Joe Girardi: Some Questionable Second Half Decisions In An Otherwise Strong Season [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Evaluating a manager is a very difficult. First and foremost, the most important part of the job happens behind closed doors, in the clubhouse, where 25+ personalities are managed. Secondly, front offices are getting more and more involved in day-to-day decision making. Lineup construction, bullpen usage, stuff like that. Sometimes it can be hard to tell who is really calling the shots.

Joe Girardi just completed his eighth season as Yankees manager — can you believe it’s been eight seasons already? — so by now we’ve been able to pick up on some tendencies. He likes having a designated eighth inning reliever and, when possible, a designated seventh inning reliever too. Having the platoon advantage is important. He goes to great lengths to rest his players, particularly the veteran everyday position players.

Since we’re not in the clubhouse, all we can do is evaluate Girardi’s on-field performance, and even that is tough. He doesn’t swing a bat and he doesn’t throw any pitches. In the end, it’s up to the players to execute. All Girardi can do is put them in the best possible position to succeed. This is baseball. Sometimes you do everything right and it still doesn’t work out. Let’s review the on-field aspect of Girardi’s performance in 2015.

Bullpen Usage

Girardi likes to have designated seventh and eighth inning guys, but has shown he will be flexible when necessary. Dellin Betances appeared in 74 games this season and on 19 occasions he was brought into the game in the seventh inning to put out a fire. Andrew Miller missed a month due to injury and still had four saves of at least four outs, fifth most in baseball.

Here’s a really quick graph plotting Leverage Index against FIP for relievers who threw at least 30 innings in 2015. There were 205 of them. Generally speaking, the best relievers have the lowest FIP, and you want them pitching the most important innings, so they should have a high LI.

2015 Reliever UsageGirardi was very good at using his best relievers — specifically Miller, Betances, and Justin Wilson — in the most important situations this past season. At same time, he used his worst reliever (Esmil Rogers) in the least important innings. That’s how it should work.

Reliever usage is tough to evaluate — we often have no idea who is and who isn’t available on a specific day — but there is evidence Girardi is among the best managers in the game at running a bullpen. Every manager makes questionable decisions from time to time, but Girardi does seem to make less than most. He’s good at using the right guy in the right spot.

Rest, Rest, Rest

The Yankees were the only team in baseball to not use a reliever three days in a row this past season. Two days in a row happened all the time, it has to in this day and age, but not a single Yankees reliever pitched three consecutive days at any point in 2015. Not even down the stretch when the team was fighting for a postseason spot..

“It’s the thought process from the beginning (of the year),” said Girardi to reporters in early September. “I don’t throw guys three days in a row. If they’ve thrown three out of four, I don’t throw them another. That’s thought, I think, really hard about that, how we use our relievers and how you keep them healthy during the course of the year.”

Resting relievers is obviously important, and for years Girardi has done an excellent job making sure he doesn’t overwork guys. The only glaring exception is Betances — he’s thrown 18.2 innings more than any reliever the last two seasons — and it’s possible his late-season control problems were the result of all those high-stress innings. Then again, Dellin has a history of control problems, so it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary either.

I think we can all agree Girardi is very good at giving his relievers the appropriate rest. Whether it leads to improved performance — or simply sustained performance later in the season — is another matter. There’s no real way to know that. Girardi is also pretty good at resting his position players, so much so that it might be overkill at times. Then again, he has a veteran team, and they need more rest.

Here’s a stat that blew my mind (that maybe shouldn’t have): the longest streak of consecutive games started in the field by a Yankee this year was 12 by Chase Headley, spanning July 23rd to August 4th. Twelve! Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury each started eleven straight games in the field at one point, though Beltran’s streak had an off-day mixed in. (Headley’s streak was 12 starts in 12 days.) No other Yankee started more than nine (!) straight games in the field.

Isn’t that wild? The Red Sox were the only other team in baseball who didn’t have a player start at least 15 straight games in the field at some point this season. (Mookie Betts was their leader at 13.) Part of this is platoons, which we’ll talk about a little more soon, but a lot of this is Girardi’s tendency to rest his regulars. If not once a week, then close to it. Did it help? It’s easy to say no considering the second half offensive collapse, but who’s to say the collapse wouldn’t have started in June without the rest?

