Yesterday, during the bottom half of the 11th inning and with the score tied, 4-4, Joe Girardi decided to replace David Robertson with Alfredo Aceves. Robertson had already retired both Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales, two of LA’s more dangerous hitters, and he seemed poised to dispose of the third batter, Howie Kendrick, who had already tripled and hit a homer run earlier in the game. However, Robertson would not get that chance, as Girardi—apparently influenced by something within his neatly organized blue binder of information—hurried to the mound in order to make a pitching change. Given a specific scouting report on Kendrick (or a series of reports), the Aceves-Kendrick pairing seemed like a more effective option to Girardi, despite Robertson’s stellar work out of the bullpen for the first two outs.
Of course, as we all know, Girardi’s decision to bring in Aceves ended up backfiring on both him and the Yankees. Kendrick quickly singled and then scored the winning run after the almighty Jeff Mathis hit a walk-off double out to left-center. The Rally Monkey strikes again. Now, while the game is certainly over, questions remain as to why Girardi chose Aceves over Robertson? What did he see in his blue binder that ultimately forced his hand? In order to better understand the decision, I turn to Frankie Piliere (Fanhouse), a former scout with the Texas Rangers. Here’s his take on the controversial call that many will argue cost the Yankees a commanding 3-0 lead in the ALCS.
The obvious question is what exactly was in that book? Well, let’s take it from the top. Robertson, a right-hander, throws a fastball at 91-94 mph with what scout’s like to a call late hop. He likes to change eye levels and gets swings and misses up with the fastball and down with his plus 12-6 curveball. He has back-end-of-the-’pen type stuff.
Aceves, on the other hand, has more of a starter’s approach, pitching to contact with a number of pitches to which he can turn. He has mostly been working at 89-91 with the fastball in recent outings, but what is concerning is the feel for his secondary pitches. In his playoff outings, his breaking balls have been elevated, often backing up on him over the plate.
So, what was Girardi’s line of thinking? He’s unlikely to read off his scouting report to the media, but it obviously came down to the advanced scouting. The Yankees have had fits with Howie Kendrick since he arrived in the big leagues, mainly because they just can’t seem to be able to get inside on him. With that in mind, it looked like with Aceves they were hoping to get him out away with soft stuff on pitches moving to the outside. Keep in mind that, just innings earlier, he had pounded a 96-mph fastball off of Joba Chamberlain for a triple.
Kendrick is a hitter that needs to be attacked with patterns and a mix of speeds. He pounds the fastball, and especially against New York, doesn’t seem to let many mistakes get by him. All three of his hits on Monday came off some kind of fastball — cutters from Pettitte and Aceves and straight heat from Chamberlain. Robertson tends to let the fastball ride high with his four-seamer, and with Kendrick’s approach it’s likely the Yankee manager sensed a repeat of his at-bat against Chamberlain.
These are all interesting insights that can be further examined. Essentially, according to Piliere, Girardi brought in Aceves because, as a former starter, he knows how to mix his pitches and change speeds, whereas Robertson is more of a fastball, curveball reliever that will try to sneak a high fastball by batters for a strikeout (along with the low curve). However, Kendrick does, indeed, love the fastball—pitch value data agrees—and he had already made an example out of Joba Chamberlain’s fastball during the 7th inning (and Joba’s pitch is considered more overpowering than Robertson’s). Therefore, approaching Kendrick with a different set of tools might have enticed Girardi. With Aceves’ repertoire featuring a fastball, cutter, curveball, and changeup, perhaps Girardi thought that this particular combination of pitches would prove more effective if located properly (i.e., away from Kendrick).
The pitch-by-pitch data (Gameday) seems to be in congruence with this notion, as Aceves threw Kendrick three 89-91 mph cutters to the outer edge of the zone in an attempt to induce a ground ball or soft fly. The cutters weren’t necessarily “soft stuff,” which works against Piliere’s theory, yet the location and the movement were away from Kendrick, rather than on the inner part of the plate (as Piliere suggested). Aceves could not perform effectively, though. His command was poor and Kendrick took advantage of a misplaced cutter that sat in the middle of the zone, sending it directly by Aceves’ outstretched glove for a clutch single.
This, then—the pitching style employed by Alfredo Aceves—explains why Girardi thought it best for Aceves, not Robertson, to face Kendrick (Robertson has a slider that he could have used, but he rarely ever throws it). At least now, with this information from Piliere and assuming that it’s somewhat accurate, there is a better understanding of what Girardi was attempting to do. Still, while his decision-making is made clearer given Piliere’s analysis, Piliere himself seems to believe that Girardi should have exercised better judgment when weighing a season’s worth of scouting reports comparing pitcher and hitter styles versus a reliever’s most recent performances.
Regardless of the scouting report favoring Aceves’ style against Kendrick, it’s questionable whether a scouting report should trump the consideration of recent performances. Robertson has been free and easy of late, getting through his fastball, getting to the outside corner on righties, and commanding his sharp breaking ball. Aceves has been quite the opposite, looking tentative in recent outings and appearing to push his breaking ball. Many will call out Girardi for relying on the scouting report rather than having a feel for how his current pitcher is looking and conversely how shaky Aceves has looked lately.
Bob Klapisch (The Record) offered a similar view late last night. “[N]o one ever said he was blessed with the gift of tuition,” noted Klapisch about Girardi. “Girardi instead lives safely within the margins, protecting himself with numbers. Managers who choose this path never have to believe their own eyes, which is why Girardi could ignore the fact that Robertson had dominated Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales for the first two outs in the 11th.” Both, Klapisch and Piliere are stating that Girardi failed to consider recent context—immediate context in this case—choosing, instead, to allow a lifeless scouting report to guide his final call. However, as with any analysis—let’s be clear, Girardi’s decision was an on-the-spot analysis—one should aim to use all manners of data present, whether they be quantitative (scouting reports) or qualitative (recent performance). For Girardi, he mistakenly chose only the former.
In the end, I think most of us would agree that Girardi made a bad decision. His strict adherence to a specific type of data likely hurt the team’s chances in Game 3. But, to be fair, that does not mean he is a bad manager. Furthermore, that also does not mean that the Yankee players, and their fans, should continue to dwell on the move, especially since the team’s offense was the main culprit for last night’s loss. Today is a new day and the Bombers still hold a 2-1 advantage in the series. With 4 games left to play before a winner is decided, that’s all that really matters.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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