So the intentional walk to David Ortiz has become a point of controversy. If you turn on sports radio this morning or read columns like this one, Girardi made a colossal blunder. Personally, I don’t see it that way at all.
Let’s separate the names from the equation and just look at the situation. Boston starts the inning with three-straight hits and then Phil Hughes strikes out Pedroia. So now we have runners on second and third with one out and a left-handed hitter coming to the plate. The next guy up is a righty. This year lefties are hitting 100 OPS points higher against Hughes than righties are and they have twice the number of home runs. Furthermore, an intentional walk sets up a potential double play to end the inning. I don’t see why you wouldn’t intentionally walk the hitter in that situation.
But, if you have some hesitation then consider the fact that the hitter is David Ortiz, a guy who has murdered the Yankees through the years and is hitting incredibly well in 2013. And while Mike Napoli is certainly no slouch, he isn’t Ortiz and he is on pace to strikeout 230!! times this season. I just don’t see how Girardi can be criticized for his decision to intentionally walk Ortiz.
If you want to blame someone, blame Phil Hughes. Hughes served up the gopher ball and did so after jumping out to an 0-2 count on Napoli. Look at the breakdown of the at bat, a frustratingly typical tale for Hughes:
Pitch 1- 94-mph fastball-swing and a miss
Pitch 2- 94-mph fastball-called strike
Pitch 3- 94-mph fastball- foul
Pitch 4- 93-mph fastball-called ball
Pitch 5- 82-mph slider- called ball
Pitch 6- 94-mph fastball- deposited into the seats
Hughes struggles to put hitters away and it costs him. In fact, 39% of the plate appearances against Hughes this year have gone to an 0-2 count. (For comparisons sake I looked at the same figure for these pitchers: Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Darvish, Moore, Buchholz, Hernandez and Kuroda. Most of them had a figure in the 20′s. Only Verlander and Sanchez were close to Hughes, but both of them were at 35%. Also, the MLB average is 23%.) I don’t know what it would take to transform more of those 0-2 counts into strikeouts, but that is what Hughes needs to figure out if he is ever going to live up to his potential.
And this is one of the biggest questions for the Yankees going forward. What exactly is Phil Hughes? He certainly doesn’t seem to be a top of the rotation pitcher. But it’s also worth noting that he is still only 27 with only 114 starts to his name. Look at Cliff Lee, who didn’t put it all together until 29. Or Annibal Sanchez who has taken it up to a new level at that same age. The Yankees have to decide if Hughes can make that jump and how much they are willing to spend on that bet. It’s just one more tough decision they will have to make in a season full of them.