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The Yankees’ ALDS performance has exposed Joe Girardi’s bullpen weakness

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The Circle of Trust is to the team’s detriment.

Divisional Round - New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians - Game One Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Joe Girardi screwed up on Friday night. He knows as much, because he said it: “I screwed up. It’s hard. It’s a hard day for me. But I’ve got to move forward and we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.” I at least appreciate the Yankees manager owning up to the obvious mistakes he made in Game Two. That said, I think it’s more evidence of a pattern many fans have been picking up over the past year.

Frankly, Girardi has no idea how to manage this bullpen. Fans will find this to be either a huge exaggeration or a massive understatement, but I think it’s true to an extent. In a playoff game, that amplifies itself. Baseball Prospectus has a great bullpen management chart, which measures leverage index across appearances:

These are measured in 27 game blocks, and you can see how miserable the early going is: Tyler Clippard tops the chart, followed by Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve, and Dellin Betances. That Clippard line is a good reason why the Yankees didn’t win the division.

That odd reliance on pitchers other than his best, for however his internal trust logic goes, forces him to give prime innings to Jonathan Holder, Shreve, and Clippard. Because that internal logic is constantly shifting with the larger bullpen, there is no consistency as to whom he trusts. That led us to a Game Two situation, where he holds on to Chad Green and David Robertson just a bit too long for fear of another, less trusted pitcher.

Girardi has a general leverage-to-performance ratio as seen above, but you can see at least three blind spots in plain sight: Clippard was over-utilized, Green was under-utilized, and some in between.

The biggest thing about that game, though, which has nothing to do with the bullpen, was not trusting his players. If Gary Sanchez says that a play should be challenged, and the video clearly shows he’s right, then Girardi has to follow through. I’m sure he absolutely regrets that move, but you have to wonder what the underlying thought process was to make that decision. I know he has sparred with Sanchez in the past, and that’s a real issue. Sanchez will likely be here in a decade, and Girardi won’t.

I’m not one to say whether Girardi should stay or go. If management thinks he still has the confidence of the front office and the players, I can understand them holding on to him. You also have to wonder what that replacement looks like, because the unknown could very well be worse. Yet, the recent bullpen mismanagement is a concern. It’s still on the heels on him pulling it off in the Wild Card Game, so it’s not like he doesn’t have it within him.

Managers over time can lose touch with younger players or with the game as it changes rapidly, and that could be the case. Baseball in 2008 is almost nothing like baseball in 2017, and large bullpens and starters on shorter stints requires firm and confident bullpen decisions. It also requires a solid understanding of how much trust you place in them and what your internal ranking looks like. I’m not sure he has that understanding, unfortunately, and while the team isn’t doomed if he remains, it’s a story line to pay close attention to in 2018.