Year Nine of the Joe Girardi Era [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi‘s ninth season as manager of the Yankees — only Miller Huggins (1918-29), Joe McCarthy (1931-46), Casey Stengel (1949-60), and Joe Torre (1996-2007) had longer continuous stints managing the team — was unlike any of his previous eight seasons at the helm. From 2008-15, it was win win win, even when perhaps it shouldn’t have been.

In 2016, the objective changed. The goal coming into this season was to win and the goal remained the same until the trade deadline, when the roster dynamic changed. The Yankees sold veterans for prospects at the trade deadline, and while they feigned contention in August and September, the transition had begun. Girardi’s mission became developing the young players the Yankees added to the roster.

Evaluating a manager is basically impossible from where we sit as outsiders. It’s not nearly as simple as comparing the team’s actual record to their expected record based on run differential — the Yankees went 84-78 this year despite a 79-83 expected record based on their -22 run differential — for what I think are obvious reasons. There’s randomness at play and the run differential/expected record theory isn’t perfect.

Only so much of what the manager does is visible. He builds the lineup and makes pitching changes, and occasionally calls for a bunt and a hit-and-run, things like that. Most of the manager’s work happens behind the scenes, where he has to manage and motivate 25+ alpha males for more than seven months a year. That happens in the clubhouse, on the team plane, at the hotel, on the phone, and at home.

Effort level has never really been an issue for the Yankees under Girardi, based on what I’ve seen. Every team looks lethargic when they have problems scoring runs and the Yankees are no different. That’s not what I’m talking about. The players play hard deep into the season and the mental mistakes are generally kept a minimum. Believe me, there are a lot of teams out there that are completely checked out mentally come September.

When it comes to on-field decisions, Girardi is as predictable as it gets. He puts his players in specific roles and sticks with them until it’s no longer possible. I’m sure the players appreciate that. They all like knowing their role. Let’s attempt to break down Girardi’s on-field decision making this past season.

Bullpen Usage

Girardi has a reputation for being a strong bullpen manager, and while I agree he is, that reputation has become a bit outsized in recent years. Dellin Betances has worn down the last few years, and Girardi’s late-inning bullpen management is paint by numbers. Closer pitches the ninth inning. Eighth inning guy pitches the eighth inning. Seventh inning pitches the seventh inning. At least one 2016 Yankee thinks that approach is questionable.

“I know when (Aroldis) Chapman came back to us for the Yankees this year, Dellin and I were kind if up in the air about what order we would pitch,” said Andrew Miller to Jon Heyman a few weeks ago. “And in some instances it created a mess because we were both warming up next to each other … I’ve been lucky to have (managers) that really handled the bullpen well. But you hate to have two guys warming up at the same time. It seems wasteful in a sense.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once Chapman returned from his suspension, Girardi was like a kid on Christmas morning. He didn’t know which toy to play with. There were multiple instances in which Betances would warm up in the seventh in case the starter got into trouble, but when he didn’t, Dellin would sit down and Miller would pitch the eighth. Rather than use Betances in the eighth because he was already warm, Girardi ended up warming up two pitchers. Wasteful, as Miller said.

Friend of RAB Eno Sarris attempted to develop an analytical method to evaluate managers — almost like a manager version of WAR — and one of his components was bullpen optimization. His analysis found Girardi was 12th best among all managers in optimizing his bullpen in 2016 — his best relievers faced the other team’s best hitters, etc. — but was also in the bottom third in rigidity, meaning he didn’t deviate much from assigned innings.

It goes without saying this analysis is far from perfect — it doesn’t account for all sorts of variables, like the days a reliever wasn’t available because he was puking his brains out in the clubhouse — though as a big picture look, it passes the sniff test. The results make sense to me. Girardi is flexible enough to use Betances outside his assigned inning under certain circumstances. Otherwise everyone pitches in specific situations.

