One of the cool stats that they track in the Bill James Baseball Handbook 2008 is “Relievers Used on Consecutive Days” (RCD) by managers.
First, some background for a baseline. In 2007, for A.L. managers who served the full year, the average RCD (meaning a 162-game average) was 97 (times). In the N.L., the average was 122 – which makes sense as you’re pinch-hitting for pitchers in that league and using replacement pitchers more often.
Now, here’s Joe Torre’s RCD marks as Yankees manager, through the years:
The numbers for 2004 and 2006 are in bold as those were the high-marks for the league those seasons. And, the high mark (for the league) in 2005 was 114; and, in 2007 it was 131 – both set by Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox. So, it’s safe to say that Joe Torre, from 2004 to 2007, used relievers on consecutive days as much as anyone – and, he came within a few ticks of leading the league in RCD four years in a row.
But, note, before 2004, Torre’s RCD marks (with the Yankees) were always under 100. And, based on the average mark of 2007 (97), you can pretty much say that Torre, prior to 2004, was near-to-almost-below average in terms of using relievers on consecutive days.
So, what was so different about 1996-2003 and 2004-2007 that turned Joe Torre into a reported relief pitcher abuser?
At first, I wondered if it had anything to do with Don Zimmer. After all, Zim was there from 1996 to 2003 – and, once he left, Torre’s RCD numbers went crazy. Maybe Zimmer was the one making sure that “Clueless Joe” was not always calling on the same reliever?
But, then, I reminded myself of the state of Yankees pitching, both post-2003 and pre-2004.
In terms of the bullpen, when the Yankees had guys like Stanton, Nelson and Lloyd, their pen was effective – and, once those guys were gone, starting in 2004, the Yankees bullpen became a mess (in terms of effectiveness). So, it makes sense that, post-2003, Torre would keep calling on the same guys, even on consecutive days, because he had so few quality relief arms to call upon.
Actually, as a whole, pre-2004, the Yankees had strong pitching. And, that probably helped Torre control his RCD totals too – as starters went longer in games, etc., and there was less of a need to call on the bullpen. It was post-2003, that the Yankees started bringing in starting pitchers who failed – and often – placing more stress on a pen that was under-manned in terms of quality pitchers.
The numbers post-2003 and pre-2004 show us that it was not always Torre’s tendency (in New York) to run up high RCD numbers. In a way, it’s sort of a perfect storm effect that impacted Torre after 2003: Inferior starters, combined with a shortage of quality relievers, leading to high totals of relievers used on consecutive days. The numbers do show us, that, when Torre had good starting pitching, and a well manned bullpen, he would not call on the same guys, day-after-day, as much as he did once his pitching staff was inferior (both in quantity and quality).
Therefore, perhaps, rather than blaming Joe Torre for burning out his bullpen, based on the post-2003 and pre-2004 RCD data that we have available, the focus should shift towards what Torre was forced into doing, why he was in that position, and what other options he had (other than to call on the same few pitchers, so often). Perhaps, just maybe, the fault lies with what Torre was given to work with, and who gave it to him, and not with Joe himself?
I’m not saying this is something that we should carry, from here, as fact. One would have to really dig into the RCD data to see which pitchers were being used often, and which ones were ignored, and what the scores of the games were, and the dates of the games, and their impact on the standings, and the pitcher’s pitch counts, etc., before they could make a case for something being air-tight here. But, at the least, the RCD totals, during Torre’s full time in the Bronx, give good reason to wonder what or who was really to blame for Joe Torre calling on the same guys in the pen, and so often – rather than to just write it off as Joe being clueless.
Sure, “Clueless Joe” rolls off the tongue easier than “Extremis Malis Extrema Remedia Joe.” But, it would be a shame to ignore the stats on this one just for the sake of hanging on to a snazzy handle.