of Bartolo Colon and/or Freddy Garcia until a more suitable pitcher(s) is acquired. That may take a minor miracle, but Colon has thrown the snot out of the ball in camp so far.

By all accounts, the Yankees’ clubhouse is an upbeat and welcoming environment, something that wasn’t necessarily true a few years ago. Sabathia and Nick Swisher helped change that, certainly, but the it all starts at the top with Girardi and his coaching staff. It’s always tough to evaluate those guys because so much of their work happens behind the scenes, but given the team’s success over the last two years, it’s tough to think they’re not up to the challenge of another run at the World Series.

Minor Notes: Sojo, Tyson, Injuries

Got some minor league news to pass along this afternoon, so let’s round it up bullet point style…

  • The AP reports that Luis Sojo has been named the manager of the two-time defending High-A Florida State League champion Tampa Yankees for the 2011 season. The best bad utility infielder ever managed the club from 2006 through 2009 before leaving the team for an unknown reason last February.
  • Meanwhile, former Tampa Yanks manager Torre Tyson has been re-assigned and is now the organization’s minor league defensive coordinator, whatever that means.
  • Chad Jennings got a bunch of minor league injury updates from VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. Eduardo Nunez, who fouled a ball off his face a few weeks ago, is a-okay and will be 100% by the time Spring Training begins.
  • David Adams, who rocked the Double-A Eastern League to the tune of a .403 wOBA before suffering an ankle injury in May, is healthy and will be ready to start the season. I suspect he’ll go back to Trenton, he only had 173 plate appearances there before the injury.
  • Jeremy Bleich is unlikely to be ready to start the season on time after having surgery to repair a torn labrum last summer.
  • Caleb Cotham has nearly as many surgeries (two, knee and labrum) as professional appearances (three), but he’s throwing again following the shoulder procedure. His status for the start of the season is unknown right now.
  • Reegie Corona won’t be healthy enough to start the season after breaking his arm in a collision last summer, and he’ll likely to serve as a DH when he eventually does come back. That’s a shame, because he owns a .328 wOBA in his last 2,554 plate appearances. Corona is on the 40-man roster (for whatever reason), so they Yankees could stick him on the 60-day DL to free up a roster spot. He’ll accrue service time while on the DL, which isn’t really the issue, but the team will have to pay him a big league salary compared to his puny minor league compensation.
  • And finally, remember Carmen Angelini? He missed all of last season with hip issues but is healthy and expected to start the 2011 season … somewhere. The kid had a lot to work on before even before the injury (.270 wOBA in 889 pro plate appearances), so he mind wind up back in Extended Spring Training.

Yankees finalize 2011 coaching staff

The Yankees announced today that with the exception of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the coaching staff will return intact for the 2011 season. Tony Pena will handle bench coach duties while Mike Harkey oversees the bullpen, and Mick Kelleher and Robbie Thomson will coach first and third bases, respectively. Hitting coach Kevin Long signed his new three-year deal not long after the season ended. Dave Eiland being replaced was a surprise, but otherwise everyone was expected to return.

Larry Rothschild named new Yankee pitching coach

Larry Rothschild, the new Yankee pitching coach, signals the start of the Cubs Spring Training in 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Updated (5:20 p.m.): The Yankees have signed 37-year Major League vet Larry Rothschild to serve as the club’s pitching coach. Rothschild, who most recently had served as the Cubs’ pitching coach from 2002-2010, served as a coach on two World Series teams: the 1990 Reds where he served as the bullpen coach and the 1997 Marlins where he worked as the pitching coach.

“Larry will be a welcome addition to our pitching staff. He comes with an impressive resume as a former Major League manager and a world champion pitching coach. He has a great reputation with his players, who know they can trust him and rely on him to put them in a position to succeed,” said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman.

Rothschild, 56, seems to be a strike out-oriented coach. His Cubs clubs led the majors with 11,604 strike outs over the last nine seasons, and set a Major League record with 1404 K’s in 2003. He signed with the Reds as a non-drafted free agent in 1975 and spent 11 years in the minors. He made just seven career relief appearances with Detroit in 1981 and 1982 and allowed 5 earned runs on 8 hits and 8 walks while striking out just one in 8.1 innings. His coaching career has been far more successful.

