Living with the right decisions

The other 24 Texas Rangers
ALCS Game Three: Rangers @ Yankees
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

For the past two months, as the Yankees stumbled their way through the end of the regular season and then seemingly turned it back on for the playoffs, no one has seem his decisions questioned more than Joe Girardi. At first, his insistence on resting regulars and not pushing the team to unnecessarily win the division came under fire. Now, his ALCS rotation moves went under the microscope. Yet it’s his looming decision — that of his managerial future — that will have the biggest impact on the Yankee future, and it’s the one decision that Girardi will have to make from his heart and not his hand.

By now, with Game 3 of the ALCS set to start at Yankee Stadium later tonight, it’s clear that Girardi’s approach to September was the right one. Despite faltering in Game 2 on Saturday, the Yankees are a well-rested team, and many of the questions surrounding the club’s health were put to bed as the regular season wore down. As Mike explored last night, the Yankees are right where they’d be had they won the division: with home-field advantage and facing Texas in a best-of-five series. The Doubting Thomases aren’t harping on that critique any longer.

Yet, this being New York City and the tabloids being what they are, most of Girardi’s headline-making decisions have their fair share of detractors. Take, for instance, the Yanks’ decision to start Phil Hughes and not Andy Pettitte in Game 2. Even though Hughes’ splits show an extreme preference for road games and Hughes had been dynamite in Arlington, various columnists wondered why Girardi messed with a good thing. It worked in the ALDS. Why shouldn’t it work in the ALCS?

Of course, it’s not that simple; it never is. The Yanks had to line up their rotation with an eye toward the rest of the series, and the club would rather not have Pettitte and Hughes go on three days’ rest. They also want Pettitte ready for a potential Game 7, and they know that Pettitte is better at Yankee Stadium than Hughes. It makes sense. (They didn’t second-guess the decision to keep Hughes in the game long enough to give up seven earned runs, but that’s a point for another column.)

Once the Hughes/Pettitte debate became moot, the next crisis involved A.J. Burnett. Many do not want to see Burnett take the ball in Game 4 and would rather the Yanks turn their pitching duties over to CC Sabathia. The rotation would then feature Phil Hughes on three days’ rest, Andy Pettitte on the same and, if necessary, Sabathia again on short rest. The Yanks, though, recognize that Hughes has shot past his career high in innings pitched and that Andy Pettitte is still just four outings removed from a groin injury that kept him out for two months. Thus, they want their pitchers on full rest, and as Joel Sherman wrote today, “Burnett is starting against Tommy Hunter, not Walter Johnson. How is this for a concept: If you want to be a champion then figure out how to win a Hunter-Burnett matchup at home.”

The final decision that Joe Girardi must make this month or early next will involve his own future, but it of course implicates the Yankees. As Buster Olney wrote over the weekend, the Cubs just won’t give up on Joe Girardi. While other managerial dominoes are falling, the South Siders are waiting to see what Girardi wants to do. They want him badly enough that they’ll let other potential managers land with other teams, and Gordon Wittenmyer in The Sun-Times notes that Girardi has not closed the door on the opening in Chicago.

Joe Girardi hasn’t been a perfect manager for the Yankees, but he’s been very successful. He’s won 287 games and holds a 15-5 postseason record. His choice to let Phil Hughes pitch into the 5th on Saturday shows he’s still learning the difference between postseason and regular season strategies, but his team has won every playoff series it has faced so far. He doesn’t have a comfortable relationship with the New York media, and he’s been second-guessed at literally every turn this year. If he’s sick of that attitude, he might just make the biggest decison of the year, and if he does, the Yanks will be scrambling to find a replacement.

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The other 24 Texas Rangers
ALCS Game Three: Rangers @ Yankees
  • Frank

    Just a feeling, but just as the Cubs may be waiting to see what Girardi decides, I suspect Bobby V. is waiting to see if the Yanks job becomes available. Like I said, just a feeling.

    • vin

      Seems like no team will touch Valentine with a 10 foot pole. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t recall him turning any MLB offers down. My hunch is that Bobby V would be the best fit for a talented, yet under-performing team. I don’t know if he can do a good enough job checking his personality at the door if he were managing the Yanks.

      Watch Bobby take over for Showalter after Buck did all the heavy lifting and lead the O’s to the playoffs.

  • http://twitter.com/kschmidt2 Kiersten

    “How is this for a concept: If you want to be a champion then figure out how to win a Hunter-Burnett matchup at home.”

    Excellent.

    • Josh

      agreed. i’m glad he wrote it.

      unrelated (but still pretty important) is the absence of writers remembering all about lee’s game 5 last year in the series. he can hit even when he’s the top of his game. they write like he’s mo, which nobody is.

  • vin

    For me, the most important attribtue of a manager is how the players respond to him. By all accounts, it seems that the players like playing for him. He does a good job of sticking up for his players. Remember how he continually went out of his way to make Farnsworth feel like he was an integral member of the team?

