The RAB Radio Show: April 6, 2011

We all know the story with the game last night. Our emotions were flaring. Now that it’s the morning after, Mike and I try to take a more sober look at the situation. We don’t like it, but there’s plenty more to the move than whether we like or dislike it.

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Actual subways to return to Subway Race tonight

The Yanks' own subway trains are going the way of the dodo. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The Great City Subway Race has been much on our minds lately. We were shocked when Opening Day brought about changes to the race, and with Yankee-themed trains replacing the MTA’s B, D and 4 lines, we learned how the Yankees and the MTA were at odds over the race’s sponsorship. For Yankee fans who enjoy the silliness of it all, this story has a happy ending.

As Mark Feinsand reported and MTA sources confirmed to me, the B, D and 4 trains will return to the scoreboard tonight. The Yankees and MTA have settled their differences, and the race will retain its sponsorship while featuring a public service announcement urging fans to take mass transit to and from the game. For its part, the MTA said it is “glad the B, D, and Jason Zillo’s beloved 4 train are back as part of the fan experience at Yankee Stadium. The Subway Race will continue to remind fans that taking the train to the game remains the quickest and least expensive way to get to the game.”

Thus ends our long national nightmare. RIP Road Gray, Pinstripe and Midnight Blue. We hardly knew ye.

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.

Yankees manage to grab defeat from jaws of victory in second game against Twins

Bullpens blow games, even the best ones. It’s an unavoidable evil over the course of a 162-game season. If a reliever doesn’t have his best stuff and/or gets hit around a bit, fine it happens. But when the process is wrong, well then I have an issue. The Yankees were cruising for the first seven innings against the Twins on Tuesday, riding a pair of homers to for a four-run lead with their ace on the mound. Three innings later, they walked off the field losers.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Let’s talk about the bullpen (usage)

We all know what happened. Staked to a four-run lead in the eighth inning, Joe Girardi handed the ball off to Rafael Soriano for reasons unknown. I mean, what part of having a lead that size that late in the game with the bottom of the order due up says “I need to use my $10M+ a year setup man who just pitched yesterday without his normal velocity right now?” Soriano allowed four of the six men he faced to reach base (three on walks), and then David Robertson allowed the tying runs to score on a well-placed bloop double. The bloop happens, I’m okay with that, but the usage of Soriano is a complete head-scratcher.

For whatever reason, Girardi didn’t have the confidence in Robertson to give him the ball to start the inning. In fact, he hasn’t shown much confidence in him at all this season. Robertson’s warmed up in all five games this year (twice in this one) but had only pitched once prior to this game. He wasn’t good enough to start the inning fresh, but he was then deemed worthy of being charged with wiggling out of the bases loaded jam later on. That’s great, that should be Robertson’s role because of his strikeout ability, but you don’t have to wait for those situations to use him.  Unsurprisingly, David’s control was shaky after so much unofficial work over the last few days and it cost them.

“Because he’s our eighth inning guy,” responded Girardi after the game when asked why he used Soriano in that spot. If it’s that simple, then what are they paying him for? A monkey can follow the cookbook. In the end, Soriano has to get those outs, back-to-back days isn’t above and beyond the call of duty. And to make matters worse, he ducked out early and didn’t speak to reporters after the game. If you’re not going to own up to it, there are going to be problems, especially when some of the other guys stood there and took the heat. Weak sauce, Rafi. Very weak sauce.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Anyway … yay Tex!

Long before the bullpen shenanigans, Mark Teixeira led a first inning offensive assault against Brian Duensing, launching a three-run homer to left after Derek Jeter walked and Nick Swisher singled. It was his fourth of the season and his first from the right side, and it came on a changeup of all things. We’re used to seeing Tex swing over top of those like it’s going out of style. Andruw Jones chipped in a solo homer one inning later, becoming the 13th Yankee since 1961 to homer in his first at-bat for the team. The last to do it? Curtis Granderson last season. Before that? How about Cody Ransom in 2008. Good times.