Platoon Advantages

According to Baseball Reference, the Yankees had the platoon advantage in 73% of their plate appearances this season, easily the most in baseball. The Indians were second at 71% and no other team was over 67%. This is no fluke either. The Yankees were third in MLB last season (70%), 14th in 2013 (55%), fifth in 2012 (64%), and second in 2011 (65%).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Roster construction plays a significant role in this, but ranking top five in plate appearances with the platoon advantage four times in the last five years indicates Girardi is putting his hitters in position to succeed. That’s all he can do. Put guys in spots that optimize their skills. He certainly does that offensively.

On the pitching side, the Yankees had the platoon advantage in 47% of their plate appearances, 12th most in MLB. The league average was 46%, so the Yankees were basically middle of the pack. Last season it was 45% and the year before it was 40%, again right around the league average. I wish there were a way to separate starters from relievers, but there’s not. That would be more instructive.

Anecdotally, Girardi does seem to understand which relievers can face which hitters. Miller and Betances can face anyone, and Wilson and Chasen Shreve were not pigeonholed into left-on-left work. Girardi knew they could get righties out. Maybe Girardi doesn’t deserve much credit here because the Yankees haven’t had a regular reliever with a massive platoon split since Clay Rapada a few years ago. Offensively though, Girardi really maximizes those platoons.

Questionable Decisions in the Second Half

For the most part, the 2015 season was a pretty typical Girardi season from a decision-making standpoint. He did, however, make some curious move down the stretch. Two stand out the most to me. First, Girardi left a struggling Ivan Nova in to face Justin Smoak with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning on August 8th. Nova’s pitch count was over 100 and the game was scoreless.

Adam Warren was warming in the bullpen the entire inning and yet Nova was left in to load the bases and give up the grand slam. Two of the first three base-runners reached on walks, including a four-pitch walk to Edwin Encarnacion immediately prior to the grand slam. It was obvious Nova was fatigued, yet Girardi stuck with him even though Warren was ready. Maybe it doesn’t matter in the end, but geez, that was an obviously bad decision at the time.

Then, on September 23rd, Girardi attempted to use James Pazos, Caleb Cotham, and Andrew Bailey to navigate the middle of Toronto’s lineup in the sixth and seventh innings of a scoreless game. It went from 0-0 to 4-0 Blue Jays in the span of nine batters. Wilson and Betances were left sitting in the bullpen waiting for the eighth and ninth innings, which proved to be meaningless. (Miller was unavailable that day.)

That September 23rd game was more or less New York’s last chance to stay in the AL East race. The Yankees went into that game 2.5 games back of Toronto with 12 games to play. A win would have brought them to within 1.5 games of the division, but instead a bunch of September call-ups relievers gave the game away and created a 3.5-game deficit. Girardi didn’t show a whole lot of urgency there.

Those two moments in particular stand out as glaring mistakes and they contributed to the Yankees losing the division, though every manager makes major blunders throughout the season. Girardi has his moments like everyone else. I think he’s a net positive on the field through his bullpen usage and platoon work, and the same was true in 2015. September wasn’t the best month of his Yankees career, but the season overall was strong.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 7th, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

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Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

The Winter Meetings begin next week and my hunch right now is the Yankees will indeed do something in Nashville. Not necessarily anything major, but something. There’s been too much talk about not doing anything from Brian Cashman & Co. for me to think it’ll actually happen. Anyway, here are the weekend links:

  • I enjoyed David Laurila’s interview with Rockies GM Jeff Bridich, who discussed the challenges of building a team in baseball’s most extreme park environment. It’s been more than 20 years now and still no one seems particularly close to figuring out what kind of pitcher can consistently succeed in Coors Field. Pitches don’t move the same way they do at sea level because they react to the thin air differently.
  • Here’s a neat little article by Ryan McKenna on Jim Stevenson, the scout who drafted both Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrieta, the 2015 Cy Young award winners. Stevenson was with the Astros when they took Keuchel in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, and he was with the Brewers when they drafted Arrieta out of junior college in the 26th round of the 2005 draft. (Arrieta didn’t sign and instead transferred to TCU.)
  • This is a few months old but it’s totally worth reading: Susan Dominus wrote about two sets of identical twins raised in Colombia. Due to a hospital error, two of the babies were switched at birth, and they were raised separately as sets of fraternal twins. They all found each other as adults, basically by chance. It’s an insane story. No other way to describe it.

Friday: This is your open thread for the evening. All of the local hockey and basketball teams are in action except the Rangers, plus there’s some college hoops on as well. Discuss those games, the links, or anything else here.

Saturday: Here’s the open thread again. The Islanders and Knicks are playing, plus you’ve got a ton of college football and basketball as well. Have at it.

