25 September 2019

Why Not Use Aroldis Chapman in a Tie Game on the Road???

The 2019 Yankees have lost five games on walk-offs on the road this year, and their best relief pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, has appeared in exactly none of them.

These games were:

1. Yankees Lose 8-7 to Kansas City in the 10th on May 26th

Domingo German had stunk up the joint for five innings, allowing 7 runs, but then Nestor Cortes Jr. inexplicably turned in four scoreless to keep the Yanks in the game while the offense chipped away at the Royals' soft underbelly, the bullpen. To be fair, it turned out that all of the Royals' bellies were soft, since they've now lost 100 games, but this one particularly so. Their collective 5.40 ERA is the 4th worst in MLB.

Jonathan Holder entered this game to start the bottom of the 10th, got a strikeout, but then walked Billy Hamilton, who hit just .211 for the Royals before being released, and is not known for his patience at the plate, having walked on average about once every 14 plate appearances throughout his MLB career. Naturally Hamilton stole second, then scored on a walk-off single by Whit Merrifield.

Why No Chapman???

The Yankees had played a doubleheader the day before, and most of the bullpen had worked, including Jonathan Holder, though he had thrown just nine pitches. Chapman had thrown 21 pitches, but had not pitched at all the day before so he was technically available. We have to presume that Aaron Boone was preserving him to either save the game if they got a lead or for the next day's game.

2. Yankees Lose 4-3 to the Rays in the 9th on July 6th

With CC Sabathia both literally and figuratively on his last legs right now, it's easy to forget that for a while this summer he looked like a pretty darn good pitcher. This outing, his longest of the season (7 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) fell right in the middle of his best stretch of pitching in a while, four straight Quality Starts, totaling 25 innings and just nine runs allowed. Three of those came against Tampa Bay. (Unfortunately he's 0-4 with a 7.82 ERA since the last game of that streak.)

After Adam Ottavino pitched his typical scoreless inning in the 8th, they gave the ball to Chad Green, who seemed at first like he would continue his excellent streak of scoreless innings (he had not allowed a run in a month), getting Kevin Keirmaier to ground out on the first pitch and then striking out Willy Adamaes looking on four pitches. But then Travis D'Arnaud* came up and hit the first pitch he saw into the seats.
Which made Chad Green a Sad Green. :-(

* D'Arnaud may seem like a fluke, hitting 16 homers this season in part time work, after being released by the Mets and playing just one game with the Dodgers before they decided they had seen enough, but he was once a pretty highly regarded prospect. He was a first round draft pick by the Phillies in 2007, and was used in the package that pried Roy Halladay out of the Blue Jays' hands, and then (along with Noah Syndergaard and others) RA Dickey away from the Mets. Though he'd never done much in the majors, he's hit over .300 at both AA and AAA and has slugged over .500 in AA and over .600 in AAA in parts of several seasons, adding up to about one year's worth of at-bats in each. Its like his career was just waiting for the 2019 Rabbit Ball to happen.
Why No Chapman???
Chapman had thrown 17 pitches in nailing down a Save the night before, and 29 pitches in blowing one the day before that, so he really was unavailable. The Yankees have not used a reliever three nights in a row all season, either because of policy or because their bullpen is so deep that they don't have to, but either way, that was not going to happen.

And Green had been mostly great for the two months before this outing, since returning from a minor league stint (1.99 ERA in 22.2 IP with 34 K and just 2 walks since returning from AAA). Sometimes you throw a 95-mph fastball on the outer half to try to get strike one and the the guy fists it into the opposite field stands. You tip your cap and move on.

3. Yankees Lose 12-11 to the Tigers in the 9th on September 10th

Boone managed this game as though he almost didn’t want to win. Nestor Cortes, Jr., with his 2019 ERA over 5.00, and an ERA of almost 9 in his previous eight outings spanning a month, started and gave up 4 runs (2 earned) in 2+ IP. He now has an ERA of 7.40 since the start of August, surrendering at least one run in 13 of his last 18 appearances, including seven in a row. He's gotta have some pretty incriminating photos of Aaron Boone if he's gonna make the 25-man postseason roster... :-/

Other pitchers who will be able to enjoy October form the comfort of their own couches followed, including Luis Cessa, Cory Gearrin, Jonathan Loaisiga and Ryan Dull (who was released shortly thereafter). Those last three had just joined the team a few weeks before, one after an injury stint, the other two after having been waived by their former teams.

The offense also included a lot of second-stringers. Tyler Wade, Clint Frazier and Mike Ford started. Aaron Judge and D.J. LeMahieu never entered the game, Luke Voit only as a pinch hitter. Though there was only one official Error, a dropped double play ball and other miscues led to five unearned runs, the most the team has given up in a game since April 10th. Of 2018. This was not a typical Yankee game.

When the Yankees tied it up and went ahead, Boone used Ottavino and Britton in the 7th and 8th, but then with the game tied again in the 9th, Boone called not on Chapman or Tommy Kahnle or Chad Green, but on Chance Adams.

Chance. Frikking. Adams.
Adams now has 15 total appearances in his burgeoning MLB career and has given up at least one run in 11 of them. Clearly, this game was not that important to Boone.

Adams struck out Travis Demerritte but then allowed a double to someone named Grayson Grenier, who it turns out is not a character in a 50 Shades... novel but rather a third string catcher who was hitting a buck-seventy-five coming into that game. Willi Castro pinch ran for him and then Jordy Murcer hit a 2-2 pitch to right to walk it off.

