Joe Torre’s Flaw: Bullpen Management

I was recently reading The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci and I came across this quote:

I was trying to do whatever I could to stay away from Mariano to have him for two innings the next day. Chamberlain got through the seventh with the low pitch count. Now my choice is to go with someone else in the eighth, but if I don’t get a clean inning, then I’ve got to get Mariano up, which was the one thing I was trying to avoid. I guess I never really had enough trust in everybody else down there to think that getting three outs in that spot is so simple

Before dissecting that quotation, let me give some background for you. This was game 3 of the 2007 ALDS where the Yankees were down 2-0 in games to the Cleveland Indians. Entering the 8th inning, New York lead 8-3 and had already used their set-up man Joba Chamberlain in the 7th, throwing 16 pitches. Torre made a critical mistake here by sending Joba back out to the mound to pitch the eighth. Up 5 runs, there was no reason to where Chamberlain’s arm out in a game that was close to out of reach. This wasn’t a two or three run game. It was a five-run game. Using Chamberlain for an inning is fine (especially, considering it was 5-3 at the time), but using him in the eighth was a big mistake. Eventually, Chamberlain faltered in game 4 and the Yanks lost the series. This can all be traced back to Torre’s unwillingness to use the rest of his bullpen. This was not something new in 2007 though. Thinking about Torre’s managerial style, I realized that he has faith in only a couple guys in his bullpen each year. The last sentence in that quote says everything. “I never really had enough trust in everybody else down there”. That’s a big problem over the course of a season and I decided to take a look into Torre’s problem managing his bullpen.

Let’s begin back in 2002, two years after the Yankees most recent World Series. Torre heavily relied on three guys in his bullpen during this season, Ramiro Mendoza, Steve Karsay, and Mike Stanton. They threw 91 2/3, 88 1/3, and 78 innings respectively over the course of the season. Mendoza had a 3,44 ERA during the regular season, but gave up two earned runs in his 1 1/3 innings of work during the postseason, including five hits for a 13.50 ERA. Karsay possessed a 3.26 ERA during the season, but gave up two earned rus in 2 2/3 innings on three hits in the playoffs, a 6.75 ERA. Finally, Stanton gave up three earned runs in 2 2/3 innings on 6 hits during the playoffs for a 10.13 ERA, a huge jump from his 3.00 ERA during the regular season.

However, just looking at their ERAs during the regular season and postseason does not do justice to how much these guys were overworked. Looking at their ERAsby month demonstrates this even better:

   April May June July Aug Sept
Mendoza 5.79 2.33 2.95 4.80 0.57 6.55
Karsay 3.55 1.25 3.00 8.76 0.57 4.63
Stanton 1.35 5.40 1.72 4.30 0.77 4.82



 Clearly, there is some fluctuation in those stats, but all three players had terrible Septembers with ERAs all above 4.50. Oddly enough, all three also had awful Julys and terrific months of August. I don’t have a good reason to explain those, but the trend of bad second half of the seasons is clear.

2003 was a statistical anomaly for the Yankees as their starting pitchers threw an incredible 1066 innings, 145 more than New York’s starters threw in 2007. For that reason, Mariano Rivera threw the most innings on the team at 70 2/3, but that cannot be considered overworking a pitcher. Torre succeeded in keeping his relievers fresh due to the fact that his starters ate up so many innings. Not coincidentally, this was the last time the Yankees advanced to the World Series.

In 2004 though, the Yankees starters reverted back to form and Torre went back to overtaxing his relievers. This year, Paul Quantrilland Tom Gordon led the Yankees relief corps with 95 1/3 and 89 2/3 innings respectively. Let’s look at the monthly breakdowns for Quantrill and Gordon.

  April May June July Aug Sept
Quantrill 2.70 5.51 1.04 3.44 6.19 10.50
Gordon 2,08 1.23 1.69 2.70 3.97 2.12

Gordon actually finished September strong while Quantrill clearly deteriorated as the season went along. Gordon, however, faltered badly in the playoffs as he gave up eight earned runs in just 10 1/3 innings for a 6.97 ERA. From his 2.21 season ERA, Gordon’s skyrocketed in the postseason. Quantrill actually found himself in the postseason, giving up just two runs in 5 1/3 innings for a 3.38 ERA, actually lower than his 4.22 ERA.