Sunday: This is your open thread for the final time. You’ve got all the afternoon NFL action plus the late game (Colts at Steelers) later tonight. The Rangers, Devils, and Nets are playing as well, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about any and all of that here.

Room for Improvement: Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Ellsbury. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

For Jacoby Ellsbury2015 couldn’t have started any better and couldn’t have finished any worse. Borrowing from Mike’s post, Ellsbury hit to a .324 average and a .412 OBP with 14 steals in the first 40 games of the season. There isn’t much more you could ask of your leadoff hitter. But if the beginning of the season was the best of times for Ellsbury, the end of the season was certainly the worst of times for him. In a move that would’ve been unimaginable in April, Ellsbury did not start the Wild Card playoff game against the Astros and their brilliant lefty starter Dallas Keuchel. By that time, of course, it was apparent that Taco was struggling mightily against lefties and that putting Chris Young and Brett Gardner in the outfield with Carlos Beltran gave the Yankees their best shot to win that game. Injuries obviously played a big part in this along the way, but to return to his normal form in 2016, Jacoby needs to rebound against left handed pitching.

Coming into 2015, Ellsbury more than held his own against lefties. For his career up through 2014, he hit to a .330 wOBA against them with a 6.8% walk rate and a .116 ISO. In 2014 itself, he hit lefties very well, going for a .360 wOBA, an 81% walk rate, and a .172 ISO. In 2015, though, things cratered. Southpaws limited him to a .295 wOBA with a 6.9% walk rate, and a measly .071 ISO. Did same-handed pitchers attack Ellsbury differently to lead to a dramatic drop in production against them? No, not really, actually. In both 2014 and 2015, lefties threw mostly fastballs, sinkers, and sliders to him. The differences in performances against those pitches tell us part of the story of Ellsbury’s apparent demise against left handed pitchers.

In 2015, Ellsbury put 49 fastballs against lefties into play. When he did, his numbers looked pretty good. He hit .286 against lefty fastballs with a .429 SLG, good for a respectable .143 ISO. The same, generally, goes for sinkers, though without the power; despite not getting any extra-base hits on the 31 sinkers he put into play against lefties, Ellsbury still managed to hit .323 against that pitch. Sliders from lefties, however, did him in. He hit just .211 against lefty sliders and put up an ISO of only .089. That performance is definitely a carryover from 2014, when he also hit .222 against sliders, but managed to ISO just .074 then.

To a certain extent, his performances against fastballs and sinkers were holdovers from 2014 as well, but that extent is rather limited. Ellsbury absolutely mauled fastballs and sinkers from lefties in 2014. He hit .359 against number one while slugging .547. He hit for a lower average against sinkers–“just” .341–but crushed them to a .636 SLG, good for a .296 ISO.

Like many things in baseball, his performance against lefties may’ve been a matter of degrees. He still hit certain pitches fairly well in 2015, just not well enough. And like everything in baseball, there is not one explanation for why these things happened. Perhaps it just wasn’t his year against lefties. Perhaps he faced better lefties. Perhaps he just didn’t get the bounces. Most likely, though, it has to do with the fact that he just wasn’t healthy in 2015. Injuries tend to bring out the worst in players and that was no different for Ellsbury in 2015. Hopefully he goes into 2016 feeling better, allowing him to rebound and make those good numbers from April stretch out all season.

Shark off the board: Giants agree to sign Jeff Samardzija

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

The free agent pitching dominoes are starting to fall. David Price and Zack Greinke signed in recent days, and now the Giants have agreed to a five-year contract with Jeff Samardzija, reports Alex Pavlovic. Tim Brown says the deal is worth $90M. That seems totally reasonable to me.

Samardzija, 30, had a miserable walk year with the White Sox, pitching to a 4.96 ERA (4.23 FIP) in 214 innings. He was damn near ace-like in 2014 though, throwing 219.2 innings of 2.99 ERA (3.20 FIP) ball. The true Samardzija is probably somewhere in the middle of 2014 and 2015.

I wrote a Scouting The Market post on Samardzija because the Yankees have been connected to him in recent weeks. They weren’t actively pursuing him as far as we know, but they were said to be monitoring the market and lying in the weeds. The Yankees are reportedly taking the same approach with Wei-Yin Chen.

