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Hey Guess What? Girardi is Good

By Joseph Delgrippo ~ June 30th, 2009. Filed under: Digest Contributors.

Managing a Major League Baseball team is often an exercise in futility. No matter how brilliant the Manager is, he is only as good as the team surrounding him. Imagine having a job where every move you make is second guessed, even if your decision was the correct one. That is precisely what Major League Managers go through on a daily basis as they are asked to breakdown each decision soon after the game. Now, let’s magnify that spotlight a bit and put that manager in New York. While many will bristle at the notion that New York adds more pressure to a Manager and a team’s performance, it is undeniable. Rick Peterson, the former Pitching Coach for the Oakland A’s and New York Mets had an uncanny way of summarizing the difference between the two cities. He said that in Oakland you played one, 162 game season while in New York you played 162, one game seasons. When Joe Girardi signed on as the Yankees’ manager after Joe Torre’s historic tenure, he knew that he would face tremendous criticism. Last season, much of the criticism was valid (over managing, poor relations with his players, too many lineups, wrong in-game strategy), but the criticism this season is completely unwarranted. He’s not perfect (no manager is), but he is doing a tremendous job considering his circumstances. As Joe Girardi is seemingly out on a ledge by himself (it seems Cashman and the Yankees front office has abandoned him), an objective look will illustrate his fine 2009 performance.

The Pen

Many have criticized Girardi’s employment of his bullpen. That is a criticism based off the fact that the Yankees’ bullpen ranks (as of Sunday) 21st in ERA (4.33), 29th in groundball to fly ball ratio, and 30th (otherwise known as last) in homeruns allowed (43). In truth, those statistics are quite ugly. However, they don’t tell the whole story. As bad as the bullpen has been perceived to be, there are two factors. First, the bullpen was taxed from the very start of the season with Chien Ming Wang’s struggles and Joba Chamberlain’s pitch count. In fact, the bullpen has thrown the 12th most innings in baseball (234.2). Secondly, there is some good to the bullpen as it ranks 2nd with 8.36 strikeouts per nine innings, 7th with 3.68 walks per nine innings, and 4th with a 1.29 WHIP (tied with Boston’s stellar bullpen).

The fact that the Yankees have received a solid bullpen performance is actually a credit to Girardi. The famous Bill James once said that a good manager can get a good performance from a group of decent relievers. With the likes of Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Damaso Marte, and Jonathan Albaledejo counted on to pitch major innings at the start of the season, Girardi has withstood those poor performances and has tailored a bullpen with Brian Bruney, Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, and David Robertson. The new bullpen has performed well despite a lack of a track record. With the exception of Hughes, no reliever from that group has star possibilities. Girardi has employed Aceves appropriately and has mixed Coke and Robertson in to cultivate some success.

There are two things to praise Girardi with concerning the bullpen. Not many pennant contending teams have four relievers on its opening day roster who are no longer with the team. It speaks to Girardi’s ability to reorganize during the course of a most scrutinized season. Secondly, Girardi has cultivated some bullpen success with two-thirds of his rotation giving him, at most five innings each outing. Wang’s poor early performance was devastating as it forced the bullpen into early long relief outings. Additionally, Joba Chamberlain has been, essentially, a five inning pitcher this season. Again, these are issues often faced by basement dwellers, not pennant contenders. The Boston Red Sox have a five man rotation that gives innings, allowing the deep bullpen the opportunity to rest when needed. Girardi has used his bullpen since the first week of the season.

Sure, one could quibble about some strategic moves here and there, but all managers make some head scratching moves from time to time. It happens over the course of 162 games and when a manager has to make a game changing decision regarding which mediocre pitcher (who wasn’t good enough to start or close) to go with, sometimes the results won’t be pretty. He even received criticism from correct strategic maneuvers. During round one of the Subway Series with the Mets, Girardi brought in Mariano Rivera in the 8th inning to pitch to Carlos Beltran and David Wright. Everyone, including the hometown broadcast team, opined that it was an act of desperation. Now, how can it be an act of desperation when the Mets were so injury depleted (even more so now) that their only real threats were Beltran and Wright? A manager who is not a slave to the ninth inning closer rule would put in his best pitcher to get the opposition’s best hitters out. The move didn’t work out as Rivera allowed hits, but the strategy behind the move was quite correct against the depleted Mets.

