Joe Girardi and The Best Bullpen Of All Time

By: James Scott

Christian Peterson/Getty Images North America

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been a recent talking point for making a few seriously questionable decisions late in the 2015 season. However, I have a case for Girardi being one of the more underrated managers in the game.

Girardi gets players rest, and he goes for the platoon advantage more than any manager in baseball [statistically] while being the best at managing a bullpen as you will see below.

The Yankees have always been great at discovering and signing unknown relievers [in the draft or on the market] and having them grow into good to great bullpen pieces. Tyler Clippard, Mark Melancon, John Axford, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Joba Chamberlain, Shawn Kelley, Zach McAllister, and Boone Logan all came through the Yankees system or were valued by the Yankees before their most successful days. Some guys obviously weren’t fits with the Yankees [Kelley] and some were destroyed by Torre [Chamberlain] but overall this is a huge amount of success for a single team. More success than any other team since 2007 in the pen.

Rafael Soriano, Kerry Wood, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were players the team added during this time the team already knew were plus relief talents even with Mariano Rivera around for the first two.

Obviously the team values great relief.

Girardi was one of only six managers last year whose relievers faced 2200 batters. Of those [or any manager in baseball who kept their job last year] he was the only one with over .017 wOBA points saved, he ranked at .022. To put that into perspective, when looking at all managers with relievers with only over 500[!] batters faced, the rankings went like this:

  • Joe Girardi .022
  • Ned Yost .017
  • Mike Scioscia .015
  • Pete Mackanin .014
  • Dan Jennings .013

You get the point, a one or two point difference till you get to the difference between Yost and Girardi which is 5[!] points.

wOBA points saved “shows how much better the arms each manager chose were expected to be, relative to random selections.” per Grantland article by Ben Lindbergh.

That is another way to say they averaged each reliever reliever’s wOBA against on the team and compared that to what actually happened, using the wOBA produced by opposing hitters. Girardi’s results were .022 lower than if he just picked at random from relievers available. The biggest difference in the league by a ton as you can see.

Like was said in Lindbergh’s article, “there isn’t much of a year-to-year correlation” and “suggests that a single season’s ranking isn’t all skill.” however when expanded to multiple years [2012-2015] Joe still ranks first overall with an average of .014 wOBA points saved per year.

Girardi also lead the majors with platoon advantages last year and averaged second between 2009 and 2014. Girardi was also the most successful manager, when challenging plays, in MLB last year. This all tells me that Girardi always puts his players in the best position to win more than any other manager in MLB. These are the numbers to back it up. He will always be criticized however since he is managing in New York for the Yankees. Such a big market makes even small mistakes look huge. Every manager makes a few huge mistakes during any given year and its important to remember that when analyzing Girardi’s management.

Girardi’s public image overall mirrors where he has averaged in manager of the year [AL and NL combined] over the last four years. 8th. He is clearly much better than that. Top 5, maybe top 3 when looking at the evidence.

The Yankees over the last couple years have been stockpiling relievers in the draft and minor leaguers from other teams. Jacob Lindgren, Nick Goody, Nick Rumbelow, Johnny Barbato, Chance Adams, Cale Coshow, Chaz Hebert, Diego Moreno, Tyler Webb, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, and Branden Pinder. This group would have been bigger but over the last few months the team has been getting rid of guys not good enough for this future super pen. Remember Chris Martin? Andrew Bailey? Jose Ramirez? Caleb Cotham? Sergio Santos? David Carpenter? Danny Burawa?  Based on the teams history with relief and the amount of relief talent added, I’d think there might be two or three guys with late inning potential among this group. 8th or 9th inning types like Melancon, Clippard, or Robertson.

Before the Yankees added all these arms they still had a few guys who were being viewed on that level of reliever. Rumbelow and Goody were being compared to Robertson.

Lindgren has already cracked a top 100 prospect list [2014-2015 offseason] and he was drafted in the summer of 2014. Since these guys are all in the upper minors or MLB, it wouldn’t surprise me if multiple of this group did something big this coming season.

Who has the best chance of making that leap? Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Branden Pinder, and James Pazos all have the ability to win spots on the roster come the beginning of the year and if they are given a chance, could step up. Personally, I’d keep Mitchell in AAA stretched out as a starter in case of injury and give the last   three spots in the bullpen to Lindgren, Rumbelow and Pinder to start the year. That would make the bullpen Chapman, Miller, Betances, Shreve, Lindgren, Rumbelow, Pinder and either Nova or CC depending who wins the fifth starter spot.

This could be a scary good bullpen and possibly the best ever when you add that kind of talent as your 5-7th best relievers. There is an article on Fangraphs saying that it would be hard for the Yankees bullpen to be better than it was last year and that may be true if they were throwing the same amount of innings as they threw last year and if the level of competition was the same. But this bullpen will throw a lot more innings because they can not because of the need to. The AL East is also no longer a 2 team race. Red Sox should be a lot better next year, this means tougher competition for the pen to face [and dominate] than last year. It is a five to seven inning game when playing against these Yankees. Will that be enough to keep the starters healthy enough late in the year to dominate the first five or seven innings? Maybe. The Yankees were a monster in the first half and maybe this is a way that the Yankees can try to carry that over to the second half.

Everything about Aroldis Chapman that needs to be said has been said, supposedly he is neither a positive addition to the clubhouse nor a negative addition. He keeps to himself and just does his job, which many people do. He has had a very sketchy background. But if Chapman doesn’t bring the clubhouse down than that is a positive. Maybe he isn’t the most moral person and I hope to God he didn’t put his hands on that woman. There has been no proof he did, he wasn’t even arrested so he’s not in any trouble with the law. But what is he? He’s the best reliever in MLB. He owns the hardest thrown pitch of all time, 106 MPH. He owns the 62 fastest pitches thrown last year, to the point where MLB’s Statcast system had to include a button called The Chapman Filter to filter out every pitch thrown by him so you could see who threw the next hardest. Naturally he throws an AVERAGE of 100 MPH with his fastball. Him, Betances and Miller are three of the top five relievers in MLB. They own three of the four best relievers in MLB over the last two years.

Chapman despite off the field concerns is elite. He is the Trout of relieving, the Kershaw of closing. He is going to be a huge on field addition. I will root for him there. But off the field, the jury is out. We will see but I believe in innocent till proven guilty, especially about players on the team I love. If Chapman is suspended by baseball like he may be, as a fan of the Yankees, I hope the suspension it is for around 45 games, that would push his free agency back a year so that the Yankees would get two seasons of him and not just one of a reliever this good and currently on a Hall Of Fame path.

Betances 6’8″ 1.50 ERA 84 inn, 14.04 K/9.
Chapman 6’4″ 1.63 ERA 66 inn, 15.74 K/9.
Miller 6’7″ 1.90 ERA 61 inn, 14.59 K/9.


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