Even with Price, Greinke, and Samardzija (and Jordan Zimmermann and John Lackey) off the board, there are still a ton of quality free agent pitchers available. Chen, Johnny Cueto, Hisashi Iwakuma, Scott Kazmir, and Mike Leake are the best of the unsigned guys. Whether the Yankees spend money to sign one of them is another matter.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Teixeira, Eovaldi

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Yesterday morning, Brian Cashman went for some practice runs rappelling down the Landmark Building in Stamford for the Heights & Lights ceremony. This is an annual thing for Cashman now and it’s for a good cause, so don’t be a jerk and complain. Anyway, Cashman passed along some injury updates between runs. Here’s the latest, courtesy of Chad Jennings and Bryan Hoch.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) has finished his physical therapy following surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow. He’s heading home to Japan soon and will begin a throwing program. “He’s got a throwing program, so he should be good to go in the spring, but I’m sure we’ll be careful with him nonetheless,” said Cashman.
  • Mark Teixeira (shin) has shed his walking boot and is going through workouts. He’s not scheduled to begin running until after the holidays though. “He’s out of his boot. He’s, I’d say, healthy. He’s walking around, doing activities,” said the GM.
  • Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is fine. He was ready to be added to the ALDS roster had the Yankees advanced. Eovaldi is going through his normal offseason routine. “No concern. He’s got a normal winter routine that he can execute,” said Cashman

DotF: Mitchell keeps getting innings as winter ball winds down

Two weeks ago the Scottsdale Scorpions beat the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game. Here’s the box score. C Gary Sanchez went 1-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout, OF Tyler Austin went 1-for-4 with a strikeout, and OF Dustin Fowler went 2-for-3 with a two-run home run, a walk, and a strikeout for Surprise. The homer is embedded above. Jim Callis listed Fowler as one of seven prospects who stood out in the title game. Here’s a bunch more minor league notes:

  • Both Bill Mitchell and Callis released their rankings of the top Arizona Fall League prospects. Mitchell ranked Sanchez the No. 2 prospect in the circuit behind Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes. Callis had Sanchez fourth behind Reyes, Pirates OF Austin Meadows, and Rangers OF Lewis Brinson.
  • Eric Longenhagen (subs. req’d) listed Sanchez as one of the prospects who most improved their stock in the AzFL. It’s not performance related either. Longenhagen says Sanchez looked quicker blocking balls in the dirt and improved his throwing, specifically how he comes out of the crouch.
  • MiLB.com announced their 2015 Organization All-Stars for the Yankees recently. It’s pretty much exactly who you would expect at every position. Sanchez at catcher, 1B Greg Bird at first, 2B Rob Refsnyder at second, so on and so forth. The only real surprise is at third base. Click the link!
  • Pitching coordinator Gil Patterson has left the Yankees to return to the Athletics in the same role, reports Jane Lee. Patterson, who’s had multiple stints with both the Yankees and A’s, rejoined the organization two years ago. He has a great reputation for developing arms. Josh Norris says Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Scott Aldred and rehab pitching coordinator Danny Borrell will assume Patterson’s responsibilities going forward.
  • The Yankees have re-signed C Kyle Higashioka, according to Matt Eddy. Higashioka became a minor league free agent earlier this offseason. Eddy says the Yankees also signed RHP Spencer Mahoney out of an independent league. Mahoney has never pitched before. He’s a shortstop the team is moving to the mound.
  • More minor transactions from Eddy: C Rainiero Coa has been released, C Francisco Arcia has signed with the Marlins, and OF Ericson Leonora signed with the Diamondbacks. Arcia and Leonora became free agents a few weeks ago. The Yankees also signed RHP Daniel Marten as an international free agent. He’s an 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. No word on his bonus, but if he’s 18, it won’t be much.
  • J.J. Cooper posted a Rule 5 Draft preview, if you’re interested. OF Jake Cave is the only Yankee farmhand mentioned, and Cooper describes him as a more “well-rounded outfielder than toolsy.” He adds Cave is “a lefthanded hitting center fielder who could entice a team looking for an inexpensive fourth outfielder.”
  • Sanchez has changed agents and signed on with Magnus Sports, according to Tim Dierkes. I’m not sure who his agent was before. Magnus Sports is a new firm fronted by musician Marc Anthony. No, really. It’s way, way, way too early to think about what this means long-term.
  • Hudson Belinsky wrote a nice story about longtime Yankees scout Cesar Presbott — he’s been with the team since 1982 — and his non-profit organization, the Cesar Presbott Foundation. The mission: help people. That’s all. Dellin Betances, on of Presbott’s draft picks, and Brian Cashman helped Presbott distribute turkeys before Thanksgiving.
  • And finally, here’s a neat story by Marcia C. Smith on Angels LHP Andrew Heaney, who traveled to Honduras for a five-day humanitarian mission last month. I’m mentioning this here because RHP Ty Hensley was on the trip too. Pretty cool. Hensley has a reputation for doing lots to help others.