His first job on the bench came with the Reds where he served as a roving minor league instructor for four seasons before he joined the club in Cincinnat as the bullpen coach. He was a Reds pitching coach from 1992-1993, worked with the Marlins in the same capacity from 1995-1997 and managed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from their inaugural season in 1998 through April 18, 2001.

“Larry brings a wealth of invaluable experience to our team and to our pitching staff,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a championship pitching coach, and I’m excited to add Larry’s abilities to our staff. He is above all else an excellent teacher, who brings a professional attitude and a keen sense of preparation to his craft. I’m very much looking forward to working with him moving forward.”

Rothschild: A.J. can still be ‘very effective’

During an press conference with reporters shortly after the announcement, Rothschild spoke about the hiring process and his views on the Yanks’ pitching staff. Cashman put the candidates through a rigorous interview process which included approximately eight hours of video including two A.J. Burnett appearances and a CC Sabathia and a Phil Hughes appearance.

Rothschild spoke specifically of the need to straighten out Burnett. “I think he can be a very effective Major League pitcher,” the new pitching coach said. He certainly has his work cut out for him in that regard.

GM Meetings Notes: Pettitte, Aldred, Peterson

"Tell Derek we'll give him a G4. A G6 is out of the question." (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The annual General Manager Meetings officially start tomorrow in Orlando, though the hot stove is a 24 hours-a-day league. Most of the items on this week’s agenda involve off-the-field stuff like rules and the draft and what not, but of course there will be rumors. Oh yes, there will be rumors. Here’s what Brian Cashman had to say this evening (sources in parenthesis)…

  • There’s still no word as to whether or not Andy Pettitte plans to pitch in 2011 (Jon Paul Morosi). Pettitte recently indicated that if he does pitch next season, it will be his last. Don’t go yet, Andy.
  • Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Scott Aldred will interview for the team’s vacant pitching coach position later this week (Marc Carig). Leo Mazzone is not a candidate for the job after turning them down about five years ago. You might remember that the long-time Braves’ pitching guru said he’s interested in the job a few weeks ago. He’s been out of the game for three seasons now.
  • Cashman would neither confirm nor deny that former Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson is a candidate for the Yankee job (Anthony McCarron). The Brewers canned Peterson on Monday, unsurprising after hiring a new manager. The official RAB stance is a “no” on Peterson, who’s a big time control freak and hasn’t done much of anything since getting away from those three great arms with the Athletics half-a-decade ago. Then again, it’s not easy for fans to evaluate pitching coaches since basically all of their work goes on behind the scenes.
  • Cash hopes to bring the rest of the coaching staff back intact, though Mike Harkey could end up in the dugout as the pitching coach rather than out beyond the right-centerfield wall as bullpen coach (Chad Jennings). Hitting coach Kevin Long already agreed to a fat new deal, so that leaves Harkey, bench coach Tony Pena, first base coach Mick Kelleher, and third base coach Rob Thomson. Both Pena and Thomson have been mentioned as managerial candidates elsewhere, but those jobs are quickly going to other people.
  • The Yankees don’t think that Derek Jeter would ultimately decide to leave the New York, but they’re preparing themselves for a long and presumably grueling negotiation (Jon Heyman). Would it be wise for Jeter to wait this one out and let some other free agents sign to take away the team’s back-up plans? Who else is there anyway?
  • “I’m not optimistic that we’re going to get anything done from a Yankees perspective,” said Cashman (Bryan Hoch). “Maybe we will from an industry perspective. From a Yankee perspective, we’ll gather as much information as we can, but I don’t think there’s anything close enough for us to act on.” Doesn’t sound like he expects them to pull off any big trades or sign any free agents this week, but remember that the wheels of the Curtis Granderson trade were first put into motion at least year’s GM Meetings

And finally, congrats to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman for winning the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award, given for distinguished service in minor league player development. Given the monster year the farm system had, he deserves it. A job well done.