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$16.5 Million Dollar Man, Girardi is Moneyball Mgr, Bunting, 70s Baseball, Catching Hell



By Mike Silva ~ September 27th, 2011. Filed under: Morning Digest.

A.J. Burnett very well may have a great shot to pitch Game 3 of the ALDS. Joel Sherman laid out the Yanks strategy in a recent column.

Here are two important items to remember when you are thinking about Game 3:

One: There is an off-day scheduled the day before, so the entire bullpen should be available.

Two: Multiple members of the organization have indicated strongly to me CC Sabathia would pitch a Game 4, if necessary, on short rest whether the Yankees are up or down 2-1. Ivan Nova would then start Game 5, if necessary, on full rest. Thus, the Yankees anticipate needing just one starter not named Sabathia or Nova for the Division Series. Therefore, other starters put on the roster will be available from the first inning on if needed in Game 3.

I assumed that Burnett being left off the postseason roster was a formality. I didn’t even bother to mention him as a possibility in a column last week. Now, after Colon and Garcia’s recent struggles, and Phil Hughes back injury, you have to wonder if he is any worse than the other options.

If the goal of a Game 3 is for the team to muddle through 6 innings and win it with the bats and bullpen, then Burnett is as good a choice as anyone. First, there is the upside of his track record. Burnett may have struggled this year, but he is still a pitcher that provides 200 innings and 12-15 wins each year. Asking him to provide 6 innings/3 runs is not a momentous task. Unless the Yanks are down 2-0 (unlikely), his start won’t be “do or die” for the season. If it is, I suspect there are bigger issues to worry about than Burnett going through six innings. He is also the one pitcher of the group that misses bats at a high rate. His K-rate this month is 11.2/per 9. That doesn’t mean he won’t walk batters or give up homers, but the low level of contact puts him in a decent position to make it through the game relatively unscathed.

The other way of looking at this is Burnett and his $16.5 million dollar salary. The Yankees should give him the ball based on that alone. When Brian Cashman signed him during the offseason of 2008-2009 he envisioned him as a solid number two behind Sabathia. Cashman has gone on record saying he knew the inconsistencies came with the package, but he wanted the upside. Even in 2009 when he won 13 games, he went through similar bad stretches of pitching. Joe Girardi actually pitched him in Game 2 of each series, including a critical start in the World Series down 1-0 to the Phillies.

This is what Burnett was brought here to do. He was paid $16.5 million dollars to pitch Game 2′s of series. The Yankees could forget bad stretches in August for 6 innings/3 runs in the postseason. All they need from Burnett is a 4.50 ERA in October to have a decent shot at winning the ballgame. They aren’t asking for a Game 2 performance, but for him to muddle through a Game 3 until their bats put it away.

For $16.5 million dollars that shouldn’t be too much to ask. As a matter of fact, it’s his obligation to go out there and take the ball for Game 3 and put up that kind of average performance.

***

There has been debate here about the impact of a manager. I think a manager’s main responsibility is to keep the players focused on the task at hand. Managing egos, personalities, and handling the media are their main duties. When it comes to strategy, there are few in-game decisions that will burn a team over the course of 162 games. Sure, there are questionable moves, but most even out. The pitching staff is the one area where they could do the most damage, but if you have a top of the line pitching coach, which the Yankees do, then you should be covered in that area. If there is one in-game situation that a manager can do the most damage it with how me handles his bullpen. Most big league skippers all make the same bad bullpen decisions so that could also come out in the wash.

Managers like Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Tommy Lasorda, and even Bobby Valentine were the faces of their team in the dugout. You didn’t need to be in the locker room to know they had the autonomy to make most decisions. Their stamp is/was on the team. Those were their teams.

When it comes to the Yankees I view them as Brian Cashman’s team, not Joe Girardi. What is Girardi’s style? It’s pretty basic and nondescript. All those managers I mentioned have a style, or are very good at people skills. Girardi doesn’t seem all that comfortable dealing with difficult conversations or managing people. The joke is they call him “the binder,” but what they should be calling him is “Moneyball Joe.”

When the Yankees hired Girardi it was a time where Brian Cashman was exercising his power. Anyone who read Joe Torre’s book “The Yankee Years” could see that he and Cashman didn’t see eye to eye towards the end. Cashman wanted someone that was going to execute his vision. A middle manager, if you will. Torre was far too independent and strong-willed to be that guy.

