“How to Build a Bridge” by Joe Girardi

Why devote a whole thread to a discussion of bullpen management?  Well first because for years Yankee fans have bemoaned the futility of the organization’s attempts to build a bridge to Mariano.  Now they don’t just have a rickety and narrow railing that the team hobbles across while trying to avoid the rocky shoals of ALEast batting orders in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings – they have a landbridge made up of a cohesive and effective collection of young and old arms who, together, represent one of the best bullpens in the league.  And second because we have a new manager – and in light of the legendary status achieved by his predecessor, the new guy deserves some credit for at least one area of the game where his approach has clearly yielded better results than did his predecessor’s.

Consider that in each of the previous four seasons, the Yankee pen didn’t have to work as hard as it has this year both in real terms – total IP – and in terms of their work-loads’ ranking relative to other AL teams, but nevertheless, individual Yankee relievers were consistently ridden into the ground (all rankings below are in the AL only):

  • 2004: Yankee pen throws the 5th most IP but Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, and Mo are #s 5, 6, and 14 respectively in most IP by a reliever.  The fourth Yankee to appear on the list is Felix Heredia all the way down at #69.  Pen ranked 9th in ERA at 4.43.    
  • 2005: Yankee pen throws the 6th most IP; Tom Gordon, Mo, and Tanyon Sturtze rank #s 6, 9, and 11 respectively in most IP.  Next Yankee is Scott Proctor at # 68 on that list.  Pen ranked 10th in ERA at 4.37.
  • 2006: Yankee pen throws the 6th most IP; Scott Proctor, Ron Villone, and Mo are #s 1, 10, and 16 in most IP.  Next is Kyle F. at # 30 and then Mike Myers at # 69.  Pen ranked 8th in ERA at 4.18.
  • 2007: Yankee pen throws the 3rd most IP but Luis Vizcaino and Mo are #s 10 and 14 in most IP with Proctor # 45 and Bruney # 57.  Pen ranked 10th in ERA (4.35).

By contrast, so far in 2008 the Yankee pen has thrown the 2nd most IP in the AL.  Mo, Kyle, LaTroy, Ohlendorf, Edwar, and Veras rank #s 20, 25, 34, 37, 51, and 64 in IP.  And with Robertson and soon Bruney to build up innings in the coming weeks, one can expect the load to remain well distributed enough that it is not at all a foregone conclusion that the pen’s collective performance (4th in ERA at 3.39) will drop off simply because – as a group – they’ve been leaned on more than any pen other than that of Texas.

The obvious counterargument is that Girardi in ’08 has more and better arms than did Torre in ’04, ’05, ’06, and ’07, but that ignores the fact that those guys who both Torre and Girardi had are – to a man – pitching better under Girardi, including those who Girardi leans on harder than Torre did.  The absolute resurrection of Kyle Farnsworth, Edwar Ramirez (both of whom are on track to be used more than Torre ever used them), and the early comparitive results of Brian Bruney – to say nothing of the better-than-ever performance of Mo (since we just assume he is an outlier immune to managerial vicissitudes anyway) all indicate that mini-Joe simply gets more out of relievers than does Torre.

First Farnsworth: 

  • 2006: 61 IP, 4.36 ERA, 1.364 WHIP
  • 2007: 60 IP; 4.80 ERA; 1.450 WHIP
  • 2008: 43 IP; 3.35 ERA; 1.302 WHIP

And what about those Kyle rules – i.e. that the guy can not throw on consecutive days?  In ’06 Kyle threw on consecutive days (or twice in a doubleheader) 14 times: 12.1 IP, 5.11 ERA.  In ’07, with Torre having apparently learned Kyle’s limitations, he threw him in such situations only 6 times and got even worse results: 5.1 IP over which he compiled a 6.75 ERA.  Under Girardi in 2008, Kyle has already thrown in such situations 8 times, with 8 IP and a 1.13 ERA.

Edwar’s Torre-night vs. Girardi-day is even more striking.  Erkel’s line in 2007: 21 IP, 8.14 ERA, 1.810 WHIP.  And in 2008:  36.2 IP, 2.48 ERA, .963 WHIP.

When Hank and Hal were considering managers, one of Girardi’s selling points was his confidence in being able to resurrect the likes of Kyle Farnsworth and solidify the long-absent bridge to Mariano.  Nearly four months into the season it is fair to say he has done exactly that.

6 comments… add one
  • More distributed, though the #2 doesn’t surprised me – there were quite a few Hughes/IPK/Joba on top.
    But ya, it’s good to see the workload being distributed – not sure if that’s a Girardi thing or this pen really is as good as it seems to be thus far..

    Lar July 24, 2008, 2:39 pm
  • Great stuff, IH.
    I think one of the big q’s for the sabermetric folks was how Girardi would manage the staff, and he’s proved himself thus far in difficult circumstances.

    YF July 24, 2008, 2:47 pm
  • great post, IH. I was actually thinking about this on my long bus ride back from Boston–by the way, Greyhound is definitely character-building–Joe Girardi has been very good with the bullpen, using the right people in high-leverage situations. As IH shows, he’s been very good with his young relievers.

    Nick-YF July 24, 2008, 2:52 pm
  • Fascinating write-up.

    attackgerbil July 24, 2008, 3:08 pm
  • You are a gentleman and a scholar IH!

    krueg July 24, 2008, 3:27 pm
  • Great post, IH! You’re my new hero! I heart IH!
    I think the big difference with the pen is they’re throwing strikes. Either:
    a) It’s Girardi’s personna/confidence
    b) Eiland is working with them on it
    c) Cashman got guys who throw strikes.
    Personally, I think it’s all of the above – and Girardi helped with Farns(and maybe his contract year too).
    Edwar I’m less sure about. It’s just seems like he’s learned how to pitch. That seems more complicated and reports say Mo has been mentoring him. Can’t rule out his pitching coach here either.
    Mo I’m even less sure about. Girardi gets credit for using him in tie games on the road – something Torre hardly ever did – to mixed results. But I can’t see how any manager is going to help or hurt GOAT at this point.
    Then though – Cashman gets a huge amount of credit for pushing guys like Robertson, Veras, and Giese. And it probably helps that he now has seniority/authority over his manager – something he didn’t seem to have over Torre.

    A YF July 24, 2008, 3:30 pm

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