Platoon Advantage

The Yankees have consistently ranked among the best teams when it comes to getting the platoon advantage offensively. Here are the top three teams in percent of plate appearances with the platoon advantage in 2016:

  1. Indians — 70%
  2. Yankees — 68%
  3. Mariners — 68%

No other team was over 64%. The Yankees were helped out by having a bunch of switch-hitters — Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, Aaron Hicks, and Mark Teixeira combined for 1,715 plate appearances, or 28% of the team’s total — but Girardi also does a good job with platoon bats. When Austin Romine started, it was usually against a lefty. When Rob Refsnyder found his way into the lineup, it was usually against a lefty.

There are times Girardi goes overboard — remember Brendan Ryan, Platoon Bat? — and sometimes he seems completely unable to anticipate the other team’s move. There were a few instances in September when Girardi would pinch-hit Brian McCann for Billy Butler against a right reliever, only to have the other team counter with a lefty reliever. He’d choose McCann against a lefty over Butler against a righty even though the numbers said it was the wrong choice. Nitpicky? Yes. Doesn’t make it any less true though.

Instant Replay

This was the third season of the instant replay system, and for the third straight year, the Yankees had one of the highest success rates in baseball. The call was overturned on 68% of their challenges. Only the Royals were better. They were at 69%. The Yankees had the highest success rate in 2014 (82%) and 2015 (75%) as well. Video review man Brett Weber is nails.

There’s also this: the Yankees were dead last with only 28 challenges this year. Last year they had the ninth fewest challenges. The year before they had they fifth fewest. Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend. Girardi is conservative with his replay challenges. We have three years’ worth of data telling us that. He only uses them for sure things. He’s not one to roll the dice. Remember this?

That’s a potential leadoff triple in the seventh inning of a game the Yankees were trailing by three runs. Replays sure made it look bang-bang. The throw was there but Headley kinda sorta swim-moved around it. And yet, no challenge. The Yankees challenged zero plays that game. Their replay challenge went unused that night, like the vast majority of them.

I said this the last two years and I’m sticking to it: I’d like to see Girardi be more aggressive with his challenges. So his success rate will take a hit. Who cares? They don’t give out a trophy for that. I get the argument that if you blow your challenge early in the game, you might not have it later when you need it. That’s the risk you take. Girardi challenges so few plays as it is. The odds of that happening are small.

I’m not saying the Yankees and Girardi should challenge every close play, but surely they can do better than 28 challenges in 162 games, right? Did really only that few blown calls go against the Yankees (for the third straight season)? No, of course not. Come on. Girardi’s (and Weber’s!) success rate is high. Consistently one of the best in baseball. It’d be nice if they were a little more liberal with the challenges rather than leaving so many unused.

The Farewell Tours

Girardi, who is fond of saying he’s not here to manage farewell tours, had to manage two farewell tours this past season. First came Alex Rodriguez‘s in August, then came Teixeira’s at the end of the season. Teixeira’s went far smoother than A-Rod‘s. Girardi helped create some of the A-Rod awkwardness.

“If he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way,” said the skipper after A-Rod’s forced retirement was announced. Then, of course, Rodriguez didn’t play. The Yankees were in Boston, where A-Rod played his first career game, and he was denied the opportunity to play.

“I came to the stadium really excited, hoping I would play all three games or maybe two out of three,” said Alex after finding out he would ride the bench in the first game of the series. “He just said, ‘We’re trying to win games.’ It was surprising and shocking.”

“I’m aware of what my quotes were,” said Girardi. “That there would be conversations and I would try to get him in every game, I said that. But what I’m saying is, I made a mistake. And I’m admitting that. And I’m admitting that to everyone who’s watching because I have a responsibility and I’m trying to take care of my responsibility.”

The Yankees had sold at the deadline the week prior, and while the goal should always be to win, Girardi’s words sounded hollow. Especially since A-Rod sat for long stretches of time, but when he did play, he batted third or fourth. It made no sense. It was the Derek Jeter farewell tour but more convoluted.