The 13 homers the Yankees have hit ties the franchise record for the most through the first five games of the season.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

CC = Carsten in Charge

It tells you something when a pitcher fires seven shutout innings and is visibly annoying with himself. That’s exactly what Sabathia did in this game, limiting the Twins to just two singles (in the same inning, no less) and one walk (in the first) all evening even though he was constantly shaking his head and talking to himself between pitches. He retired the last 17 Twins he faced, carving them up with a steady diet of fastballs (50 four-seamers and 19 sinkers) while mixing in the occasional slider (16), changeup (12), and curveball (seven). Minnesota batters swung-and-missed at five of those changeups, including for strike three twice. It was a vintage performance from the Yankees ace, but it’s a shame he couldn’t get a win out of it. A damn shame.

That about sums it up.

Leftovers

Four runs early, then nothing else the rest of the way. Duensing settled down and completed seven innings, allowing just two singles and a walk in his final five frames. Not for the nothing, the Yankees needed to tack some more on after scoring early runs like that. They can’t just push four across early and expect to coast to the finish like they did on Monday.

Tex and Jones were the clear offensive stars, though Jeter singled and walked (before striking out to end the game) and Swisher singled twice. The rest of the lineup combined to go 1-for-21 (Alex Rodriguez singled) with five strikeouts. That won’t get it done.

Boone Logan has faced eight batters this season and retired just three of them. Hurry back, Pedro. Chances are the only available relievers behind Freddy Garcia tomorrow night will be Joba Chamberlain, Luis Ayala, Bartolo Colon, and Logan. That’s comforting. I’m sure Robertson will warm up anyway.

Make it four straight nights with a new record low attendance at Yankee Stadium; the announced attendance was 40,267.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other neat stuff. Wheee!!!

Up Next

Garcia makes his long-awaited Yankees debut later tonight against someone New York tried to sign this offseason so they wouldn’t need a guy like Garcia: Carl Pavano. I hope he’s got seven innings in that arm.

Inside the changes to the Great City Subway Race

The Yankees have replaced the B, D and 4 trains with their own subway colors. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When Opening Day dawned at Yankee Stadium last week, fans watching the between-innings entertainment were in for a shock. The Yankees had changed the Great City Subway Race. Instead of featuring the MTA’s familiar 4, B and D trains, the subway cars were now labeled Road Gray, Midnight Blue and Pinstripes. Gone was the connection — albeit a tenuous one — to New York City.

In the ensuing days, fan response has been loud and negative. What started out on my part as an amusing look at the changes has turned into something personal for others. A group dedicated to bringing back the subway designations has popped up on Facebook and already has over 130 members. Others now find the subway race a shell of its former self. It’s just another part of the constant barrage of stadium noise.

Behind the scenes, rumors are flying. At first, it sounded as though the MTA had asked for licensing fees from the Yankees, but as I dug deeper into the behind-the-scenes goings-on, that story changed. In fact, this is a tale that has its origins in the original subway race at the new stadium.

When the Yankees first started the subway race, they asked the MTA for permission to use the transit agency’s intellectual property. The subway bullets, after all, are MTA trademarks, and the authority granted that permission, for free, as long as the Yankees did not attach a sponsor to the race. Here, the story gets a little fuzzy. The Yankees had long had Dunkin Donuts sponsoring the race; the 4 train was frequently slowed by a jelly donut in the tracks. The MTA though didn’t seem to notice a sponsor had signed on until last year when Subway took over.

Following the 2010 season, MTA sources tell me, the authority attempted to reach out to the Yankees to discuss the subway race sponsorship. At no point did the MTA ask the Yankees for money, and one person with whom I spoke said the MTA had no plans to do so. Rather, they were going to ask the Yankees to append a public service announcement to the subway race urging fans to take mass transit to the game. The Yankees though never returned the MTA’s calls, and the authority never had the chance to make this offer.

When reached for a comment, an MTA spokesperson was guarded. “The video race was considered a method to promote taking mass transit to games,” Kevin Ortiz said. ” We are disappointed the Yankees decided to change the look of the trains.” The Yankees had no comment.

So that’s where things stand right now with the subway race. I doubt we’ve heard the end of this, but the Yankees and the MTA appear to be at an impasse. I’m hoping the real subway bullets come back, but in the meantime, I think I’ll root for Pinstripes. It’s a classic look.