Updated: Oct 6, 2021
While watching the Wild Card Game on ESPN last night, one play seemed to gain a lot of attention. That was the decision by Phil Nevin, the Yankees third base coach, to send Aaron Judge home on a ball that hit the top of the green monster in center field. This wasn't an easy one, considering Judge started at first base after hitting an infield single. After the loss, Nevin began to take more heat and the decision only gained more and more traction. It's easy to spotlight the decision once Judge was thrown out. However, highly doubtful the reactions were able to account for all the variables, prior to the batted ball by Stanton and attempting to predict the future of the game to assume the scenario the Yankees may be in an inning or two later. Which eventually was a 6-1 ball game in the 8th inning. When the play happened a friend texted me and asked would I have sent him. And this was my response:
I think when you are able to think more about the entire dynamic of the Yankees offense and how they have performed lately, while also considering they are the road team and the Red Sox already knocked Gerritt Cole out of the game in the 3rd inning. I would actually consider this decision by Phil Nevin to be a good one. So here is the play below, courtesy of @BillyHeyen on twitter.
The first thing we will start with which is what was mentioned above and that was Gerritt Cole was pulled in the 3rd inning after giving up two home runs. One in the first inning to Xander Bogaerts and the second to Kyle Schwarber in the third. Then he gave up a single to Kike Hernandez and walked Devers. Plans and approaches are always going to change when your ace doesn't get the lineup even one and half times. Now you're already in your bullpen, prepared for anything to stop the bleeding. Next what needs to be stated is the Yankees are the road team here, not just any opposing stadium either. This is Fenway for playoff baseball. Now, this doesn't mean the odds are completely against the Yankees. I remember Mike Petriello stating in the ESPN 2 broadcast (overwhelming better than the ESPN broadcast with A-Rod for the record), that home teams only won 54% of regular-season games. So it doesn't mean much. But for playoff baseball, it matters maybe just a little bit more and there is comfort knowing you'll have that final chance in the 9th inning you can't be walk-off on. But let's state the obvious factors at play when the situation took place. One thing I would guarantee you is that in an elimination game, on the road, Nevin and Boone were discussing how aggressive they want to be on the bases with certain hitters at the plate. There are also these variables:
Joey Gallo, this is his stat line since September 1st. Hitting .179 and 53% of those hits were home runs. As you can see he is more likely to strike out than any other possible outcome. Those home runs have inflated his wRC+.
And if you look even more recently at his performance since September 19th, it's even worse. Pairing a lot of weak contact (84.2 average exit velo) and very high strikeout rate (38.6%). Gallo had the highest strikeout rate in the league this year. He finished the game 0-4.
The remaining offense outside of the top three (Rizzo, Judge and Stanton) have really not been there other than Gio Urshela. Let's go down the lineup's performance since September 1st.
Gleybar Torres, had been his best stretch of the season. But on the year a 94 wRC+ and he finished the game 0-4.
Brett Gardner, he's been average. Not gonna hurt you, but hasn't been good this year. Hitting .222, 93 wRC+ and less than .700 OPS.
Gio Urshela, been a down year for him.
Kyle Higashioka, who everyone knows is a defense-first catcher.
Andrew Velasquez, I honestly didn't know you could have a negative wRC+.
Let's look at the actual baserunner though. Aaron Judge. He isn't slow, he is slightly above average when it comes to sprint speed. He wasn't waving home Gary Sanchez or even Stanton.
If there is anything you want to attempt to critique Nevin on, is maybe he decided a little too late to get Judge going on sending him home. Which this angle sort of captures, you can't see where Judge is when Nevin begins to send him so it is not a good angle.
Overall, the decision to send Judge was the right one. The Red Sox executed a perfect relay with elite positioning and backup by Kike Hernandez in center field, then making a good throw to Xander Bogaerts who made an absolutely perfect throw. But it really came down to three criteria to make this a good decision:
Red Sox offense already humming, knocked Cole out in third inning.
Yankees best three hitters already had AB's once this play happened. Stanton hit the ball and Judge was the runner. Rizzo led inning off with HR.
Lastly, the remainder of the Yankees offense has been lackluster and the bottom two in the lineup are almost automatic outs. The Yankees needed to take the chance to cut the game to a one-run lead for the Red Sox. It didn't work out, and it can't always work out.