2010 Season Preview: Managing when the pieces fit


Joe Girardi’s first tenure as a manager — the 2006 season with the Florida Marlins — was not one in which a prospective employer would find much comfort. He fought with his overbearing owner; he created a tense clubhouse environment; and four of the seven pitchers who made seven or more starts for him suffered through serious arm injuries. Still, he walked away with the Manager of the Year Award, and his skill as a baseball strategist earned much praise.

When the Yankees, then, hired this Joe to replace the outgoing Joe, it wasn’t an easy choice. Yankee great Don Mattingly was also up for the job, and the team had to decide between a fan favorite or the ex-player who was seemingly the smarter baseball mind. At the time, I thought they made the right choice, but Girardi’s first year in pinstripes wasn’t an easy one. The team suffered through numerous injuries, and the skipper wasn’t as forthcoming with information as the media had hoped him to be. When the Yanks finished third for the first time since the early 1990s, Yankee fans wondered if the team had picked the right guy to lead the pack.

Last year, though, it all clicked. With an overhauled pitching staff, a healthy lineup, a great bullpen and a deeper bench, the Yankees captured their 27th World Series Championship, and while we raised our eyebrows at some of Girardi’s pitching and pinch running moves, what he did to lead the team obviously paid off. That happy guy you see at right hoisting the trophy deserved it.

So what then did Joe Girardi do last year? Well, for starters, he employed 106 total different batting lineups, well below average for the American League. He used 97 pinch hitters, the 8th lowest total in the game. His runners attempted 124 stolen bases — tenth highest in the Majors — and were successful 101 times. He called for the sac bunt just 49 times and saw it executed successfully 63 percent of the time.

On the pitching front, Girardi used nine different starting pitchers and 21 relievers, including Nick Swisher. His pitchers averaged 96.8 pitchers per game, 11th overall, and threw just four starts of 120 pitches or higher. He made 461 pitching changes, 15th most in the league, and 304 of those relief appearances were scoreless ones. Girardi also asked his pitchers to issue just 28 free passes, 21st overall.

In that sense, Girardi is a fairly average manager. He changes pitchers as we would expect; he bunts a little less than we might expect him to; he doesn’t need pinch hitters and doesn’t use them often at all. Yet, he has gotten a handle on the media, and he knows what it takes — a trope really — to win in New York. He has made nice with the sportswriters who cover the team after a rough first year, and he has commanded the respect of his players, including the four with whom he was teammates not too long ago.

On the flip side, though, Joe Girardi doesn’t need to do much to manage the Yankees. He has the pieces to make up a great team, and it doesn’t take an expert strategist to know that A-Rod should bat clean-up, that Derek Jeter should leadoff, that CC Sabathia should be the ace, that Mariano Rivera will close games. It’s the Joe Torre argument all over again: All Girardi has to do is make sure everyone gets along well and no pitcher is overworked.

Of course, Girardi has some decisions to make as well this year. He has to decide how to clear up the left field logjam. He has to determine how to get both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain ready to contribute as starting pitchers in 2011. In a way, coming off a World Series win and with the future of the organization approaching something of a crossroads, 2010 may be Girardi’s toughest year as a manager, and he’s a lame duck to boot.

In 2009, Girardi pressed the right buttons and had the right pieces to win. The team is again assembled to be a 2010 AL powerhouse, and Girardi just has to keep his cool about him while making sure the kids are progressing properly. As long as the skipper doesn’t tense up, the team should be just fine with him at the helm, and he will, in all likelihood, be back in 2011.

Categories : Front Office
  • Chip

    You used both of the banned subject’s names in this post. Shameful

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I know. I had no choice. It’s part of the Season Preview series. Bad timing.

      • Spaceman.Spiff

        What a rebel.

    • ROBTEN

      Yes, but kudos for doing so in a post about this season while subtly moving the debate to next year.

  • Drew

    he bunts a little less than we might;

    Did I read this right Ben? RAB Nation goes wild any time Joe decides to have a player attempt a bunt.

    • thurdonpaul

      Yeah, I thought that too. Did I read that right ?

    • Benjamin Kabak

      You read it right but I missed the “expect him to” at the end. As an NL-trained manager, you’d think he would bunt more. I’m happy he doesn’t.

      To be clear though, it’s generally the who of bunting that gets to us. Derek Jeter, for instance, since never bunt. Brett Gardner probably should now and then. That’s all context-dependent though.