Rodriguez’s final night with the Yankees was incredible. His final week was not Girardi’s finest moment. He said one thing and did another, and it just didn’t come off well. He’s in charge of the clubhouse and trust is important, yet he went back on his word with the most veteran and one of the most respected guys in the clubhouse. Eh.

Outlook for 2017

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Given the direction of the franchise, the Yankees have to decide whether Girardi is the right manager to lead them through this rebuild transition. Managing a team designed to win right now is much different than managing a team built around a bunch of young players trying to find their footing in the show. Girardi had a team like that with the 2006 Marlins, so it’s not a completely new experience, but it will be very different.

Girardi’s contract expires after the 2017 season and it’s important to note Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner love him. If I had to bet right now, I’d bet on Girardi getting a new deal next winter. I also think the chances of a managerial change next year — as in after 2017, when his contract expires — are higher than they’ve ever been before. The Yankees haven’t played a postseason series in a while and that will only be tolerated so long, even with the youth movement underway.

Personally, I think Girardi’s a good but not a great manager in terms of on-field strategy. He’s not going to do anything that revolutionizes the game. He’s going to stick to the same approach because he’s stuck to that approach since the day the arrived in New York. A-Rod’s farewell tour notwithstanding, Girardi seems to do well in the clubhouse, and that’s the most important part of his job.

Joe Girardi finishes fifth in AL Manager of the Year voting

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Earlier tonight, the BBWAA named Indians manager Terry Francona the 2016 AL Manager of the Year. Rangers skipper Jeff Banister finished second and Orioles manager Buck Showalter finished third. Francona is the 15th man to win the award twice. Here are the voting results.

Joe Girardi finished fifth in the voting behind Francona, Banister, Showalter, and Red Sox manager John Farrell. Girardi received one second place vote and two third place votes. He’s finished fourth, fifth, or sixth in the Manager of the Year voting every year since 2010. Girardi finished third in 2009.

The last Yankees manager to be named Manager of the Year was (who else?) Joe Torre in 1998. Tough to earn recognition when you have a huge payroll and expectations are always high. Manager of the Year is basically the “manager of the team that most exceeded expectations” award.

Gary Sanchez finished second to Michael Fulmer in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Masahiro Tanaka will surely receive some Cy Young votes when the voting is announced tomorrow. Chances are one or two Yankees will get down ballot MVP votes as well. MVPs will be announced Thursday.

Brian Cashman’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Offense, Pitching, Youth Movement, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With the 2016 season now over, Brian Cashman held his annual State of the Yankees press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. Some actual news came out of it, though nothing major. You can watch the entire press conference in bits and pieces right here, if you’re interested. As we did with Joe Girardi’s end-of-season press conference the other day, here are the important points from Cashman’s presser as well as some thoughts.

The Offense

  • On the 2016 offense: “We weren’t very consistent with runs scored and (the offense was not) as dynamic as it was the previous year … I think a lot of the opportunities for better run production is going to come from improved results with runners in scoring position.”
  • On improvement going forward: “It’s going to be coming from improved play from the younger guys coming up through the system … Hopefully they solidify things moving forward and provide more consistent production than what we got in 2016. So lots of competitions taking place. Right field and first base.”
  • On considering right field and first base settled for 2017: “I think there will be some hesitancy (to bring in outside help) … I would say that that would be the way that we would like to approach Spring Training next year. The kids get a shot at it. That doesn’t (stop me from) being open-minded to the opportunities that present themselves.”
  • On signing a big bat: “I can’t really speak to the free agent market because some of these guys are still playing … My initial thought would be to allow us to go into the spring with competitions coming from the youth movement, which I admit is risky … I’m willing to be flexible, and those dialogues will be very important.”