During that first spring training I noticed how Cashman was always present in Girardi’s office when talking with the media. It was Cashman that intervened when Girardi had issues communicating with players and the media after 2008. When difficult conversations have been needed to be made, Cashman has been heavily involved; this includes the decision to bat Jorge Posada ninth. If the manager had a presence about himself do you think the Posada situation would have necessitated Cashman going down to the clubhouse to get involved? Cashman has said on the radio numerous times he doesn’t have a problem standing up to any player on this team, regardless of status. He doesn’t mention Girardi; he says how he will do this.

This is Brian Cashman’s team and Joe Girardi is just executing the vision daily on the field. I am not suggesting he doesn’t have the autonomy to fill out the lineup card, but I would bet there are plenty of situations where Cashman pulls rank regarding the lineup and utilization of the pitchers.

In the past, the GM obtained the players and the manager was responsible for them between the lines. In the modern game you are seeing that change. It was outlined in Moneyball, and you don’t need to go out to Oakland to see it in action. It’s on display right here in New York with Joe Girardi.

I am not saying this is a bad thing, but I do wonder if it’s the most balanced way of doing business.

***

Joe Maddon said last week the most important things for a skipper to do this time of the year is to remain balanced. Games 158 to 162 shouldn’t have anymore heightened preparation than Games 16 to 22. The players will feed off how their manager acts. If he is tight, they will be tight. That was a criticism of Bobby Valentine when he was with the Mets as his teams played particularly tight down the stretch in September.

Joe Girardi seems to be a “good times” manager. If things are going well he doesn’t rock the boat and won’t do something to get in the way. When things are rocky he is tense and part of the problem, not a solution.

If you could pick a manager to lead your squad during a trying stretch would it be Girardi? How will he act next week if he is down 2-1 in the ALDS? I doubt he will take the cue from Maddon and be as balanced as he was during a winning streak in July. Bob Klapisch even said to me on an August show that Girardi has yet to get that “extra gear” from his team when he needs it. That was something that Joe Torre was very good at.

I will be watching Girardi closely this postseason. Things really never got dicey when they won the World Series in 2009. When it did in 2010 against Texas, the team played tight and lost. There are other reasons for the Yankees not winning last year, but they weren’t a loose or confident group during the ALCS. To me, that falls on the manager.

***

Can someone tell Terry Collins that there needs to be some critical thought behind when he decides to bunt?

Runners on 1st and 2nd with none out in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 6-5 game. Cincinnati closer Francisco Cordero had just given up a double and hit David Wright. Asking Nick Evans to bunt in that situation basically allows Cordero, who was laboring, to get a cheap out and reboot his performance. Evans failed to lay down the bunt (won’t even get into the execution of bunting this season), as Cordero threw Willie Harris out at third base. Josh Thole would ground into a double play and the game was over.

When asked during the postgame about why he chose to bunt, Collins tersely said “because the winning run was on first.” You could tell he wasn’t in the mood to be questioned so SNY sideline reporter Eamon McAnaney dropped the subject.

I am not “anti-bunting” in all situations, but if you have a closer on the hook like that you need to keep your foot on the gas. Even if you execute that bunt the next hitter is Josh Thole, not someone who you believe with 100% certainty will get be able to produce a fly ball. He will probably make contact, but not necessarily the kind that will allow Harris to score.

Terry needs to address two things next spring: 1) his utilization of the bunt and 2) demanding his team, especially pitchers, figure out how to lay the damn thing down.

***

Dan Epstein wrote a book on 1970s baseball called “Big Hair and Plastic Grass.” I am sure there are many readers that grew up watching the game during that era, so I highly recommend you check it out. Dan was a guest of mine last summer, which you can download and listen to here.

Anyway, he has a Big Hair and Plastic Grass blog. One of the cool things Epstein does is write about players, teams, and events of the 70s. Here are two videos I came across that will conjure up some memories.

***

ESPN Films will air “Catching Hell,” the documentary on Steve Bartman tonight. I will do a review on Sports Media Watchdog for tomorrow’s morning digest.

***

Ozzie Guillen was traded to the Marlins last night. It has yet to be reported who the Fish are sending to Chicago. There has been speculation that Twitter-star Logan Morrison would be headed to the Windy City.

