Jordan Montgomery Is The Reason The J.A. Happ Decision Was Poor
Happ has not done nearly as well against right-handed batters as he has left-handed batters. This year, right-handed batters had a .296 wOBA against a .252 for left-handed batters. That’s not a one year short season blip either.
Last year, it was more pronounced with right-handed batters having a .345 wOBA with left-handed batters having a .280. These splits hold true throughout his career. Simply put, Happ is better against left-handed batters than right.
Before proceeding further, that’s baseball. Typically, pitchers perform better against same side batters. In baseball, you want your left-handed pitchers facing left-handed batters. With starters you can’t just do that; hence, the opener strategy.
Criticizing that doesn’t make much sense. The Yankees put Happ in a good position to succeed, and they were smart having him start an inning as opposed to coming in after just three batters.
The reactionary decision was this was wrong because it was different. That opinion was validated because Happ was terrible allowing four runs over 2.2 innings.
In all honesty, if Happ was going to struggle against that lineup that night, he was going to struggle whether it was the first, second, third, etc. As a pitcher, you either have it, or you don’t.
Moving past that, postseason games are all hands on deck. Players are going to be asked to do things out of the norm. We saw the Dodgers prepare for that by having Mookie Betts play a game at second base this year. As a practical matter, Happ should be mentally prepared to pitch in any inning and any game situation in the postseason.
That said, it was still a dumb decision to use the opener for three reasons.
First and foremost, looking at the Rays, the opener only impacts whether or not they play Yandy Diaz right now. With all due respect to Diaz, no one should predicate important pitching decisions based upon Diaz. He’s not a good enough hitter to try to strategically alter what you’ve done with a pitcher for years now.
Second, it disrupted Masahiro Tanaka. That extra day of rest took him out of his routine. Now, that sometimes happens in the postseason, but this was a conscious decision and not one of consequence of sweeping a series.
The obvious counter argument to that is Tanaka has been better on six days or more of rest in his career. Assuredly, this was a part of the Yankees decision making. If so, this does highlight some of the sound decision making.
However, this all loses the bigger picture. The Rays maul left-handed pitching. This year, they had a 121 wRC+ against left-handed pitching which was fourth best in the majors.
They are not nearly as good against right-handed pitching. In fact, they had just a 105 wRC+, which was good for just 13th in the majors.
By making this decision, the Yankees took Garcia, a right-handed starter, out of the equation to start Game 4. Instead, they’re using Jordan Montgomery, a left-handed starter who is arguably their worst healthy starter.
The Rays mauled him knocking him out after 0.2 innings. Under no circumstance do you want to put Montgomery up against this Rays lineup with the season on the line. That’s the position the Yankees should’ve foreseen by using Garcia and Happ the way they did.
That said, if Happ pitches well the Yankees probably win Game 2, and they had Tanaka for the knockout punch. If not, you’re willing to ride with Montgomery knowing you have Gerrit Cole for a potential winner-take-all Game 5.
You can understand that rationale. However, when your decision making is predicated on counting on Happ pitching well against a Rays team which mauls left-handed pitching, your thought process is inherently flawed.
When you’re knowingly potentially using Montgomery to save your season, your decision completely failed, and frankly, you did something stupid.
Ultimately, that’s why the Garcia/Happ decision didn’t make sense. It wasn’t an issue of game strategy. No, that was sound. It was really an issue of mapping out the series. Failing to take that into account is what may very well cost the Yankees this series.