The New York Yankees wouldn’t be where they are now without the exploits of Raul Ibanez. They also may be in better shape today if he had been pinch-hit for in the 9th inning on Tuesday night.
The Yankees improbably put together a rally in the 9th inning of Game Three of the ALCS, chasing the untouchable Justin Verlander from the game. With a 2-1 score and runners on first and second base, Raul Ibanez strode to the mound. Standing out there ready to face the left-handed Ibanez was left-handed specialist turned Detroit Tigers closer-out-of-necessity Phil Coke.
Managing a major league baseball team in the late innings of a baseball game is about creating the right matchup for your team. The decisions end up being a mix of numbers and managerial intuition, making it hard to second guess moves made by a manager who knows his players better than anybody else on Earth.
But on Tuesday night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi got it wrong.
That’s not second-guessing. It’s an outright statement. There is no way Raul Ibanez should have been left in to face Phil Coke with the game-tying run on second base and two outs.
Coke is closing because of the troubles of incumbent closer Jose Valverde, but all season, Coke was a left-handed specialist. On the season, Coke dominated left-handers, holding them to a .685 OPS while right-handed hitters posted a 1.050 mark against him.
Now that’s not a call to pinch-hit for all left-handers against Coke. Robinson Cano, for starters, batting ahead of Ibanez, got a hit off of Coke. But Cano is an entirely different hitter than Ibanez.
Ibanez has had a nice career and a great post-season, but at this point he’s an extremely one-dimensional hitter. On the season, Ibanez had an .812 OPS against righties, but was a pathetic .492 against southpaws. His OPS against lefties was the same as his slugging percentage against righties. It’s not just that he was worse against lefties. He was virtually worthless.
On the Yankees bench were a pair of much-miligned hitters, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. Both have struggled badly in the ALCS to the point of being benched on Tuesday. But on the Yankees roster, there are few hitters that aren’t struggling.
Ibanez is the one hitter who wasn’t, but his successes earlier in the post season were a product of favorible matchups. By trotting him out there to face Coke, the Yankees were setting him up to fail.
The options were there. If Girardi had pinch-hit Rodriguez for Ibanez, the Tigers would have likely made a pitching change to one of their two right-handers in the bullpen – Octavio Dotel or Joaquin Benoit. If it had been Swisher pinch-hitting, the Yankees would have had the platoon advantage no matter what move the Tigers made.
Regardless, of what the move was, it would have improved the Yankees chances. Raul Ibanez was literally the worst option for the Yankees at the plate against Coke in that situation.
Joe Girardi let his “gut feelings” get the best of him on Tuesday night in what may have been the Yankees last chance to get back in to this series.