A lot of crazy things happened yesterday in the Yankees – Tigers game. Irrational, heat of the moment passion overtook sound judgment. Long term benefits were ignored while short term personal issues were resolved. Mistakes from the past weren’t forgotten, causing tempers to flare and more mistakes made.
Oh, and there was a brawl.
In a game where benches were cleared and punches were thrown, it’s easy to overlook the actual baseball that was played. I’m here to tell you my friends, that talking about the brawl and the non-baseball issues would be the simpleton’s route. If you want to do that, buy me a beer sometime and we can talk about it. Because I remembered Miguel Cabrera whining to his teammates in the dugout at Yankee Stadium less than a month ago. And I remembered Jacoby Ellsbury getting hit with a pitch a result. I mentioned those instances to the person with whom I was watching the game before Michael Fulmer cowardly* hit Gary Sanchez with a pitch (the same Michael Fulmer who hit Ellsbury on July 31st) and well before the members of Simpleton Summer Camp remembered and pulled up the video.
But what I want to talk about today is this: Some very dumb baseball decisions were made in the game yesterday that are going to be forgotten as a result of the extra-curricular activities – and they shouldn’t be. A fight won’t cost you a season – bad decisions will.
Let’s start with the Yankees’ starting lineup:
The Tylers – Austin and Wade were on the bench. Again.
Ronald Torreyes has 296 Plate Appearances this season, has a Wins Above Replacement below 1, and has a Weighted Runs Created Plus 17% below league average. Keep in mind, the fact that he plays multiple positions and middle infield weighs heavily in his favor with the WAR rating – that’s how bad he has to be to be considered to have no value.
As recently noted, Todd Frazier is 16th among 18 qualifying 3rd basemen in Slugging Percentage. In other words, his one skill (cough, ahem, cough) – power – isn’t one at all.
Both Tylers have enough of a resume to strongly suggest they’d be better than Frazier and Torreyes, and it’s extremely unlikely they’d be worse. Check my recent blog about Joe Girardi managing scared – they need to be getting at bats.
Oh, and by the way, Greg Bird has a .762 SLG in Triple A. But, right – Frazier won the Home Run Derby a few years back…(groans…)
Let’s fast forward to the top of the 5th, game tied at two:
The Yankees take a 3-2 lead on an Aaron Hicks sacrifice fly. Red hot Gary Sanchez, who had hit (another) home run earlier, gets hit by a Fulmer pitch.
Jaime Garcia, who had struggled in both the 3rd and 4th innings, and who – news flash – is your fourth starter at best, takes the mound for the bottom of the 5th. I mentioned before the fact (check social media for proof) this wasn’t a good idea. After an error by Didi Gregorius and a double by Justin Upton, who had already homered, Joe Bullpen thought THAT was enough for Jamie Garcia. Remember, the Yankees gave up Blake Rutherford, a former number one pick, to give them bullpen depth for exactly this type of game.
So now it’s 3-2 Yankees, with runners on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out. Miguel Cabrera is up and Nick Castellanos is on deck.
Now, here’s what anyone with 60 seconds and a membership to Fangraphs can tell you:
Castellanos and Cabrera are 6th and 7th respectively among 153 qualifying Major Leaguers in the percentage of balls they hit hard. In other words, ignore the misleading Batting Averages – they hit the ball hard and they hit the ball hard, often. After Cabrera and Castellanos, are a group of hitters who are about as menacing as milk.
The play is to have Garcia intentionally walk Cabrera. Load the bases, create a force at every base, get one batter closer to non-threatening hitters. And again, from the department of if you have 60 seconds and a membership to Fangraphs – Castellanos is more likely to hit into a double play than the average Major Leaguer.
Joey Bullpen decided to go against my advice and bring in Adam Warren to pitch to Cabrera. It worked. Warren struck out Cabrera.
So now the play is to walk Castellanos, load the bases and take your chances with guys named McCann, Hicks and Jones. No, not Brian, Aaron and Adam – the Tigers three guys can’t hit.
Again eschewing my advice, Joey Bullpen had Warren pitch to Castellanos, who hit a sacrifice fly, tying the game and sending a runner to third, now with two outs.
Even though Girardi waited too long for Warren, Warren was uncharacteristically off. He walked the next two batters to load the bases and set up the next sequence of less than bright baseball by the Yankees…
With the bases now loaded and two outs, Jacoby Jones lined a single into right center field off of Warren. Two runs scored.
But as luck would have it for the Yankees, Jones isn’t the most astute base runner and gave the Yankees a way out of the inning. He took a very wide turn – too wide it would turn out – around first. First baseman Chase Headley who was the cut-off man in the infield, saw this, cut off the throw from the outfield and turned toward first with the opportunity to pick the over rounding Jones off.
