Joe Girardi defended his decision to sit Alex Rodriguez in game 5 of the ALDS by citing the three-time MVP’s struggles against right handers. The explanation was a rational reason for making an extraordinary decision. Despite handling pitchers throwing from the same side for most of his career, Arod exhibited a significant platoon split in 2012, and his at bats against righties in the ALDS implied a hitter who was overmatched (0-12 with nine strikeouts). However, was that really the motivating factor that led Girardi to bench him?
In the bottom of the sixth inning, with two outs and runners on first and second, Buck Showalter brought in lefty Troy Patton to face Raul Ibanez. During the regular season, Patton held lefties to a .554 OPS, while Ibanez only managed a rate of .492 against southpaws. The matchup screamed for a right handed pinch hitter. And, with Arod on the bench, the Yankees had a batter who not only posted the AL’s 10th best wOBA against lefties during the regular season, but also reached base in six of eight plate appearances against them in the series. It seemed like an obvious call, but Girardi left Ibanez in the game anyway. By doing so, his actions belied his words.
It doesn’t really matter why Girardi sat Arod in the ALDS. The Yankees won the game and will now host the Tigers in the ALCS. Of course, that doesn’t make the situation go away. Detroit’s rotation features four right handed pitchers, so if splits really are a big concern, the Yankee skipper may feel compelled to bench his Hall of Fame third baseman for most of the upcoming series, especially if he also believes the slugger’s confidence has been damaged beyond repair. However, Girardi would be wise to realize there really is no choice to be made. Rodriguez deserves a chance to redeem himself, and his first opportunity has to come in game one.
It doesn’t matter that the Tigers have all right handed starters. Girardi can not simply pull the plug on a player of Arod’s stature. The benefit of inserting Eric Chavez into the ninth slot isn’t great enough to warrant the risk of forfeiting a potential breakout from Arod, nor does it justify the long-term damage that could be done to Girardi’s relationship with a player he’ll have to manage for five more seasons. Although controversial, to this point, Girardi’s handling of Arod has been defensible. However, if Rodriguez is standing on the baseline before the starting line-up has been announced to the crowd, that will no longer be the case.