    I fall in the camp of those who believe managers are more likely to lose a game than win one with tactics. Girardi has done a good job of handling the media since his rocky 2008. He seems to be on the same page as the front office. I don’t recall players complaining on their way out (except maybe Melancon). And I believe, he’s absolutely no worse than average in tactical ability (for what its worth).

  • Pete C.

    The Yanks would definitely be the worse, if Girradi leaves.I see the Yanks offering Joe a serious pay raise to keep him. After all as BK alludes to above, who’s available that’s better?

  • FIPster Doofus

    He isn’t perfect, but Girardi is the only person I want managing the Yankees. It would suck if he left.

  • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

    Said it before and I’ll say it again: Though Girardi frustrates me at times, if I ask myself “Who would I rather have as manager?” I can’t come up with anything. I highly doubt the Yankees could do better than Joe.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Exactly.

  • Mister Delaware

    I want Girardi to stay not because I think he’s a super-awesome manager or irreplaceable but because I fear who would come in. I don’t think Cashman would go with a Valentine/TLR type but just the chance of that keeps me content with the current situation. The less I notice the manager, the better.

  • http://twitter.com/simmonsclass Sam

    This is a really well written post, Ben. I can’t say I’ve agreed with every decision Girardi’s made since April 2008, but this year and last year shows he knows how to work his team going into the playoffs. If they win the world series or lose this series in 5 games, I want Girardi back at the helm in 2011.

    As for the media, screw (most of) them. I am so sick of how they rail against Joe, especially the last month and a half with the winning the division “controversey,” and how most of them haven’t admitted they were wrong yet.

  • https://twitter.com/Carcillo_ Carcillo

    I hate to nit pick this since only in Chicago do they do crap like Northside, Southside, etc., but

    “While other managerial dominoes are falling, the South Siders are waiting to see what Girardi wants to do.”

    The Cubs are the Northsiders, White Sox the Southsiders.

    • CS Yankee

      You are correct…Southsiders and Surbura is ChiSox, Northside and elsewhere (the other 95% of the state) is Cub-ville.

  • Yank the Frank

    Sometimes I think that Girardi is tired dealing with the media and the expectations that come along with managing the Yankees. But I think he knows that he will get the same media nonsense in Chicago but not have the same talent to produce a winner year in and year out. I hope he stays.

    • Krizzle

      I agree about Chicago. As a yankee fan living in Chicago, the media here is not a cakewalk. Not as bad as NY but definitely not a small town. Plus the cubs are garbage and will be for another 2-5 yrs.

  • CS Yankee

    Girardi is about as good as the Yankees could ever hope for with maybe a slight exception of certain minor calls.

    He stands up for his players and doesn’t blast them in public (opposite of Martin), conforms to Cash & CO input and law (opposite of Leyland years in Pitt/FL/CO), plays mostly with logic (by the book), portrays a good clean image (opposite of Larussa), protects the ‘pens arms (opposite of Torre).

    Who else would anyone want possibly managing all the BS without getting any of the praise than coffee Joe?

    FWIW, I believe Valentine is just an clown, Mattingly would be too one dimensional, Torre’s ego is bigger than the big apple, and Randolph is clueless managing.

  • steve s

    I wonder just how much the Yanks really would want Girardi back if he loses this round to the Rangers. As much as it seems a no-brainer that the Yanks would want him back and that he’s earned the right to come back I have not read one public or even off the record statement by anyone in the Yanks hierarchy concerning how much of a priority it would be to sign Girardi up (as opposed to all the chatter about going after Lee). I wonder if the non-commital approach Girardi is said to be taking is a result of the Yanks being non-commital to him. I can’t believe that Girardi and the Yanks have not spoken about his future at this point in time and, if they have not, that Girardi has drawn negative inferences from that.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/iiKeane JobaWockeeZ

      It’s not Girardi’s fault CC and Hughes sucked. Their decision shouldn’t come from the ALCS.

    • CS Yankee

      It seems to be the new Yankee approach with dealing with every contract including Jeter’s & Mo’s.

      I do think your right though that the Yankees gave a solid candidate a 3 year commitment (salary wise that is). They have no problem over paying if that what it takes, but why re-sign anyone (thus limiting the team from being agile); as nobody needs to give them a discount?

      Being the biggest fishes in the pond, the Yankees realize that they have to spend the most resources to get what they want, so why commit early? If that keeps someone from staying…well, they really weren’t committed anyways, were they?

    • dalelama

      I think it is more just good negotiation strategy on the part of both parties. Girardi is playing the Cubs against the Yankees and the Yankees don’t want to give the impression Girardi is irreplaceable which he isn’t.

  • Cy Pettitte

    If Joe leaves we should give this Dave Island guy that I keep hearing about a shot.

    • TC

      You are kidding, right? I’m not even sure he’s a decent pitching coach.