Problem? 2nd baseman Ronald Torreyes decided that instead of doing his job – covering 1st base in this situation to snag any potential batter/runners who round first too far – becoming a spectator with the rest of us was more of a priority. In his defense, shallow right field is a good view for a game – much better than the bar at Houlihan’s, which was my view.
Slight side note: Earlier in the year against Boston, Torreyes did exactly the same thing while playing shortstop. On a Sox base hit to left field, where Headley (who was playing 3rd that day) was the cutoff in the infield, took the throw and looked to pick off Handley Ramirez who took a big turn around third, found that Torreyes was nowhere to be found.
If Torreyes is standing on first as he should have been yesterday, the Yankees are out of the inning. Instead, Jose Iglesias doubled and the Tigers added another run.
Maybe in this particular game, this failure to do one’s job wouldn’t have mattered. We’ll never know. But a lot of games are won and lost by one run, and this one could have been easily prevented.
What makes this lack of baseball acuity even more annoying is that it came from Torreyes. Not that it would ever be justifiable, but if we were talking about a player with a .385 On Base Percentage, or a .530 Slugging Percentage, we know his positives would outweigh his mental lapses and laziness over 162 games. Torreyes is a below average major leaguer. His only real value is to not screw up. If he’s going to screw up, he’s useless.
Again: Tyler Wade is sitting on the bench.
Then the non-baseball craziness occurred. As I said, I’ll get into it with you another time if you want, but I’d like to stick to the baseball aspects of this situation. Suffice to say, Austin Romine was ejected (unjustly in my mind, but again, irrelevant for this discussion). What is relevant to this discussion is…
Because Gary Sanchez was the Designated Hitter, when he needed to put on the gear to replace Romine, the Yankees lost the DH spot in the lineup meaning Aroldis Chapman was due to bat in the top of the 7th.
Detroit manager Brad Ausmus who heard my criticisms of the Yankees and promptly said “Hold my beer”, decided to leave Fulmer in the game after the extended layoff. (If you’ve been reading my stuff, you know Detroit’s bullpen is pretty good.)
Fulmer, who had just reached 100 pitches, walked Ronald Torreyes to start the top of the 7th. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing that says “Your pitcher is done” quite like walking Torreyes. Torreyes walks in 3% of his plate appearances. Yes, seriously – I thought it would have been lower, too..(he wrote sarcastically…)
That’s when Joey Lineup sent Jacoby Ellsbury up to hit for Chapman.
Fulmer walked Ellsbury. (Author snickers…he walked Torreyes and Ellsbury with a 3 run lead and the top of the lineup coming up for the Yankees…wow…)
Ausmus then pulled Fulmer painstakingly late, a Brett Gardner single, Hicks sacrifice fly and Sanchez single later, we had a tie game.
But Joey Lineup wasn’t done yet…
Aaron Judge, batting cleanup, made the last out for the Yankees in the 7th. Remember Ellsbury batted for Chapman in the 9th spot in the order…?
Joe decided to pull the National League double switch: He kept Ellsbury in the game in the 9th spot in the order and put new pitcher Dellin Betances into the 4th spot in the order, which took Aaron Judge out of the game.
In other words, instead of removing a weak player, putting a pitcher in the 9th spot in the order, then using one of the Tylers (remember them?) when Betances came to bat, he took the Yankees best player out of the game.
Wow. Just wow.
And if you’re telling me the mindset is after losing Chapman when the DH was lost may have forced Joe into using Betances for multiple innings, I’ll remind you:
A) As noted here numerous times this season, Joe has had the opportunity to use Betances for multiple innings in important spots before, and almost never does.
B) Like most Major League teams, the Yankees have about 26 guys in their bullpen – running out of relievers in this game wasn’t an issue.
Maybe all of this wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe the Yankees would’ve lost 10-6 anyway. But if the Tigers didn’t run away with it and it went to extra innings, having your best player sitting on the bench would have been very costly.
I’ve been saying all year: This game counts as much as the ones in September. Decisions that cost a run or two usually won’t matter – but they do sometimes – a handful of times per year probably. But when you lose the division by a small number of games, these decisions are the reasons why.
They’ll probably be forgotten. But they shouldn’t be.
*OK, this is all I’ll say about the brawl: This new trend of pitchers hitting batters with clear intent, then pretending it was accidental is nonsense. Having a weapon and attacking someone with it from 60’ away is a little cowardly, but if you do it, own it. Don’t look at the mound as if you lost your footing, don’t say “It was a breaking ball, I wouldn’t hit a guy with a breaking ball!” and don’t pretend your arm hurts, as Fulmer did yesterday. Fulmer went all in on his attempt at covering his cowardice by going so far as to have the Tiger’s trainer come out to the mound and look at his faux boo-boo.
I know the umpires and announcers fell for that ruse – I hope you didn’t.
Thanks again to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for the stats.