    • Mike Axisa

      I go nuts when he asks a player who has no business bunting to bunt. See Swisher, Nick.

      • bexarama

        ughhhh you made me remember it :(

      • Drew

        Right, but when we have Grit and Melky at 9, both of whom couldn’t bunt a lick(throw in Ransom, Berroa and the other castaways too), you get to a point where no one “should” bunt.

      • Chris

        FWIW, Swisher has bunted 14 times in his career. He has 7 sacrifices and 3 hits. He’s actually a pretty decent bunter.

        For comparison, Gardner has 18 career bunts, with 9 sacrifices and 2 hits.

        • Mike Axisa

          Well what does Swisher have, 3,000 more plate appearances to his credit? Apples to oranges.

          • Chris

            Huh? So the fact that Swisher is successful on bunts more often than Gardner is comparing apples to oranges?

  • Spaceman.Spiff

    To give Girardi a little credit, moving Jeter to the leadoff spot last year wasn’t one that necessarily many managers would’ve done. With both Damon and Jeter having had most of their career at-bats in the 1 and 2 holes respectively, a lot of managers would’ve just let that stand (Torre being one). I don’t know how much increased value the Yankees got from that move but I want to give him some credit on that front.

    • Drew


      That was huge. Especially with Damon’s power surge.

    • Jose

      Kudos to Girardi seeing Jeter GIDP a lot the year before and then not just keeping the status quo.

    • Thomas

      I agree it was a risky move, but I remember a post on SI back when the Yankees signed Damon on the subject. The article essentially pointed out by all reasoning Jeter was the better choice for leadoff man (higher average, higher OBP, sees more pitches, better baserunning percentage, etc.). Thus, it was more a wrong move by Torre to have Jeter batting 2 behind Damon to begin with that Girardi corrected last year.

      • Thomas
      • Drew

        In his 4 year tenure with the Yanks, and probably prior years too, Johnny saw more pitches/PA than Jeter.

        • Thomas

          Verducci only looked at the previous year 2005, which seems to be the only year Jeter saw more than Damon.

      • Spaceman.Spiff

        Either way, I don’t think Torre’s the only one that would’ve stuck with the status quo, just because if it doesn’t work out for some reason, you’ll get more criticism than kudos for it working out. (Say that Jeter feels really uncomfortable leading off games (which he doesn’t) for some reason and it leads to a subpar year from him). Jeter gained such a rep as THE “2-hole hitter”, it would’ve been far easier to not change that up.

        • thurdonpaul

          Didnt Jeter bat lead-off fairly regularly before Damon got here ?

          • Drew


            Almost 30% of his career PA’s came from the leadoff spot.

            • bexarama

              this would have been a much better thing to look at than looking at the lineups by year, like I did. Whoops.

            • Drew

              The last season he did it regularly, aside from this season, was 05.

          • bexarama

            It was really only for one year, 2005. In 2004 he shared leadoff duties with Bernie a lot of the time, and in the years before that it seems like Soriano or Knoblauch were generally the leadoff hitters.

          • Rick in Boston

            ’03 – Jeter had most of his appearances in the #2 spot, but also had 20 games leading off and 30 in the #3 spot (injury shortened year)
            ’04 – Jeter split his PA’s between leadoff and #2
            ’05 – Jeter was the primary leadoff man

  • chris

    I think he deserves credit for what he got out of the CF position last year, if only for making it an earnest yearlong competition.

    • Drew

      True. I was happy, he seemed to have a mancrush on Grit, but he didn’t let it affect his decision making when filling out the lineup card. He did keep it an open competition between Melk and Grit.

  • Moshe Mandel

    I think he does a better job than he’s been given credit for managing pitchers. In fact, there was a Baseball ANalyst post that I cant find right now that showed that he used his relievers based on leverage better than any other manager. He also did so while spreading work fairly evenly among the relievers, and didnt insist on burning out hot pitchers. I dont always agree with his strategy, but he does a fantastic job with the overall management of the pen.

    • jsbrendog

      as a friend of mine put it (and I agree) i yell at my tv a lot less with girardi now, and that is refreshing

    • bexarama

      I agree with this. For all the bad attention he got in 2008, what he did with the bullpen that year was almost more impressive, because the starting rotation was much worse than 2009’s starting rotation.

      • Jamal G.