Why No Chapman???

No idea. Chapman had not pitched in three days, and only once in the last two weeks. Even if you think the game is meaningless, you'd think you'd want to get your closer some work to help keep him sharp for the playoffs. This was a Tuesday game, and they had one scheduled the next day, though it got rain delayed into a doubleheader on Thursday, they didn't know that would happen at the time. Still, it was the 100+ loss Tigers, and they needed a closer only in one of those two games, it would turn out.

4. Yankees Lose 6-5 To the Blue Jays in the 12th on September 13th

Masahiro Tanaka was not particularly sharp, but he bulldogged his way through five innings and after a 5-run fifth by the Bronx Bombers, went to the showers with a slim lead. The bullpen blueprint was followed to plan, with Kahnle, Ottavino and then Britton, except this time Ottavino suffered from some pretty bad luck in the 7th.

He allowed a single, then a wild pitch allowed the runner to advance, then walked the next batter on a borderline pitch that he felt he should have gotten. You could see it frustrated him. He induced a grounder toward first for an "easy" 3-6-1 double play, but was late covering first and had to settle for a fielder's choice at second, leaving runners on first and third.

Then he balked home the tying run.

He got Vladdy Jr. to fly out, then intentionally walked the next batter and struck out Randall Grichuk to end the inning, but without the lead. Zach Britton pitched a scoreless 8th, followed by two scoreless from Luis Cessa. Then in the 10th, Boone brought in Tyler Lyons, a lefty the Yankees had just picked up less than a month before because he'd been released by the Pirates. If the last-place Pirates couldn't find a use for this guy, it begs the question of what the heck the Yankees want with him, but Boone had him on the roster so he figured he ought to use him, I guess.

Lyons did not disappoint, at first, getting a strikeout, a lineout and a foul pop for a perfect 11th. But then Bo Bichette took him deep on his third pitch of the 12th to end the game. Bichette Happens, right?

Except it didn't have to.

Why No Chapman???
Boone could have taken the scoreless inning from Lyons, thanked his lucky stars, and then brought in his closer to pitch the 12th. Chapman had pitched on previous night, but had thrown only 13 pitches, getting two easy outs against Detroit to nail down a 6-4 win. He was surely available, since that was only the second time he'd pitched all month. Again, tie game on the road and all that, I know, but these are the Blue Jays. Their bullpen is actually decent overall, but they had already used nine pitchers to this point in the game. The good ones were basically gone by now. The remaining five guys in the bullpen who were not tabbed for the starting rotation had a collective ERA of almost 6.00! The Yankees would have gotten to them soon. Alas, we'll never know because Lyons served up that gopher ball instead.

And finally, (I hope)...

5. Yankees Lose to Tampa, 2-1 in the 12th on September 24th

Another 4-hour, 12-inning marathon ends in a walkoff loss with the Yankees' best reliever not even warmed up. Yes, the Yankees have already clinched their division, but they still have home field advantage to play for, which will matter if they have to face Houston again. (Recall that in 2017 both teams won all their home games in that 7-game ALCS.) The Rays are still trying to win a Wild Card. This is not a meaningless game.

But it was managed more like an audition for the playoffs than a meaningful in-season game. Boone used 11 pitchers, only one for more than an inning, Jordan Montgomery who started and went two. Stephen Tarpley allowed a homer in the 5thbut otherwise the Rays were held hitless from the 4th inning on. Cory Gearrin, however, allowed a homer to Ji-Man Choi, suffering his third loss of the season, and giving the Rays a tenuous half-game lead on the Indians for the second Wild Card.

Why No Chapman???

Again, Chapman was surely available. He had not pitched since the 19th, and has pitched just three times this month. The Rays' bullpen is not as thin as Toronto's, but the Yankees have some pretty good hitters, and might have taken advantage of a mistake or two if Boone had not made his own first by allowing Gearrin to pitch in the 12th instead of Chapman.

So, there you have them. Five losses, four of which may have been prevented or at least delayed by using Chapman. Instead, you have losses attributed to Chad Green and four guys that most people who aren't Yankee fans would not even know were on the roster: Chance Adams, Cory Gearrin, Tyler Lyons and Jonathan Holder. The four of them have a combined ERA of 6.35 in 85 innings of work for the Yankees this year, compared to Chapman's 2.28 ERA in 55 innings. They have one more strikeout than Chapman does, 83 to 82, though it took them 30 more innings to get them. They've also allowed 18 homers in those 85 innings, compared to just three for Chapman.

The real concern here is - it has to be - whether Boone will manage such games this way in the postseason. Those teams - who might include Tampa, who has beaten the Yankees twice in this manner - all have better bullpens than the Royals or Tigers or Jays, but they're not unlimited. The Yankees have to be willing to put their best pitcher out there in a tie game in extra innings if it comes to that, or else risk losing the game with a sub-optimal option out there on the mound.

Chapman has pitched in consecutive games 15 times this season, so he's certainly capable of it. But will Boone allow it? Will he live up to it? At least if they beat Chapman, you can stand up tall and say you had your best out there and they just got to him. Yankee fans will never forgive Boone if he ends up blowing the ALCS or the World Series with Jonathan Holder or Cory Gearrin on the mound.

The old adage about not using your Closer in a tie game on the road (because who will then protect the lead if you get one?) seems to me a bit of old wisdom that is frankly not so wise.

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