Does Joe Girardi overuse his starting pitchers?

Al Bello

Many fans have begun to think that Joe Girardi has a tendency to leave his starting pitchers in too long, adding fatigue to their arms and, often, runs to the scoreboard. But how much has this truly affected the Yankees?

The Yankees held a 3-1 lead against the Baltimore Orioles entering the seventh inning of Monday's game, and CC Sabathia had turned in a great performance despite his increasing pitch count. In the sixth and seventh innings combined this season, Sabathia has given up 32 earned runs in 40.2 innings, contributing to the theory that he no longer has the stamina that he used to dominate opposing teams with. Though he had struck out three in the sixth inning, Sabathia did allow two baserunners in that frame, in addition to giving up two runs in the fifth. In hindsight, the bullpen might have needed to come out for the seventh inning, but it was not a poor decision by Joe Girardi to allow Sabathia to face the first two hitters, who were the eight- and nine-hole hitters in Baltimore's lineup. However, both reached base (Matt Wieters on a walk, and Alexi Casilla on an error that was likely to be an infield single), and Girardi's bullpen was still empty. Sabathia induced a double play from Nick Markakis before ceding an RBI double to Manny Machado that extended Baltimore's lead to three. Even after a wild pitch, Girardi kept Sabathia in the game long enough to pitch to a batter in the eighth inning, where he was finally removed, having thrown a total of 115 pitches.

Sabathia, in the midst of what could easily be called the worst season of his career, has had his stamina questioned all year, and many think he has been overworked. In fact, during his 30 starts, Sabathia has thrown over 100 pitches 24 times, many times adding more runs to the scoreboard (with an ERA over 8.00 in the sixth inning alone) or adding to the stress on his arm. This has prompted a lot of people to ask whether Girardi has overworked the rotation, given that, in many cases, the starting pitcher has given up one or more runs after the point where many fans thought it was time for a reliever to enter the game, despite the Yankees maintaining one of the best bullpens in baseball.

For the purposes of this article, we'll use a category I'm inventing (or, possibly, merely taking credit for) called Overusage Starts, defined as when a starting pitcher throws over 100 pitches over at least six innings with a single-game ERA of 6.00 or higher. 100 pitches is considered around the baseline for starting pitcher fatigue, while the six-inning limit would ensure that the manager wasn't using his starter to eat up innings and save the bullpen. The 6.00 ERA would mean that the team would likely be better off if they went to the bullpen. Before I compare the Yankees to the other American League teams, let's take a look at the Overusage Starts for the Yankees this year.

April 22, at Tampa Bay (CC Sabathia): Sabathia had pitched well through most of April, so perhaps it was fine that Girardi left him in for so long following a four-run first inning, but these are the type of outings that can eat up a pitcher's arm. If it was a mistake on Girardi's part, this one was mostly excusable.

May 26, at Tampa Bay (CC Sabathia): Sabathia pitched the seventh inning after giving up three of his seven runs against in the sixth, and his dropoff in stamina had not yet become readily apparent, as he carried a 3.43 ERA entering this start. That being said, the Yankees still hadn't scored by the time he was pulled. Unless Girardi had a very compelling reason to rest the bullpen, he probably left Sabathia in for too long here.

June 15, at Los Angeles Angels (David Phelps): Phelps was pulled in the seventh inning after facing only Peter Bourjos (and giving up a single), so this wasn't necessarily a bad game, but this was a long outing for him (one of only six starts where he threw over 100 pitches), and especially coming against the Angels, perhaps he should have been pulled before facing Bourjos.

August 23, at Tampa Bay (Hiroki Kuroda): Kuroda gave up at least one run in the second through fifth innings, and I think Girardi, again, just wanted to rest the bullpen. However, it probably wouldn't have hurt to give the Yankees' best starter a little more rest, too.

That's the whole list. Now, the Overusage Start is designed to count only the situations in which a starter clearly should not be throwing as much as they did, rather than judgment calls that did not work out. At first look, the Yankees' season count of four Overusage Starts should be somewhat acceptable for a full season, but let's see how the other American League teams stack up.

Toronto Blue Jays: 13

Kansas City Royals: 12

Texas Rangers: 9

Boston Red Sox: 8

Detroit Tigers: 8

Baltimore Orioles: 7

Chicago White Sox: 7

Tampa Bay Rays: 6

Cleveland Indians: 5

Houston Astros: 4

Los Angeles Angels: 4

Minnesota Twins: 4

New York Yankees: 4

Seattle Mariners: 4

Oakland Athletics: 2

Despite the criticism of Girardi occasionally needlessly overusing his starting pitchers, he is actually one of the best in the American League at preventing needless starter overuse. This may have something to do with the Yankees bullpen being as good as it is, but Girardi does a good job preventing starter fatigue in situations where they clearly do not need to be pitching.

So what does that mean? Well, for a playoff run late in the season (and into the postseason, if applicable), it is very important that a starting rotation isn't worn out or tired- or risking an overuse injury. Even though Sabathia might not have the ability to go deep into game anymore, very possibly because of fatigue, it is not because Girardi has kept him too late in games for no reason. There are many valid criticisms of Joe Girardi as a manager, but needless overuse of starting pitchers has not been one of them.

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