Looking deeper into Quantrill’s postseason though shows that Torre mishandled him as well. Torre brought Quantrill in to the 17-6 blowout in game 3 of the ALCS against the Red Sox where he threw 27 pitches in an easy Yankee victory. There was no reason to pitch Quantrill in this game, but the Torre brought him in anyways and this would hurt them big time. The next day, Quantrill gave up the 2-run walk-off homer by David Ortiz. He didn’t record an out in the game. In the next two games, Quantrill pitched an inning and 2/3 of an inning respectively, giving up two hits in both games, but managing to avoid giving up any runs. His stats sound good except for the fact that he gave up 10 hits and had a 1.96 WHIP. His WHIP actually increased by just less than 33% from the 1.51 he posted in the regular season. Whether Quantrill was overworked can be debated, but there was no reason he should have entered the game 3 blowout and this came back to bite the Yankees big the next day.

On to 2005 where Torre relied solely on Tom Gordon as he pitched 80 2/3 innings, more than any other reliever on New York. Having pitched fewer innings this season than in 2004, Gordon had a strong season with a 2.67 ERA and posted a 1.93 ERA in September. Come October though, he struggled a little bit, giving up a run in just 2 1/3 innings pitched for a 3.86 ERA. That is not bad, but Torre also could not use Gordon much (39 pitches total) since he had used him a lot during the regular season. Torre did not mishandle his bullpen AS badly in 2005, but nonetheless, Gordon was worn out in the postseason (even if he was only slightly worse than the regular season) and it did cost the Yankees.

Torre turned to Scott Proctor and Ron Villone in 2006 as his many guys out of the ‘pen. Proctor pitched an incredible 102 1/3 innings and Villone pitched 80 1/3 innings. Amazingly enough, Proctor did not get worn out during the season and pitched well in the playoffs. He had a 3.52 ERA during the season (1.76 in September) and allowed just one run in 4 innings during the postseason for a 2.25 ERA. Proctor really had an incredible year has Torre used him an absurd amount and yet Proctor didn’t wear down.

One thing I did notice as well is that Torre likes to use guys three days in a row. Well maybe he doesn’t like it, but he still does it. Proctor pitched the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 16th, 17th, 18th of September in 2005. Torre pitched Proctor on the 9th for just a 1/3rd of an inning and only 7 pitches. The next day though, Torre used him again in a 9-4 game and Proctor threw 15 pitches. There was no reason to bring him in, yet Torre did so anyways. This cost the Yankees the next day as Proctor gave up a run in his 2/3 of an inning of relief. Pitching three days in a row is terrible for relievers and Torre could have avoided it easily. On the other occasion, Proctor pitched two innings and 26 pitches on the 16th. Likely tired from that outing, he gave up a run in his one inning of work the next day. On the 18th, Proctor labored through an inning where he gave up two baserunners, but avoided giving up any runs.

Torre’s odd use of Proctor is nothing compared to his complete mismanagement of Ron Villone. On August 16th, Villone had a 2.23 ERA and was Torre’s top reliever besides Rivera. Torre started using Villone so badly from here on out that his ERA at the end of the year was 5.04. Look at this:

Date Days Rest Pitches Innings Hits Runs
8/15 1 9 1/3 0 0
8/16 0 7 2/3 1 0
8/17 0 42 2 3 2
8/18 0 32 1 3 3
8/20 1 40 2 3 1
8/22 1 29 1 1/3 2 1
8/25 2 31 1 1/3 3 1
8/26 0 25 1 3 3
8/30 3 20 1 0 0
9/2 1 18 1/3 3 4
9/4 1 19 2/3 1 2

