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April 16, 2005

Mismanagement 101
by SG

Joe Torre has gotten a lot of praise for his team's successes over the time since he came aboard in 1996. Torre has his strengths, although they would seem to be in mostly unmeasurable areas. I'm not one to discredit team chemistry and intangibles, however since they are not something we can measure I can't really assess them. It seems that Torre does a good job of managing his team's personalities, he handles the voracious New York media with aplomb, and he manages to keep George Steinbrenner off his players' backs for the most part. However, he is clearly not a good in-game tactical manager, and as the quality of the team that the front office has assembled for him deteriorates, it becomes more and more clear.

I want to make it clear that Torre is not the only one to blame for the current flaws on this team, which is a good enough team to win the division and World Series as constructed, but has a lot of issues with its defense and depth. Brian Cashman deserves some blame as well. Granted, it's not clear how much autonomy he has with decisions, but as the face of the Yankee decision-making team, he is responsible for how this team was put together. If he is being overridden on all his personnel moves, then he needs to be more vocal about it and perhaps step down if that's what it takes. Otherwise, he risks any chance of moving on to a more favorable situation at some point in his career. That he has not done so tells me that he either approves of the moves being made, or does not feel strongly enough about them to fight them.

Also culpable in this is the Tampa think tank. This mysterious group, led by "superscout" Bill Emslie and "pitching guru" Billy Connors carries a lot of weight and influence with George Steinbrenner. They are the ones who recommended Tony Womack and Jaret Wright, while at the same time running the minor league organization into the ground.

The bench that was assembled this year is an embarrassment, particularly given the Yankees' tremendous financial advantage over the rest of baseball.

All of these factors came into play tonight, in a tough 7-6 loss.

In the starting lineup and batting fifth was Ruben Sierra. This is the first example of Torre and his mismanagement. He based this decision on the fact that Sierra has 7 hits in 23 AB against Rodrigo Lopez. It's certainly possible that this is indicative that Sierra has good AB against Lopez, but the sample size is not significant enough to completely warrant it. Torre has a bizarre fascination with batter/pitcher matchups, which have basically been debunked as having much validity by people far more astute than me about these types of things. To no one's surprise except Joe Torre, Sierra went hitless in five plate appearances, although he did drive in a run on a grounder to short late in the game.

Torre also took Jason Giambi out of the game after the top of the sixth inning to replace him defensively with Tino Martinez. Mark this one down, because it came back to bite the Yankees in the ass in the ninth inning.

Mike Mussina pitched a decent game, but he still doesn't look good to me, as his velocity is still in the mid to high 80s and his control is not sharp. However, he gutted through this outing and exited the game with two outs in the sixth, a 3-1 lead and one runner on. Mike Stanton was brought in to turn Brian Roberts around and walked him on 5 pitches. However, newest Yankee bullpen hero Tanyon Sturtze came in, allowing a single to Melvin Mora which cut the Yankee lead to 3-2. However, he then induced a grounder to retire Tejada and escape with the lead.

This is the second example of Joe Torre's mismanaging. Sturtze had been outstanding this year, but he is on pace to pitch 149 innings. On a team with 7 relievers, all of whom have a track record of success, there is no excuse for using one guy that much. It's still an open question if Sturtze has discovered a new talent level due to the change in his role and the cutter that he was taught by Mariano Rivera, but assuming he is now a good reliever, is he likely to be better than Felix Rodriguez, Paul Quantrill, or Steve Karsay?

The Yankees added 3 more runs in the top of the 7th and all looked well. However, reality came back to bite Sturtze in the top of the 7th. He was a bit unlucky as some flare hits landed in bad places, but he gave up five hits and four runs. Two of these runs scored when Flash Gordon gave up a two out HR to Brian Roberts.

Gordon has not been good this year, and my guess is that it is a lingering effect from his overwork last year. He has an extensive injury history and had not pitched nearly that many innings since 1998.

