The Yankees won 3 out of 4 at home against a very good Detroit Tigers team featuring the past 3 Cy Young Award recipients. The one loss was a 1-run game that the Yankees were very close to winning. On the flip side, one of the wins, aided by some inauspicious pitching deployment late in the game, was almost for naught. Leaving starting pitcher Shane Greene in the game to pitch the 9th inning was not an optimal choice.
Let’s walk through the decision factors. Shane Greene had pitched very well up to that point in the game: 8 innings, 5 hits (all singles), 5 strikeouts, 3 walks, 11 groundouts to 3 flyouts. Also, prior to the 9th inning, Greene had thrown 98 pitches, an amount that managers typically are comfortable with extending by 10-15 more. However, managing based on how the pitcher has done so far in the game or by pitch count are the wrong approaches. Mitchel Lichtman has done extensive research on the times through the order penalty. The overriding idea is that starting pitchers produce drastically diminished results each time they turn the opposing team’s lineup over. There are very few starters embarking on their 4th time through the order who have a better chance at recording outs than any competent major league caliber reliever. Shane Greene (close to replacement level during 4th time through order) is certainly not one of them, especially when the reliever is David Robertson. Additionally the hitters coming up were very good: Ian Kinsler (R), Victor Martinez (S), J.D. Martinez (R), and Don Kelly (L). Miguel Cabrera (R) was available to pinch hit at any moment. Robertson and Greene are both righties, but Robertson’s repertoire is better at getting lefties (namely Victor Martinez in this spot) out. Robertson’s primary pitches- cutter and spike curveball- have less of a platoon split than Greene’s 2 best pitches- sinker and slider.
The inning began with Greene allowing a first-pitch line drive single to Ian Kinsler. That play alone decreased the Yankees’ odds of winning the game from 84.1% to 72.6%. Girardi rushed to the mound to relieve Greene. Fortunately, Robertson did his usual Houdini act-walk to Victor Martinez, GIDP of pinch-hitter Cabrera, soft line-out from Kelly- and got out of the inning without allowing the tying run. The outcome does not ever justify the process. Robertson, an elite closer with 2 days of rest, was the best choice to start and finish the 9th inning without allowing the tying run because of the times through the order penalty Greene faced and the quality of the hitters coming up including consideration of the platoon (dis)advantage.
It is unlikely that Girardi thought that Greene, in his 6th MLB start and approaching 100 pitches, was the best option for that 9th inning. Unfortunately he seemed to be managing for a stat- Complete Game Shutout- rather than managing to win the game. He has done the leave the starting pitcher in with a 1 baserunner leash late in the game trick before. This instance- 1 run game in 9th against good team with middle of the order due up- appeared to be the most egregious and pointed to his hope of getting the rookie a “1” under CG on his FanGraphs page. Tactical decisions that lessen the Yankees chances of winning a game- even by just several percentage points- could sink a team fighting for its playoff lives after having gotten extremely lucky the first 114 games of the season.