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A Defense of the Bullpen Management Criticism

Earlier today, I made a post titled "An Open Letter to Joe Girardi on Bullpen Management." It's been met with some criticism on Twitter because "How could someone write that?! The Yankees have one of the best bullpens in the game!"

I know this fact. I never attempted to hide this:

The success of these four men as well as another solid season, albeit with some injury, from David Robertson has given your team one of the better bullpens in baseball despite the absence of Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain. Your management of these guys makes me uneasy though.

In the same way that managers don't deserve all of the blame when a team is struggling, managers don't deserve all of the praise when they are succeeding. Success can still happen in struggles, and mistakes can still happen during the good times.

Take last Tuesday's game for example. The Yankees trailed by just a run going into the bottom of the eighth in Seattle. Freddy Garcia was having a rare good game on the mound, and he entered the eighth having given up just three runs on five hits in seven innings. He struck out Brendan Ryan to start the eighth and then... he was pulled. Why? Garcia was only at 89 pitches. It was because lefty Dustin Ackley (he of the fearsome 77 OPS+ this year) was coming up to hit. Girardi turned to his LOOGY, Clay Rapada. He's done a fine job this year, but by putting Rapada in, you're locking yourself into putting multiple relievers into the inning. Someone was going to have pitch against righty Jesus Montero because Rapada cannot get righties out. Chad Qualls came in for that after Ackley walked, then after he stole second, Girardi asked Qualls to intentionally walk Montero. What was the point of bringing Qualls in the game then? Against righties, Montero has hit a meager .204/.247/.322 on the season. If you were confident that Qualls, the righty, could get Montero out, why did this confidence vanish because a runner was on base?

After the questionable intentional walk, Girardi brought Logan in to face the lefty John Jaso. Logan was appearing in his league-leading 48th game of the season, another element of Girardi's bullpen management that has been unlike previous years (I also mentioned how overuse led to Wade's decline in performance and banishment to AAA). Logan walked Jaso, then gave up an infield single to score the run. Cody Eppley, the fifth reliever of the inning, came on to end the threat.

Here's my question: what is the justification behind all those moves in the eighth, especially against a weak-hitting team like the Mariners? I'm not criticizing the bullpen's performance, I'm criticizing how they're being used.

It is not as though incidents like the previous one have been unusual in 2012. How about last Sunday? David Phelps retired all five hitters he faced in extra innings when Girardi decided to play matchups against Seth Smith. I get that Smith is a fine hitter and had even just tied the game against Soriano in the ninth, but instead of keeping Phelps, a reliever who could pitch for awhile in a game that had no end in sight, Girardi took him out. By doing so, he locked himself into needing to put Eppley in the game eventually because again, Rapada can't pitch against righties. Eppley lost the game two days before against Oakland, and he lost this one, too. It's worth mentioning that the year, Eppley has allowed hitters a .400/.423/.440 triple slash in "Late & Close" situations. It's possible that Phelps would have done the same thing, but he deserved a chance. I just don't think it's right to take out a pitcher when he's doing well simply due to matchups. These two times are not the only occasions Girardi has poorly played matchups.

Another point that was criticized was my thoughts on letting starting pitchers go deep into the game. The crux of the thought was that by not letting starters pitch more against batters on their second or third appearance, they won't learn how to do so. This third appearance could happen anywhere from the sixth to the eighth depending on the flow of the game. Look at the veterans. In batters' third trip to the plate against Andy Pettitte, they are hitting .177/.203/.274. Against CC Sabathia, they are hitting .228/.276/.353. These marks are the best on the team, and it's not a coincidence that it's the veterans. They learned how to pitch late in game, and Girardi just has to let the kids work through it.

I apologize if the Open Letter came across as a little too preachy, and I regret putting that in the title, especially because it tends to be cliche. However, it should be noted that most sports writing tends to be people trying to figure out their teams' problems and potential solutions using statistics, both of which I did. Regardless of writing format, that's what we're all trying to do.