Joe Girardi’s Questionable Decisions in the ALCS

Let me make this clear: the Yankees were knocked out by the Tigers because they simply didn’t hit. However, there were a few head scratching decisions made by Joe Girardi, that maybe, just maybe, could have changed the flow of the game and given the Yankees a better chance at a comeback. As you may have heard by now, the Yankees never held a lead in any game this series, so Joe had a lot of managing to do from behind.

Here’s the first situation in which Girardi made a mistake: in the sixth inning of game one, Austin Jackson is on third base with one out. Due up is the heart of the order: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Delmon Young. With the lefty Andy Pettitte on the mound, Joe decides to call for a free pass to Cabrera, setting up a first and third situation. With that move, he was hoping for a double play best case scenario. Additionally, he avoided Cabrera with the belief that a lefty-lefty matchup on Fielder was ideal. The problem with this? First, it actually increased the Tigers win probability by 2.4% before any runs were scored. Minuscule you say? Well, the Tigers went on to score two runs that inning, instead of what could have only been one. In my mind, with Cabrera and Fielder due up and a runner on third, one run is going to score no matter what you try. Let them have that run (it would only be 1-0), instead of helping them towards a bigger inning.

In the same game, top seven, Girardi brought in Derek Lowe to face Miguel Cabrera while it was still 2-0. Yes, he retired Cabrera, but the next inning Lowe surrendered a home run to Delmon Young and a double by Jhonny Peralta. What was he saving David Robertson and Rafael Soriano for? He had a day to rest before. Girardi needed to keep the game as close as possible, and failed to do so. You can’t just wait and hope your team takes the lead so your best guys can hold it. Boone Logan then came in to get Andy Dirks (a fine decision), but Girardi then left him in to face the righty Avisail Garcia. Again, Girardi gets burned without using one of his best relief pitchers to keep it 3-0, and Garcia lines a base hit to make it 4-0. When he finally brought Robertson in extras after a miraculous comeback, he only used him for one inning. Why not two? He did the same with Soriano. There would only be one game the next day, and then an off day. As we know, David Phelps came in and gave up the lead for good.

For some reason, in game two, Girardi did the exact same thing with his bullpen management. With two on and two out in the eighth, and Quintin Berry due up, he brought in Logan for a lefty-lefty matchup. Didn’t he realize Jim Leyland would pinch hit a righty? Guess not. Repeat of game one: Garcia bats, delivers an RBI single. In comes Joba Chamberlain vs. Cabrera: boom, RBI single, and it’s 3-0. Once again, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano were collecting dust in the pen. Yes, there was a horrible call that inning that eventually led to Girardi’s ejection, but that doesn’t excuse poor bullpen management. Let me commend Joe for using Hiroki Kuroda on short rest, though. It worked out perfectly.

Game three: again, Girardi doesn’t use Robertson or Soriano. Lucky for him, the Tigers didn’t put any across against the Yankees bullpen. Nonetheless, Girardi made a bad no-move in the 9th. Down to their last at bat, the matchup is lefty on lefty: Phil Coke vs. Raul Ibanez. I get it, Ibanez had been the hero this postseason and delivered some incredible moments, but the fact of the matter is, Ibanez is awful vs. southpaws. In the regular season, he hit .197 against them, had a .223 wOBA and 32 wRC+. Frankly, that’s pathetic. I would have pinch hit Nick Swisher in that situation. Yes, he had an awful postseason, but he provides a better chance. If Leyland leaves in the lefty Coke, fine: Swisher had a 115 wRC+ vs. lefties. If he brought in a righty, even better: his wRC+ was 135. I wouldn’t pinch hit A-Rod there, because Leyland would go to a righty, A-Rod’s achilles heel. Let me phrase this to you in another way: let’s pretend Nick Swisher or A-Rod had played the whole game and was up to the plate in that situation vs the lefty, Coke. Would you put Ibanez up instead? No way.

By then, it didn’t even matter. Game four was a blowout and the Yankees were swept with ease. I don’t think Girardi is in any job trouble from this, but it just goes to show that managers have rough series too. Could his father’s death been a distraction throughout the series? Probably, to some extent.

It just seemed strange to me that Girardi seemingly stopped playing the matchups in this series. In the regular season, people constantly poke fun at Girardi for his binder. Here, though, he didn’t use it. Whether it was Logan against righties or not pinch hitting in an obvious situation to do so, Girardi failed to keep the games close at a time he needed to do so. Given the way the offense struggled, it was imperative to keep the games as close as possible.As for his lineups, I’m not even sure what to think. Part of me believes that he should have gone with what got the team to the playoffs – live and die with your best. Then again, part of me thinks he had no choice but to tinker with the lineup given the inability to hit. Could the benchings of A-Rod, Swisher, and Granderson put too much pressure on others like Cano? Perhaps. Was it unfair to ask for production from Brett Gardner after missing the vast majority of the season? In retrospect, probably. Are some guys more comfortable being in the same spot of the order every day? I wouldn’t doubt it.

Again, the offense deserves the vast majority of culpability. However, perhaps things may have gone differently had Girardi done a better job keeping the games within reach. One thing is for sure, though: Girardi has no control over the offensive performance. Could batting coach Kevin Long be on the chopping block? We’ll see. But again, Girardi’s job should be safe.Putting aside Girardi’s decision-making, the whole postseason just makes absolutely no sense. As Chris wrote about yesterday, the Yankees offense turned into a bunch of Ramon Santiagos. I mean, this offense scored 804 runs this season, four behind the Rangers for first place. They led the league in wRC+ at 113. Somehow, though, the offense essentially became and even worse version of the Astros or Cubs. I’ve said it a couple times throughout the playoffs: if I knew the Yankees would get this good pitching, I would have no doubt the Yankees would be winning their 28th championship. The offense was supposed to be a given. And that, of course, was simply out of Girardi’s control. It should be one of the more interesting winters in years, considering how the Yankees went down and all of the contracts that are set to expire.

Photo By Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

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