Toronto, I’ve seen worse.
In fact, on a scale of bad managerial discussions Aaron Boone’s call to intentionally walk Josh Donaldson to pitch to Justin Smoak probably only rates a two out of five on the Gabe Kapler Scale.
Yep. I’d give Boone, the new New York Yankees manager, two Kaplers for that one.
It’s been a difficult first couple of games for two of Major League Baseball’s most high-profile off-season hires: Boone, the former ESPN broadcaster who’s lucked into managing the most important franchise in the game just as it seems on the verge of another dynasty, and Kapler, who was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ director of player development for three years after a long major league career and who has been handed the keys to one of the most loaded organizations in baseball.
Boone’s Yankees split a two-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays, losing Saturday when reliever Dellin Betances was left to suffer a meltdown and losing 7-4 Sunday when David Robertson served up a grand slam to Smoak.
Not optimal, but not as bad as Kapler, a fitness freak with a chiselled body who is a forward-thinking darling of the analytics crowd who’ll shift outfielders from pitch to pitch in the ninth inning of a Grapefruit League game against other teams scrubs and whose analytical bent was honed with a Dodgers organization that sometimes seems strident in its embrace of the games new age.
Kapler’s Phillies are 1-2 and he’s made 21 pitching changes in that time, taken out putative ace Aaron Nola after 67 pitches on Opening Day because god forbid a pitcher should go through the batting order the third time and – oh yeah – made one of his pitching changes on Saturday without having anybody up in the bullpen.
Worse still, Kapler was further embarrassed when the umpire crew chief Jerry Layne went against the games new pace of play rules in order to allow the incoming pitcher eight warmup pitches. The opposing manager, the Atlanta Braves’ Brian Snitker, protested, was ejected … and Layne essentially said after the game: “Just because the pitcher’s idiot manager put him in a position to be hurt doesn’t mean I was going to let it happen.” Or words to that effect.
I’m not going to let this spin off into one of those anti-analytics rants (which is just stupid, get off my lawn stuff) or point out that this is another example of how the game happens faster on the field than in the broadcast booth or executive offices.
Bullpens, eh? Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em. Failed starters. “Fungible.” Dime a dozen … yet guys who in recent years have received contracts in the winter that seem way out of whack. Nobody’s giving money to mid 30’s mashers. But be a 35-year-old guy who can pitch the odd leverage inning? Look out.
The bullpen can be a trip-wire, and for the Yankees and Boone, these two losses could not be seen coming.
“Everything’s a little bit magnified right now,” said Boone. “I’m confident our bullpen will be an overwhelming strength.”
It should be. Everybody throws mid-to-high 90s to low 100s including Betances, who could very well continue to puzzle Boone the way he puzzled his predecessor Joe Girardi last season. One hundred miles per hour … yet still throwing sliders to light-hitting Gift Ngoepe.
Sunday’s loss, however, had nothing to do with the Yankees pitcher and everything to do with Boone. Leading 5-4 in the eighth inning, Boone ordered an intentional pass to Donaldson to load the bases in an inning that began with a Russell Martin single and seemed destined to dry up when Devon Travis tapped out to the mound with two on for the second out of the inning.
“I don’t like this,” YES Yankees analyst David Cone said.
Smoak was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts lifetime against Robertson. Donaldson was 3-for-8 with two home runs. But Smoak had homered in his previous at bat against right-hander reliever Tommy Kahnle, had singled before that, and was 3-for-4 with a double on Saturday. Donaldson was 2-for-13 with two walks and had been plagued in spring training by shoulder and leg issues.
Boone said that the matchup was something that had been pre-determined in staff meetings; that “we were kind of going with ‘Who do we like against each guy?’ It’s as simple as that.”
Asked whether he believed past or recent history was more important when dealing with admittedly small sample sizes, Boone said recent history matters less than many may think.
“You can’t get caught up in the last at bat or the last two,” he said, while acknowledging that “reading swings” had an importance.
“We tried to match up skill set versus skill set,” he continued. “We liked his (Robertson’s) breaking ball better (against Smoak.)”
The strength of the Yankees bullpen, in addition to raw stuff, is the fact that most believe there are four relievers in it capable of closing on most teams, including Robertson.
Smoak blasted his grand slam on the ninth pitch of the at bat, a 93 miles per hour four-seam fastball that was thrown after back to back curveballs, two of the six thrown by Robertson. The Yankees pitcher walked toward home plate after Robertson spoiled the eighth pitch, shaking his head and grinning as he accepted a new ball from home plate umpire David Rackley.
“He just kept fouling them off and was on me and I thought I could get a fastball by him,” said Robertson. “I didn’t want to throw him another curveball he’d already seen a lot of them. I thought it was the best I had at the time. I got him out a lot in the past but he got me today.
“It was frustrating, because I was one pitch away. He found a way to put a piece of the bat (on the curves) and stay with it.
“It’s a strike. I got 3-2 there’s a guy on third base and everything I’m throwing up there’s got quality in the strike zone. I threw everything I had at him. He got me today.”
And baseball got Aaron Boone, too. Two? Nah, let’s make it 1 ½ Kaplers out of five.