Player Relations

Dealing with players (and the media) was definitely one of Girardi’s worst flaws in his first year as manager. He, at times, would chastise the media and lie to them, all while getting quite defensive. This was in stark contrast to the master of the media, Joe Torre who somehow seemed to defuse every potential controversy during his 12 seasons. Girardi, more importantly, managed to alienate some of his players with odd lineup choices, lack of communication, and, of course, the banning of ice cream from the clubhouse. He received much criticism for these flaws (just check the fullcountpitch.com archives—he was often referred to as the inventor of baseball for his attitude of knowing much more than everyone else).

But, this year seemed a bit different from the start. He instituted the much publicized (i.e. over publicized) day off in spring training to hold a billiards tournament. He hasn’t been accused of speaking to the media before discussing it with a player. Yes, there are still grumblings about unhappy players, but there seems to be more to that story.

Those grumblings are often in reference to Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and most recently Derek Jeter. Jeter, the usually stoic, tight-lipped captain made an unusual, uncharacteristic remark this weekend. Jeter has been sick and described by many media outlets as having a bad cough and essentially regulated to the clubhouse. When Jeter was asked about sitting out another game he responded with a comment that put his second consecutive absence as Girardi’s fault. Now, when does the usually tightlipped Jeter ever speak even remotely against management? When would he ever say that it’s “on” Joe Torre? The answer is never.

What’s the point? Yes, Girardi has made mistakes with his veterans. But, he deserves a little more respect. At some point, the players have to get over the fact that Joe Torre isn’t their manager and they are no longer the juggernaut that wins championships year after year (that title belongs to the Red Sox at the moment). Well, the point is that Girardi is the proverbial “guy after”. He’s the guy after a legend. He’s stuck with a core of veterans (Jeter, Posada, Rivera, and Pettitte) who are still above average players, but past their prime. Now that the manager for their glory years is gone, they feel a bit more entitled rather than giving Girardi, a former teammate, the same respect. Sure, Girardi shouldn’t get the same respect as Torre right away and perhaps he did get off to a bad start, but he is still their manager. The bottom line is that he does deserve a little more public support from his veteran players.

What has Girardi done well? He’s handled Alex Rodriguez and the all encompassing circus that comes along with him. He’s carefully rested his veterans this season, often rotating outfielders and designated hitters. He’s actually substituted for Derek Jeter late in a game for defensive purposes. He didn’t fuel a media controversy when he wasn’t on a conference call regarding Alex Rodriguez’s rest. He didn’t react when Brian Cashman surprised the team with a visit to Atlanta. In essence, he’s done a similar job to diffuse problems as Joe Torre did.

The Bottom Line

When all is said and done, the Yankees have a 43-32 record and are just three games behind a superior Red Sox team. That record is good enough to hold a lead in the Wild Card race. Yes, they had the audacity to lose two games to the Nationals and then lose three of four to the Marlins. There were calls for Girardi’s job. Since the loss to open the Atlanta series, the Yankees have won five in a row. At the end of the season, they will have close to 70 losses. In other words, it really doesn’t matter if they lost to the lowly Nationals if they can make the playoffs. Girardi should not get blamed for a team going into a hitting slump all at once. If the Yankees fail to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season, he can then receive criticism. In reality, the blame, should that happen, should fall on the General Manager who has spent $200 million dollars on an imperfect team.

The true bottom line is that no manager is perfect. All 30 big league skippers can be scrutinized for a number of things, Girardi included. However, the fact is that Girardi has done so many things right in 2009. At this point, there should be zero “Joe Torre didn’t do that” comments like the one YES Network announcer Michael Kay uttered when Rivera was brought in during the 8th inning of the aforementioned Mets series. It’s time to let go of the Torre era and realize that there is a manager in place who has grown from mistakes and isn’t afraid to try new things.

Oh yeah, Girardi’s club has the best record in Baseball since May 19th. That is tough to criticize, isn’t it?

Gary Armida is the former owner and executive editor of fullcountpitch.com. He now works as a freelance writer. To read more content or to contact Gary, head over to his personal website, garyarmida.com.

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Joseph Delgrippo is an aspiring sportswriter and TV baseball analyst. He played NCAA baseball, at tiny Marietta (OH) College, participating in the Division 3 World Series. In addition, he's coached baseball at the high school level. His knowledge of this game goes far beyond what is shown on television.

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