ALCS Coverage: The Decision

Writing about yesterday’s Yankees-Angels game is harder than it sounds. There are just way too many angles to cover, and because it’s the Yankees, most of them have already been beaten into the ground. But, let’s try anyway, and let’s focus on the one decision that stood out the most – replacing David Robertson with Alfredo Aceves in the 11th inning.

First off, let’s look at the two relievers. They’re obviously very different types of pitchers, with opposite strengths and weaknesses.

Robertson is a strikeout guy who uses his movement to induce swinging strikes at the expense of giving up some walks. He’s hard to hit, but if you let him, he can get himself in trouble with walks.

Aceves is the classic command guy who pounds the strike zone and pitches to contact. He’s much easier to make contact off of, but he’s not going to beat himself. He’ll let you get yourself out at the risk of putting the ball in play.

There are certainly scenarios where you would prefer one to the other. With a runner at third base and less than two outs, you want Robertson’s ability to get the strikeout and strand the runner. With the bases loaded and two outs, you want Aceves’ ability to throw a strike and not walk in the winning run.

But the bottom of the 11th didn’t present either of those scenarios. Instead, it was bases empty, two outs, with Howie Kendrick coming to the plate. Is there any reason to prefer Aceves to Robertson in that situation?

Not unless you’re relying on a number that doesn’t mean anything. Aceves’ ability to avoid the walk is essentially useless against Kendrick, because he refuses to walk on his own. Given how aggressive he is at the plate and how hard he hits the ball (the career .354 BABIP is no fluke), you’d prefer to have a pitcher who can make him swing and miss. He’s going to chase pitches. You don’t have to force him to swing by pounding the strike zone.

Robertson was the good match-up for a Kendrick type of hitter, not Aceves. Going beyond Kendrick, you’d still prefer Robertson to Aceves even if you assume that he’s not going to get Kendrick out, because now you have the winning run on base, and a ball in play is not what you want in that situation.

Girardi has consistently over-managed the bullpen in this series, using guys for one batter here or one batter there in order to try to get the best possible match-up. In this case, he already had it, and he ended up making a move that was neutral at best and a downgrade at worst.

Sometimes, less is more. The Yankees’ best chance of winning the World Series will come if Girardi is more willing to trust his relievers rather than making a move every time he thinks he can incrementally improve his odds by a couple of percent.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Mike K
14 years ago

It seems the matchup Girardi was going for was Kendrick’s ability to hit the fastball and curveball, vs his (relative) inability to hit the slider. FanGraphs Pitch Values seem to back this up – though they have Aceves throwing the cutter instead of the slider Yankees’s staff have called it a slider. Is the data just not reliable enough to make those kinds of calls? By FanGraphs, Robertson’s only plus pitch is the fastball, of which Kendrick does best against those. Aceves has 3 plus pitches (FB, CB, CT). One of the debates is whether this was good analysis taken too far, or Girardi just tinkering for the sake of tinkering.

The biggest problem of course was that Aceves came in and immediately got behind in the count, so that any advantage he may have had with his slider/cutter was gone.