Ibanez Starts, A-Rod Finishes

As expected, Alex Rodriguez finds himself on the bench to start game five, with Eric Chavez playing third base and Raul Ibanez filling in at DH. We talked about this possibility yesterday, with both having better numbers against right-handers this year and A-Rod obviously not having a very good postseason thus far. With their backs against the wall, the Yankees are going with the platoon advantage and guys who have performed better versus right-handed pitching this year. It’s hard to blame them, even if swapping out Rodriguez for Ibanez probably doesn’t make a huge difference one way or another.

But, there’s a pretty interesting subplot that develops because of this decision – by starting two LHBs who have huge platoon splits in Chavez and Ibanez, there is almost certainly going to be a situation where Buck Showalter goes to a left-handed reliever to get one of them out late in the game. If the score is even remotely close, Girardi will have to strongly consider pinch-hitting for either one, as they simply aren’t effective big league hitters against lefties at this point in their career. And A-Rod is going to be Girardi’s best right-handed batter on the bench.

So, starting Ibanez and Chavez sets up the very real chance that Rodriguez is going to be sent up to pinch-hit in a high leverage “clutch” situation – the very role that the narrative claims he performs the worst in. At least throughout his postseason history, the narrative is wrong, but this line-up choice sets up a situation where Girardi is going to have to publicly decide whether he buys into that narrative or not.

If you really buy into the “A-Rod is not clutch” idea, you should probably be against this decision, as it requires the game’s most renowned choke artist to be called upon to come off the bench in a clutch situation in a game that the team can’t afford to lose. If clutch hitting was a thing that we could identify ahead of time, and A-Rod lacked that specific skill, starting Ibanez is exactly the wrong thing to do, because you’d be trading A-Rod at-bats earlier in the game for an A-Rod bat late in the game, when he’s supposedly at his worst.

If you don’t buy into the “A-Rod is not clutch” idea, than starting Ibanez makes sense, as you get the platoon advantage early in the game against Jason Hammel and can ensure Ibanez gets multiple at-bats against a righty, which you don’t get if you save him for pinch-hitting duty. While benching A-Rod is being hailed in some circles as an admission of The Human Element and managing people rather than the numbers, it can actually be seen as a refutation of The Human Element’s description of Rodriguez as a late game choker. If Girardi is actually planning on pinch-hitting Rodriguez for Ibanez or Chavez late in the game, then he’s basically telling the world that he doesn’t buy into the idea that Rodriguez can’t handle big pressure situations.

I don’t know what Girardi thinks about all this. Maybe he’s not planning on using Rodriguez at all, and he’ll let Chavez and Ibanez face lefties instead of asking A-Rod to pinch-hit. If that’s the case, then that would be about the biggest “human element” decision I can ever remember a manager making.

But if he sends A-Rod up to hit for either Chavez or Ibanez in a high leverage situation in an elimination game, then it seems to me that this decision may be more about playing the numbers than it is about playing the people.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


23 Responses to “Ibanez Starts, A-Rod Finishes”

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  1. Marcus Brutus says:

    This move really passes the buck to Showalter in terms of match ups in the late innings.

    Does he like his chances of his lefty getting an out against a pinch hitting AROD or does he put a righty in to keep him on the bench?

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  2. beckett19 says:

    I caught that

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  3. Jim says:

    The fact that Ibanez had the go-ahead RBI in a scoreless game in the fifth kind of kills the whole “Ibenez v. ARod makes no difference” storyline. It’s all well and good to talk about small sample sizes, but the playoffs are one big small sample size, and they’re also, at the end of the day, the only part of the season that counts.

    It’s kind of unfair to pile on ARod, though, because it’s not so much him that’s the problem this series for the Yankees, as it is the fact that the entire Yankees lineup outside of Jeter has decided to do their best 1899 Cleveland Spiders impersonation.

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    • MikeS says:

      Yes. One at bat clearly proves everything about everything.

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      • Jim says:

        In the playoffs, it does. One at bat means the difference between winning a series and losing one; between making your entire organization’s season a failure or keeping your hopes alive. It may not be predictive — or predictable — but they’re what matters.

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    • baycommuter says:

      Only a Yankee fan would say the whole season depends on the playoffs and nothing else counts. If you’re a Royals fan, a winning season would be cause for elation. As an A’s fan, it sure seems like successful season, our team provided lots of thrills and became relevant again.