Gordon's innings pitched as a reliever:
1998 79.1
1999 17.2
2000 Out for the season
2001 45.1
2002 42.3
2003 74
2004 89.2

He is 37 this year, his season last year was huge, but there is no reasonable way to expect anything close to that this year, and I would not be shocked if he suffers from markedly decreased effectivenss due to his workload last year. However, Torre has his mind set up with roles. Stanton is the LOOGY, even though he is no more effective against lefties than righties, and is not nearly the same pitcher he was when Torre had him last. Sturtze apparently will always pitch the 6th and 7th with a lead, Gordon the 8th, and Rivera the 9th. Felix Rodriguez, Paul Quantrill, and Steve Karsay will apparently only pitch in blowouts, as they are not on Torre's infamous "trust" list.

Relief pitchers need to pitch regularly to stay sharp in my opinion, and Torre will often bury guys that he has no confidence in, which in turn affects their effectiveness and their own confidence, which in turn appears to justify Torre's use of them.

These are all season long issues however. The biggest blunder in last night's game came in the ninth inning. With dominant lefty relief pitcher B.J. Ryan in for Baltimore, the Yankees were due to send up Ruben Sierra, Tino Martinez, and Jorge Posada. Sierra struck out on three pitches, and looked awful in doing so. Giambi's spot in the order came up, but he was not in the game anymore, having been pulled in the 6th freaking inning. Ryan is tough on lefties, but Giambi has the power to hit a mistake pitch a long way, or at least the eye to work the count. However, in his place now was Tino Martinez. With a tough lefty on the hill, Torre decided to go to his bench for Tino, which was a fine move in theory.

His options:
Andy Phillips, Righty, age 28, a career .296/.366/.509 hitter in the minors who had a torrid spring training, hitting .333/.409/.718 with 4 HRs in 39 AB.
Rey Sanchez, Righty, age 37, a career .271/.308/.334 hitter who hit .246 last year and is known more for his defense.
John Flaherty, Righty, age 37, a career .255/.293/.382 hitter who is known for "calling a good game" apparently since he can't hit for crap or throw out a base stealer to save his life.
Bubba Crosby, Lefty, age 28. Primarily Bernie Williams's defensive replacement and a pinch runner, and would be overmatched against a lefty like Ryan.

I won't claim that Andy Phillips is a good hitter because of his minor league track record. I won't claim that he has that much potential, because a 27 year old beating up minor league pitchers isn't overly impressive. However, we do know the track records of Rey Sanchez and John Flaherty, and they're not good.

With only two out remaining in the game, Torre sent up Rey Sanchez to hit for Tino Martinez. By some miracle, Sanchez hit a weak grounder up the middle that just eluded Brian Roberts's dive. That brought up the comatose Jorge Posada, who has been horrendous so far this season. Posada struck out, leaving the game in Bernie Williams's hands. Bernie has looked a little better of late, and managed to draw a walk, putting two runners on. This brought up lefty "hitting" Tony Womack. Torre wisely realized that Womack would not be a good option to use against Ryan, and went to his bench again. This time, he chose John "Bad Flash" Flaherty over Phillips. Flaherty hit a flare that Brian Roberts caught to end the game.

Phillips should have hit for Sanchez, and when it got to Womack he should've hit for him. He has more power than either Sanchez or Flaherty, and at that stage of the game against that type of pitcher you need to hope you get lucky and connect on a pitch.

This team will start hitting, and when they do they can beat anyone, but the flaws they have are being compounded by the conservative and outright foolish manner that Joe Torre is using the players he has. I still think they are likely to make the postseason, and I haven't seen enough out of Boston that tells me the Yankees shouldn't be considered a co-favorite to win the division. However, I think it's time for the Joe Torre era to end, whether they win or lose this year. He's had a great run, and I thank him for that, but he's becoming more and more detrimental to this team's chances every year.

I'm going to go drink this one off, and enjoy my hangover and a sweep tomorrow.