New York Yankees: Is Joe Girardi the Problem?
Last night's 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays could not only be pinned on an ineffective start by C.C. Sabathia, but one can also look no further than the manager as to who was responsible for the key setback.
This season has been a series of high peaks (a 20-7 June record) and deep valleys (5-7 in September so far) for the "Bombers." In each case, manager Joe Girardi has been a responsible leader in either giving credit to those contributing wins, or accepting blame for the frustrating losses.
Yesterday's game is a microcosm of the entire season, and coming out of it are several questions as to why Girardi chose to do (or not do) moves that led directly to failure.
Taking a look at his decisions against Tampa may reveal why Yankee fans are frustrated with their manager's performance.
Russell Martin is a gritty, wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve type of player. At times he can be very clutch, both on the field and at the plate, however he is hitting .208 for the season.
Why is he batting fifth in the lineup?
Is it because he can hit with runners in scoring position? A look at the statistics shows that Martin is hitting .226 with RISP, so that clearly isn't the reason. He isn't going to strike fear into any opposing pitcher—certainly not last night's Rays starter David Price—and therefore, he isn't going to provide protection to the number four hitter Robinson Cano.
Joe Girardi is known for relying on statistics (rather than "feel") for guiding his moves on the field and in the lineup. Often he has been referred to as "Binder Joe" or "Looseleaf Joe" because of the frequency that he'll refer to situational stats during a game as a guide. He follows the unwritten rule of Lefty/Righty and Righty/Lefty pitcher verses batter match ups to a fault.
Why then, last night, with one out and the tying run on base, and right-handed Fernando Rodney on the mound did the Yankees manager leave Martin in the game to bat?
At the time, he had left-handers Ichiro Suzuki (one of the games all-time great hitters), Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez on the bench. He also had catchers Francisco Cervelli (better hitter, equivalent fielder) and Chris Stewart (acquired for defensive reasons) ready to take the field in the ninth, if needed.
By now, you know the result. Martin swung on a pitch that couldn't have been reached if he was holding a 60-inch bat for the third strike, and after a Raul Ibanez walk, Curtis Granderson grounded out to leave the runner stranded at second base.
With the team still down by just a run, Girardi's decision to leave Martin in the game would continue to haunt the team in the top of the ninth as a stolen base (one of two in that frame) by the Rays, would lead to yet another run after a two-out error by shortstop Eduardo Nunez—leading us to our next point.
Eduardo Nunez is a decent hitter. He carries a .306 batting average and has decent speed (stealing seven bases in nine attempts).
Eduardo Nunez is a horrible fielder.
In 2011, he committed 14 errors in 50 games at shortstop, and this season he has two errors in eight games for the Yankees.
Jayson Nix has played in 18 games at short for the "Bombers" this season—committing just one error in 59 chances.
In the top of the ninth inning, with the game still hanging in the balance and the team down by just one run, Joe Girardi had Eduardo Nunez at shortstop and Jayson Nix on the bench (team captain and legend Derek Jeter was DH for the game).
With two outs and a runner at second base, and Joba Chamberlain pitching decently on the mound, Nunez let a ground ball off the bat of Evan Longoria eat him up and slip into the outfield, allowing a key insurance run to score.
In such a tight game, with a division lead hanging in the balance, wouldn't you want your best fielders on the diamond?
Prior to the All-Star game, reliever Cody Eppley was having a very good season for the Yankees. Through his first 29 appearances he held a 2.70 ERA and was limiting opposing batters to a .241 average at the plate.
Since then he has been ineffective at best, pitching to a 4.74 ERA and allowing a .303 batting average to hitters he has faced. Eppley has allowed one run in 10 of the last 20 games he has appeared.
Last night was no different.
Girardi has continued to go to the reliever in spite of his poor second half performance, and against Tampa Bay he allowed a home run to B.J. Upton on a 0-2 count leading off the eighth inning.
It turned out to be the game winning run.
B.J. Upton is hitting .600 against Cody Eppley and is hitting .125 against David Robertson—the Yankees eighth inning specialist—who was not used last night.
Why did Girardi not use Robertson in such a key game?
He might tell you it was because "D-Rob" was used in each of the two previous games against the Red Sox. The thing is, Robertson threw a total of 15 pitches in those games (including just three in the most recent one).
Perhaps the manager has lost some confidence in his eighth inning guy because clearly he hasn't been as effective as in seasons past. Even so, he still has pitched better than Eppley (3.00 ERA for Robertson in second half). The decision to go to Eppley instead of Robertson in such an important game leaves many fans scratching their heads.
Since game one, when Joe Girardi had pitcher C.C. Sabathia intentionally walk Sean Rodriguez with two outs and two men on, in the first inning, to face left-hander Carlos Pena, the manager's decisions have been suspect at best (Pena subsequently hit a grand slam and the Rays went on to win 7-6).
Unless the club can find a way around those questionable moves—as they did in 2009—the team is destined to yet another short post-season (should they reach the post-season), and Girardi may very well find himself escorted out of the Bronx.