If you remember, Lou Piniella was dealt to Tampa from Seattle a few years ago. The Mariners received Randy Winn as part of the package. The Mets were trying desperately to acquire Piniella and one of the players Seattle requested was Jose Reyes. Thanks, but no thanks.

Probably the most interesting trade of personnel came when Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the Atlanta Crackers in exchange for breaking Ernie Harwell’s broadcasting contract.

The late Harwell was a guest on my show during its early days. You can download it here as I replayed it on my tribute to Harwell after his passing last year.

***

I have launched a podcast for fans of Sports Media Watchdog. It will not be weekly like the NYBD radio show, but I will frequently have interviews with members of the media and athletes.

You can subscribe to it free on iTunes here and the RSS Feed here.

Dino Costa of Sirius/XM’s Mad Dog Radio was my first guest.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to $16.5 Million Dollar Man, Girardi is Moneyball Mgr, Bunting, 70s Baseball, Catching Hell

  1. Ralph C

    The only real rationale I can think of for starting Burnett is the idea that “stuff” wins in the postseason. It’s not always the case but often times when a finesse pitcher who was great during the regular season starts a playoff game, they struggle (i.e. Wang in 2007). I would start Garcia though.
    To defend Girardi, I don’t really buy into the “extra gear” argument. Torre, whom you cited, starting in 2002 didn’t get the team to play better in the playoffs when their backs were against the wall-you had the debacle in 2004 and his panic moves (i.e. batting A Rod) in 2006. In general, to me there are three kinds of managers-awful ones such as Stump Merrill, below average ones such as Art Howe, and average ones such as Mike Scioscia, Girardi, and LaRussa. I don’t think there are any great managers -even with the supposed “great managers” they often seem to make very questionable decisions (i.e. Scioscia removing Lackey for Darren Oliver in the 2009 ALCS). Often times I wonder if given the proper talent, even an idiot like Steve Somers could win a good amount of games.

  2. Kill.Schill(ing)

    This article reeks of veiled rancor toward the Yankees. The subtext is so noxious I choked on it when reading.

    One thing you’re right about, albeit you understate it: Girardi is the most overrated mgr in the mlb

  3. Joseph DelGrippo

    “In the past, the GM obtained the players and the manager was responsible for them between the lines.”

    Incorrect. In the past, the GM went out and got players who the manager wanted for HIS type of team. Managers such as Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog and Dick Willaims built teams the way they wanted, many times based upon the type of park and his core players.

    What you stated above is what happens in today’s game. GM’s do run everything all the way down to the minor league philosophies.

    “Bob Klapisch even said to me on an August show that Girardi has yet to get that “extra gear” from his team when he needs it.”

    Then it is obvious that Klap has never played and doesn’t know baseball. Does he believe there is a button (similar to the Staples red button) in the dugout which can be pushed at any time which will cause Alex to hit a three-run homer?

    There is no way that any manager, whether it was John McGraw, Connie Mack or Joe Torre, could get an “extra gear” from his players in these games. Players motivate themselves to play to win the game every day, especially in the postseason. Managers have nothing to do but make up the lineup and do the pitching changes. If the players play well, they win. If they don’t play well, they won’t win.

    No amount of pep talk, motivation speaking or Girardi’s perceived lack of balance will cause the Yankees to win or lose.

    Even Tony Robbins coming in before Game 1 will not improve the Yankees chances of winning.

    If CC, Nova and AJ pitch well, the Yankees win. If the hitters like Granderson, Cano, Jeter, Alex and Teixeira hit, the Yankees win. If Soriano, Robertson and Mo shut the door, the Yankees win.

    If the above does not happen, the Yankees will not win.

    Unless he shows no confidence in Nova during his start and pulls him too early, no amount of Girardi-isms will help them win or lose.

    Do you really think that if Girardi is tense down 2-1, that it is going to affect Jeter, Alex and the other players?

    Be real. I am no great Girardi fan, but the guy has done his job this season. He navigated a team hit by injuries, with no consistent starting pitching and up and down hitting all year to the best record in the American League.

    You have got to get off the “even keeled, balanced” manager crap and the “who do you trust in this spot garbage.”

    A manager puts the players on the field and they play. The players win or lose playoff games, not the manager.

    But i do agree that AJ should get the ball in Game 3, mainly due to he is the best option of a bad group.

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