When yesterday’s lineup came out, fans started complaining immediately. Wally Matthews echoed these complaints in a piece he penned for ESPN-NY and it provides a good jumping off point for this discussion.
No Alex Rodriguez? No Brett Gardner? Berkman at first in place of Mark Teixeira? Kearns starting in left?
If it wasn’t for the name “Jeter” appearing where it is just about every day, at the top of the list, it would have been difficult to determine at first glance that this was a Yankees lineup card at all.
That was just the beginning of a strange day for Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is always concerned about resting his horses and somehow—on this day, in this game, against this team at this point in the season—chose to rest three of them. (Teixeira technically got only a half-day’s rest, but still.)
Worse than that, he went and defeated his own purpose by using Rodriguez to bat for Kearns in the seventh, necessitating that he also rouse Gardner from his day of rest because he now needed a left fielder.
…So how Girardi—a manager who prides himself on the mastery of statistics and tendencies and spray charts and matchups—could choose to send out the B team against an A opponent is a mystery not even he could fully explain.
“I’m just playing so I don’t blow somebody out,’’ he practically shouted after the game when asked about his lineup. “I had talked about giving Alex a day off, and I can’t play Tex 37 out of 38 days or I’m gonna break him down. People they’re gonna question it, but I gotta think about the long haul.’‘
A few things here. First, this is nothing new. Braves fans complained for years about Bobby Cox’s “Sunday lineups” while they won division after division every year. Mets fans grumbled about Mike Piazza never playing a day game after a night game under Bobby V. Tony LaRussa often rests multiple regulars if the team has already won the first two games of a series. Every good, winning manager I can think of does some version of this. On the flip side, Willie Randolph played all of his regulars down the stretch in 2007 and the team collapsed. Joe Torre had a teams that took April and May off, put the pedal to the metal down the stretch and were spent by the time they got to October, getting blown out in the ALDS in 06 and 07 by lesser competition. The Yanks are designed to make the playoffs each year, so they play the regular season with an eye on October. I know games facing the Rays seem much more important to most fans, but the reality is they’re just another game off the schedule.
Next, are Gardner/Kearns or Teixeira/Berkman really such big downgrades that they’re going to feel in a single game? Lets take a look:
Gardner: 119 OPS+ in 2010, 98 OPS+ (3 year)
Kearns: 114 OPS+ in 2010, 85 OPS+ (3 year)
Teixeira: 132 OPS+ in 2010, 146 OPS+ (3 year)
Berkman: 115 OPS+ in 2010, 142 OPS+ (3 year)
Facing a righthander like Shields, Berkman (.860 OPS 2010/1.014 OPS career) has actually been better than Tex (.806 OPS 2010/.909 OPS career). Alex to Ramiro Pena is obviously a big drop off, but it was for 2 measly ABs. Tex was in the lineup as DH, and while they missed his glove at 1B on a few plays that didn’t decide this game. James Shields being on top of his game and having his change up working beautifully did. Anyone who watched Alex’s ABs the previous two games in Tampa knows why Joe sat him. He was visibly getting frustrated at himself and umpires and badly expanding the strike zone, swinging at pitches way off the plate. Fans asked “why not sit Alex during the CLE series? Because he was having good ABs in that series, but clearly the chase for 600 started to wear on him facing better pitching in a big series against the Rays. Right move by Joe, let Alex sit and clear his head.
As much as we may wish all that players were robots who can play everyday, the fact of the matter is that the Baseball season is a grind. You’re playing games almost everyday for 8 straight months from March through (hopefully) October, spending most of your down time working out and traveling, sometimes coast to coast. Ever take a flight from NY to LA? Can you sleep on a plane? I know I can’t. The Rays starting 5 (which have been key to their success this year) have logged 65% of the innings pitched by the team. Let’s see how those arms feel come October, particularly staff ace David Price. He threw a career high 162.1 innings last year, and should be well over 200 by the end September this year. Having enough talent on your roster to be able to rest your regulars is a luxury the Yanks enjoy that most of their competition does not. It’s a competitive advantage come October, you’d be silly to throw it away for a game in August.
Mo summed things up nicely on his Twitter last night:
Maybe the Yankees didnt rest people against Cleveland bc the options to fill in were Juan Miranda and Thames, not Berkman and Kearns.
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