        You’d think the rotation last year was actually better than 2008, but that wasn’t the case. The porous defense in 2008 caused the staff to have a higher ERA (4.58) than its 2009 counterpart (4.48). Despite that fact, the 2008 rotation was worth about 15 more runs above replacement, had a lower xFIP (4.23 to 4.30) and better strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.24 to 2.07).

        • bexarama

          just to be clear, who are you counting as the 2008 rotation?

          • Jamal G.

            Sorry, I should have referred to them as starters, not the rotation. I just took the numbers for everyone that started a game for each group.

  • Jamal G.

    “… it doesn’t take an expert strategist to know that A-Rod should bat clean-up, that Derek Jeter should leadoff, that CC Sabathia should be the ace, that Mariano Rivera will close games.”

    You know what’s funny? Only two of those things should be the case. Nice job saying that “Rivera will close games” and not “should.”

    • Benjamin Kabak

      The concept of leverage is lost on big league managers outside of the playoffs. I’m happy to fight that battle, but it’s a losing one.

    • thurdonpaul

      Which of the 3 “shoulds” do you not agree with ?

      • Rick in Boston

        Well, there’s four and Jamal’s disagreeing with two. I’m guessing it’s Mo closing and A-Rod batting cleanup.

        • thurdonpaul

          Actually there is only 3, im guessing he would want A-rod batting third. It says that Mariano will close games.

          • Rick in Boston

            You’re right. I think bex is right and the lineup optimizer says A-Rod should hit second behind Nick Johnson(?) to maximize AB’s and guys hitting in front of him.

      • bexarama

        I’m not that guy obviously but I imagine A-Rod batting cleanup. He’s the best hitter on the team so you want to get him the most PAs possible, so there’s a point to be made for batting him second (behind someone who gets on base a lot) as opposed to fourth.

  • steve s

    Should also mention that Girardi getting thrown out in Atlanta coincided with the 38-32 Yanks going 65-27 the rest of the way. There’s a little Billy Martin fire in this guy (non-alcohol fueled) and with his Popeye forearms he doesn’t really look like a guy you want to mess with (sort of goes to the commanding respect category). Also, calling him a lame duck is really a red herring. He is going to be the Yankee manager for awhile no matter what happens in 2010.

  • Bout T1m3


  • mryankee

    But by triple AAA hitters? I mean I do not recall one dominant performance by anyone.

    • bexarama

      Javy’s been pretty nasty and CC was against the Tigers as well


  • JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

    While Girardi is technically a lame duck, I’d be very surprised if he weren’t there in 2011.

  • Brien Jackson

    I think Girardi deserves more credit than he gets for 2008 too. No they didn’t make the playoffs, and the coincidence that this cme in his first year didn’t help him, but at the same time, considering the strength of the division that year and all of the injury issues the team had, to win 89 games is pretty impressive in its own right.

  • BRian

    Off Topic. Edited by RAB. Please keep off-topic comments in the Off Topic comment thread.

  • Warren96

    If there was only a way to allow anyone that thinks managing for the Yankees is simple to actually manage them.

    Lots of $$$, great ball players, should be simple.

    Then they forget that there are 100+ newhounds daily and an unknown amount of web loggers and the actual NY Yankees fanatics base and then the WIN NOW ONLY mantra and dealing with those 25 men plus the other 15 on the 40 man roster and the management of the team and the public relations for The NY Yankees and the Meet&Greets that eat into the few precious alone times.

    It is not easy, just that the last two managers have MADE it look simple.

  • Geek

    Joe Torre did a great job with the press, he presented himself as a likable guy and I sure had his hands full with George, when lets face it George was George. The Yankees treated Torre very well giving him at the time an unheard of contract as manager. It is my sense that Torre’s ego took over and his new contract demands difficult to accept especially after some less than stellar seasons. I always saw Joe T as the manager but not a Yankee, I can’t explain that but just my gut. Mattingley was a favorite, like Paul O’Neil both had those hard to define qualities. In terms of baseball, when I heard Donny baseball speak I was not taken by his baseball intellect and clearly the Yankees were not either.

    Joe G had difficult shoes to fill and the results speak for themselves, the Yankees made the right choice.

    BTW, I read Joe T’s book, he said things he did not have to and did not take the high road and how soon he forgot the Yankees paid him more than any other MLB manager and he was blessed with having Mo in the bullpen with a super offense.