Villone pitched 10 times in 21 days, including FOUR days in a row from August 15th-18th. Not just that, but Torre could have avoided that easily. Down 4-2 in the 4th, Torre brought Villone in to pitch two innings after already having pitched two days in a row. Amazingly enough, Torre brought Villone in the next day up 7-5 in th 4th for his fourth consecutive day pitching. He had pitched three days in a row and had thrown 42 pitches the day before, but Torre brought him in anyways. Not surprisingly, Villone gave up 3 runs. Two days later he was pitching again. One day rest was not enough for the amount Villone just pitched. His only clean inning (besides 8/15) was when Torre gave him three days off. After 9/4, Torre gave Villone a large break, using him only once until September 16th. Yet, after finally regaining his strength, Torre pitched him three consecutive days from the 16th to the 18th. Over those three days, Villone threw 2 2/3 innings and gave up 7 runs. On the 18th, Villone pitched for the third consecutive dayin the ninth inning with the Yankees up 7-3. WHY JOE? There was no need to harm his arm even more.

Villone was finished for the season. During the playoffs, Torre used him just once for one inning in a blowout, because his star reliever was now just deadweight. After posting a 2.12 ERA in July, Villone had a 6.04 ERA in August and a 27.00 ERA in September. Torre overused him and Villone completely fell apart.

Moving on to 2007 where Torre had a new favorite reliever, Luis Vizcaino. Vizcaino pitched 75 2/3 innings, but fell apart in September where he posted a 10.13 ERA.  Torre was able to use him just once in the playoffs for 2/3 of an inning where he gave up 4 baserunners and just one run for a 13.50 ERA. That is more than three times his 4.30 ERA on the season. Following thre trend, Vizcaino was tired and was unable to do anything in the playoffs, because Torre had used him so much during the regular season. This was also the year that Torre used Joba for the eighth inning of game three of the ALDS for no reason and ended up costing the Yankees the series.

Torre joined the Dodgers in 2008, but his style did not change much. Chan Ho Park and Cory Wade were his new go-to-guys in the bullpen and he continued to use them badly. Park rotated between the rotation and the bullpen, throwing 95 1/3 innings overall (70 1/3 as a reliever). However, he fell apart in August (6.00 ERA) and September (6.52 ERA). He was used exclusively as a reliever in those months, but he had already been worn out and could do very little. As seen before, Torre was able to get just 1 2/3 innings out of Park in the playoffs.

Wade is an interesting story as Torre did not actually overuse him, he just used him incredibly badly in the playoffs. Wade posted a 2.27 ERA in 71 1/3 innings in the regular season. He had a 1.08 ERA in September and gave up three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings in the playoffs. However, those three runs could have been avoided if Torre had used him smarter:

Up 7-0 in game 2 of the NLDS, Torre brought in Wade who thew 15 pitches in 1 1/3 innings after pitching 17 pitches in an inning the day before. In game 3, Torre brought Wade in again (on just one day rest with the offday in between games 2 and 3) and he struggled, giving up a run in his 1 1/3 innings. Then in the NLCS, Torre brought Wade in up 7-1 after six innings and used him for two innings and 33 pitches. Why waste your best reliever in a blowout? It makes no sense. The next day, Torre needs him in a close game, but Wade is worn out, pitches just 2/3 of an inning, giving up 2 runs and taking the loss. Torre’s mishandling of the bullpen cost the Dodgers the game.

Except for in 2003 where his starters saved him, Torre misused the bullpen over and over and over again. He relied on too few pitchers and wore the ones he did out. Come October, his bullpen had Mariano Rivera and that was it. You would think that after all those years managing, he would realize his mistake and fix it. Yet, so far this year his new favorites, Ramon Troncosco and Ronald Belisario have thrown 43 and 40 1/3 innings respectively. They are on pace for 105 and 99 innings respectively and are number 1 and 2 in innings pitched by relievers in the NL so far this season. Torre’s critical flaw is his inability to manage his relievers effectively, to prevent them from tiring out, and to keep them the fresh for October. As Torre himself said “I never really had enough trust in everybody else down there”.


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