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      • A-Rod Should Never Be Benched says:

        I’m a Yankee fan too. The problem with most Yankee fans is that they are like Jim. To judge a player on one at-bat is so ridiculously stupid. A-Rod has had more than 7,000 at-bats in his career against righties and all of a sudden Girardi decides A-Rod is a platoon player based on 9 at-bats against righties in this series. Girardi, like his predecessor Joe Torre when he batted A-Rod eighth, caved to the fan pressure from Yankee fans like Jim. A-Rod was made to be the scapegoat. JIm doesn’t realize that when you judge players on these small sample sizes you end up overrating players putting together that may be good in a short series, but in most cases will not be a playoff-caliber team over the course of 162 games, such as a team like the 2011 San Francisco Giants. With their pitching, they would have been great in a short series but they couldn’t hit enough over 162 games to even qualify for the playoffs. That’s the kind of team Yankee fans and Girardi would prefer to have apparently.

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  4. Calvin says:

    Or not..

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  5. Biff Terkle says:

    I hate the stoopid Yanks. Let someone else play in the ALCS ya bunch of overpaid wankers!

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    • jay says:

      They won’t be here next yr. I know they’re moving onto the ALCS but you can tell they’re running on fumes.

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      • Jim says:

        They’ll make the playoffs next year and be out in the first round. They just can’t hit, and although they’ve got plenty of lineup spots to fill with good hitters (if they decline Granderson’s option, they can move Gardner to center and get two new corner outfielders plus a 3B / DH), but there aren’t any good bats available (Hamilton would be a disaster in NY).

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  6. ? says:

    Vhere iz ze chat?!

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    • Keith says:

      Assuming he continues decline and that the Dodgers don’t take him too, what are the Yankees options with ARod? If any?

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      • Jim says:

        I heard yesterday that somebody from the Yankees’ braintrust in Tampa has at least floated the idea of buying him out. He’s owed five years and $114 million. I’d imagine a buyout would require at least $75 million, so it seems unlikely.

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      • Baltar says:

        Great! It will give me great pleasure to see the Yankees have to pay an average of $23M per year for 5 years for a has-been, even though that won’t hurt their bankroll that much.

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  7. Tim says:

    It’s probably safe to assume this is the only game in postseason history where two members of the 600-HR club spent the entire game on the bench. But how close is the next-most pair?

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    • Tim says:

      I felt the need to look. Here’s what I came up with > 700 total, always possible I missed somebody, and I didn’t check the few possibilities involving no one in the 500-club. They broke the record by a lot, but it wasn’t a very old record.

      1259 2012 ALDS Game 5: Alex Rodriguez (647) and Jim Thome (612)
      0860 2012 ALDS Game 1: Thome (612) and Eric Chavez (248)
      0844 2008 ALDS Game 2: Ken Griffey Jr. (611) and Cliff Floyd (233)
      0787 1968 WS Game 2: Eddie Matthews (512) and Roger Maris (275)
      0774 2008 ALDS Game 2: Griffey (611) and Carlos Pena (163)
      0772 1986 ALCS Game 2: Reggie Jackson (548) and Tony Armas (224)
      0772 1986 ALCS Game 2: Jackson (548) and Bobby Grich (224)
      0721 1981 WS Game 1: Jackson (425) and Reggie Smith (296)
      0721 1981 WS Game 3: Jackson and Smith again.

      That 2008 Game 2 stands out because all three players were on the same team. That’s being very scared of Mark Buerhle.

      I didn’t check press reports for injuries. I expect Jackson in particular wasn’t sitting out those games because he had been benched.

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      • Tim says:

        ” all three players were on the same team.”

        Er, never mind that part. Griffey wasn’t, obviously.

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      • Tim says:

        Also, Willie Mays sat out a bunch of games in 1973, and there was probably somebody on the bench with more than 40 home runs, but no one approaching the Thome-Chavez record.

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      • Tim says:

        In ’73 Mays has six games sitting with Ed Kranepool (745 total), one with Andy Kosco (733), seven with Mike Andrews (726) and six with Billy Conigliaro (700). So maybe it’s better to cut off at 750. NLCS Game 1 still makes the list with 761 though, Mays and Dennis Menke.

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  8. Kazinski says:

    After Dave’s other post the other day, I looked at Fangraph’s leader in the Clutch Stat for the last decade. Just for fun I went and looked at the Yankees Clutch rankings. For current Yankee’s with over 2000 PA’s with the Yankees over the last decade here are their Clutch numbers:

    Derek Jeter 1.38
    Nick Swisher -0.30
    Alex Rodriguez -3.36
    Mark Teixeira -4.09
    Robinson Cano -5.33

    To put those numbers in context with the MLB leader over the same period:

    Willie Bloomquist 5.63

    The worst 2003-2012 was:

    Jim Thome -7.61

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  9. waynetolleson says:

    Nope, Dave. No difference between Raul Ibanez and A-Rod. A-Rod has been having great AB’s in the postseason. It’s totally just a BABIP thing.

    Thanks for teaching us.

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    • CJ says:

      You’re right. The research has been done and hot/cold streaks are statistically predictive of future performance…

      To the third decimal point of wOBA.

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