  • Mike HC

    Will they really be scrambling to find a replacement? Managers really don’t do that much, especially in the AL. The Yanks manager has to keep his players fresh and don’t overwork the bullpen. That is basically it. And watch the wins tally up of course.

    Shit, 90% of RAB commenters could probably manage from the computer if it really came down to it.

    • JDDZip

      I think you need to give managers more credit. You know that feeling when the bases are loaded, there’s no one out and your up by 1. your hearts pounding and your nervous as hell.

      Your starter just walked two but it’s only the fifth inning and he has been lights out before that. He’s your Ace but the game’s on the line and your not sure if you should bring in a reliever

      It’s not that easy, emotions get in the way

      • Mike HC

        Yea, it is the feeling of helplessness, because as the manager, you have to sit there and watch and hope the guy gets the job done just like me and you sitting at home on the couch.

        It is impossible to predict whether keeping in the ace or bringing in the reliever is the right move. I have seen it backfire both ways, and then the manager gets blamed. Not the player. Or both.

        And I’m not saying it is easy making some of these decisions. Just that the pool of people that are able to do it is very, very big.

  • JDDZip

    I would’t be terribly hurt if Joe left, and I like him a lot I just don’t think it would really hurt the team.

    And I think Tony Pena would’t do a bad job, I think he does a pretty good job with the running game, he can’t make posada’s arm into a cannon but he’s not awful

    But realistically, Joe knows that with the Cubs even though it would be a dream job to lead them to their first WS win in 100 years considering he’s from the area, he went to college there, and played for the Cubs. He knows it wont be easy, and it wont come for a while.

    Where as the Yankees he has that shot every year.

    He won’t leave

    • Mike HC

      Wait. So you agree with me?

  • cano is the bro

    FIRE GIRARDI!

    i laugh everytime i see this

  • Tachycardia

    You really have to question the move to flip Hughes and Pettitte. Andy could have won game 2. He would have gotten so intimidated from pitching on the road as Hughes did. Phil should have pitched at home tonight. If Andy pitches games 2 and 6 there likely isn’t a game 7. If we lose tonight Joe is going to have to pay for that decision and we will likely have a new manager next season.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Hughes was way better on the road than at home during the regular season. Girardi made the right move and it didn’t work out. That happens.

    • vin

      What happens if Andy gets hit around worse than Hughes did? Does that mean Girardi made the right choice? Phil was coming off an excellent start against the Twins. He has been really good on the road this season. He’s allowed a ton of HR’s at YS3.

      Also, having the lefthanded Pettitte start in YS3 makes sense. It’s clear Girardi likes the idea of having Pettitte pitch in the final game, if necessary – which is most certainly why he started game 2 in the DS and 3 in the CS. Might as well have the unshakeable vet pitch with the season on the line (if it can’t be CC).

      I bet if Hughes pitched well and won game 2, then everyone would consider it a great move by Girardi (paying attention to home/road splits, having the righty not pitch in YS3, also having the righty pitch against those great RH Rangers, etc.)

      How Hughes pitched does not make it a good or bad move. The decision had to be made beforehand, and Girardi chose the most logical scenario to use his talented, inexperienced, right hander.

  • KDB

    Girardi is not perfect – who is? He’s better at some things than Torre was, and maybe not so good at others. He has older players falling apart at inopportune times, and like a Formula One driver he’s managing
    a game at a time, and a week ahead (regular season) at the same time. It’s a juggling act. He’s doing it well. He always tries to give the team a chance to win. Can’t ask for much more than that.

  • Jerome S.

    Managers always take too much heat in my opinion. While technically they are responsible for the team, they can not be held responsible for players in a slump, or a would-be home run that was caught on the warning track. Sometimes, you literally get handed shit and are told to make good of it.
    And with that, there is no man in the world for whom I feel more pity than the manager of the Pirates.

  • steve goordman

    You see my full name? That’s how strong I feel about posting this. Girardi should have been fired long ago! He has a book that he never deviates from. He has no idea how of to handle a pitching staff, and is totally clueless when it comes to mnaging an offense. He does not use the available speed in the line up. When was the last time you saw a squeeze bunt? Or how about a hit and run? Especially, since Jeter leads the world in hitting into double plays. He waits every day for that 3 run homer. His batting coach may be able to help guys with mechanics and getting their strokes straightened out, but has no idea how to adjust when the opposing pitcher is throwing strikes, especially first pitch strikes. As far as who would replace Girardi? Anybody could, even a robot. Who thought that Joe Maddon was a major league manager before TB gave him the job? Who expected Mike Socia to be the manager that he is? Nobody, on both counts. I have been calling for the Yanks to fire Girardi for two years, and I say it louder now. He keeps trying to force square pegs into round and triangular holes. The Yanks have enough talent to outplay his poor decisions over a long season. But in a short series he looks like a deer in the headlights. I don’t care if the Yanks win #28, he needs to go. If Chicago wants him, let them have him. Let anyone have him, just get him and Long out of NY.