Got all that? There was no minor league update last weekend because of Thanksgiving, so that’s two weeks worth of notes there. Now here are the performance updates.

Arizona Fall League (the season is over, so these stats are final)

  • OF Tyler Austin: 21 G, 22-81 (.272), 13 , 5 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 9 BB, 18 K, 7 SB, 2 CS (.272/.344/.444
  • OF Dustin Fowler: 16 G, 17-61 (.279), 14 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 7 K (.279/.313/.410) — took advantage of the extra exposure in the AzFL
  • C Gary Sanchez: 22 G, 26-88 (.295), 16 R, 6 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 8 BB, 19 K, 4 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.295/.357/.625) — was not named AzFL MVP despite leading the league in homers, RBI, and total bases
  • IF Tyler Wade: 14 G, 9-41 (.220), 6 R, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 SB, 1 CS (.220/.313/.268)
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 7 G, 12 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, 1 HR, 2 RBI (2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)
  • LHP Ian Clarkin: 6 G, 6 GS, 24.2 IP, 34 H, 16 R, 16 ER, 14 BB, 17 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 3 WP (5.84 ERA and 1.95 WHIP) — hooray health, boo stats
  • LHP Chaz Hebert: 7 G, 1 GS, 14.1 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 10 BB, 12 K, 1 WP (4.40 ERA and 1.60 WHIP)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 9 G, 0 GS, 12.1 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 12 K, 1 HR, 2 WP (5.84 ERA and 1.30 WHIP) — missed the second half of the regular season with a hand injury, so he was just making up for lost time

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 1 G, 0-1, 1 K
  • C Eduardo de Oleo: 1 G, 0-1, 1 K
  • 3B Rob Segedin: 5 G, 2-9 (.222), 2 R, 1 BB, 2 K (.222/.300/.222)
  • SS Jorge Mateo is listed on a roster but hasn’t played yet. Chances are he won’t at this point. Same goes for the other guys listed on winter ball rosters yet to get into a game.

Mexican Pacific League

  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 13 G, 0 GS, 9 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 WP (10.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 9 G, 9 GS, 46.1 IP, 39 H, 22 R, 19 ER, 27 BB, 31 K, 4 HR, 2 HB, 1 WP (3.69 ERA and 1.42 WHIP)
  • 2B Angelo Gumbs is listed on a roster but hasn’t played yet.

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico)

  • IF Cito Culver: 6 G, 2-19 (.105), 1 R, 1 BB, 6 (.105/.150/.105) — hasn’t played in two weeks now
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 5 G, 5 GS, 21.2 IP, 21 H, 13 R, 10 ER, 12 BB, 14 K, 1 HB, 2 WP (4.15 ERA and 1.52 WHIP) — he’s up to 126.1 innings on the season

Venezuelan Winter League

  • OF Tyler Austin: 1 G, 0-3 — he headed down to Venezuela after finishing up the AzFL season … guess he wants to play as much as possible after a disappointing regular season
  • C Francisco Diaz: 11 G, 4-14 (.286), 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K (.286/.333/.286) — depth catcher signed a minor league deal a few weeks ago
  • OF Ben Gamel: 25 G, 22-87 (.253), 8 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 11 BB, 18 K, 3 SB, 1 CS (.253/.327/.402) — long season for him, I’m sure he’s looking forward to heading home soon
  • OF Teodoro Martinez: 42 G, 41-165 (.248), 19 R, 4 2B, 2 3B, 14 RBI, 5 BB, 17 K, 2 SB, 2 HBP (.248/.277/.297)
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 6 G, 0 GS, 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (9.00 ERA and 2.20 WHIP)
  • RHP Jaron Long: 8 G, 8 GS, 43 IP, 44 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 11 BB, 23 K, 1 HB, 2 WP (2.30 ERA and 1.28 WHIP) — up to 197.1 total innings on the season
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 14 G, 0 GS, 12.1 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 2 HR (6.57 ERA and 1.38 WHIP) — so does he get popped in the Rule 5 Draft next week?
  • IF Thairo Estrada is also listed on a roster.