Joe Girardi’s bullpen rule is logical but ruining the Phillies’ postseason chances
For years, Joe Girardi has held fast to a rule: no reliever of his pitches three days in a row.
It was his policy as the New York Yankees’ manager, and he’s implemented it with the Philadelphia Phillies. The reasoning is obvious, to mitigate injuries because baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.
But it’s not a marathon if the team loses so many games that their season is over by the All-Star break and they’re sellers at the trade deadline; that’s not a marathon, it’s a dead end. It’s a frustrating catch-22: the Phillies need to win now if they want to be relevant down the stretch, but they also need to stay healthy to make it down the stretch.
What use is a healthy bullpen to a third-place team?
After two frustrating losses to their division-rival Atlanta Braves, Girardi’s rule feels more detrimental than helpful.
Despite a small tear in his UCL, Bryce Harper is in his prime. He went 4-for-5 on Wednesday night, notched his 400th hit in a Phillies uniform, and is hitting nearly .400 in the month of May. Zack Wheeler is pitching his way into Cy Young conversation again. Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Kyle Gibson are in the final year of their respective contracts. For these reasons and more, this team should be in win-now mode, and instead, it’s business as usual, and that business is mediocrity.
Last season, the bullpen held the Phillies back because it was, to put it plainly, not very good. They led MLB in blown saves for almost the entire season, and tied the all-time record by blowing 34.
In response, the front office spent over $20M during the offseason to overhaul the pen, adding Corey Knebel, Brad Hand, and Jeurys Familia. Seranthony Dominguez finally returned from lengthy elbow injuries and surgeries. There have been several games in which this bullpen has been excellent, including those masked by losses sustained due to inconsistent offense. While a few teams are already in the double digits, the Phillies are tied for the second-fewest blown saves in MLB, with only four.
On Tuesday night, James Norwood, Andrew Bellatti, Brad Hand, and Nick Nelson got the call from the bullpen phone. Norwood and Nelson gave up runs. On Wednesday night, it was Jose Alvarado, Bellatti for the second night in a row, Connor Brogdon, and Norwood again. This time, only Norwood held the Braves scoreless.
Corey Knebel wanted to close things out on Tuesday night, but Girardi wouldn’t let him. On Wednesday night, there was no point in wasting his arm in an 8-4 loss. Had his manager known that, he might have broken his rule the night before, and the Phillies might have won. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
The bullpen is far from perfect, and a lack of pitching depth at the major and minor-league levels backs up Girardi’s rule, to some extent. But the rule is also helping the Phillies dig their own grave, and if they don’t reach the postseason, Girardi will have dug his own, too.