Cashman is very candid and at one point he said flatly “our offense was bad.” No sugarcoating it. Now, that said, it doesn’t sound as though the Yankees are planning to jump into anything big in an effort to score more runs going forward. Plan A is to stick with the kids and hope guys like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird and others contribute more next season than they did this season. That seems to be their perfect world scenario.

Will the Yankees close the door on signing a big name free agent? Never. It just doesn’t seem like there’s anything that makes sense right now. They could spend a ton of money on a DH like Edwin Encarnacion, and where does that get them? Back to where they were with Alex Rodriguez four years ago, basically. Something might fall into their lap that makes sense, but based on everything Cashman said, if the offense improves next year, it’ll be because the young players come into their own.

The Pitching Staff

  • On trading for an ace (coughChrisSalecough): “I think that type of deal is a deal where you’re that final piece away. I think we have an exciting young nucleus that’s coming … But there are some flaws, honestly, in this roster still. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete for a postseason berth. That doesn’t mean you can’t play in October. But the type of concept that you’re speaking of — I’m sure that everybody knows who you’re talking about by asking that question — but that to me (is a trade you make if) you’re an organization that’s one piece away, you back up the truck (and trade) four and five players. You have to be one piece away, and I would not recommend that type of decision as we approach the 2017 season. I think that would be dangerous.”
  • On adding an elite reliever: “My job is to get as much as we can find. In the front end of the season last year 7-8-9 was special … So my job is just to find as much quality arms, whether they’re fireballers or sidewinders or soft-tossers. The only important thing is getting outs and we had trouble getting outs in the middle (innings) there and that’s unacceptable. Continue to try to fortify. The more the merrier.”
  • On non-tendering Nathan Eovaldi: “We’ll just wait for that process play out. Clearly this is a Tommy John situation, and I know it’s obvious (he’s going to be non-tendered), but I’d rather not speak to any of it until the process plays out.”
  • On pitching help from within: “We’re still young but we have other guys pushing their way into the mix, and we’ll see what they look like in Spring Training.”

As with the offense, Cashman doesn’t sound eager to spend huge dollars — there’s no one to spend it on anyway this offseason — or gut his prized farm system to add an impact pitcher. I’d argue Sale is a piece you go get no matter what because he’s so good, so young, and so cheap that he makes any team better. He could help get the Yankees over the hump and into the postseason next year, and still be ace caliber when the kids hit their primes.

Cashman mentioned the Justin Wilson trade as “Exhibit A” of how they’ll likely attack the rotation this offseason, meaning trade for youth and depth so they have as many options as possible. Given how hard it is to acquire even decent pitching this year — a team traded two real live prospects for two months of Ivan Nova, remember — acquiring as much cheap depth as possible seems like a smart move. I liked what I saw out of Chad Green and especially Luis Cessa this year. Another one of those deals would be sweet.

The Catching Situation

  • On Gary Sanchez‘s role in 2017: “Gary Sanchez is our starting catcher next year. That’s his position to lose. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose it. We saw Severino last year helping us get to the postseason. This year, he struggled. We’re very excited about Gary, who always projected to be (a middle of the order bat).”
  • On expectations for Sanchez after his huge season: “It’s hard to expect that and I wouldn’t expect that over the course of a six-month period next year. But I think we have an exciting everyday talent that is going to be one of the best catchers in our game as we move forward, if he stays healthy and stays committed as he’s done the last two seasons now.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s role going forward: “That’s a valuable combination — both (Sanchez and McCann) on the same roster — for us, both being excellent defenders and certainly strong leaders of staff … I didn’t waste my time to see if he would waive his no-trade (at the deadline) because I’ve got to be satisfied first.”
  • On Kyle Higashioka: “We have some young guys that kind of did a nice job for us this year. (Higashioka) has always been a tremendous defender and he’ll be added to our 40-man roster this winter … We’ve been very good here in the last five or so years at developing (young catchers).”

Cashman did not sound eager to move McCann, though I guess he would try to give off that impression even if he were ready to move him. There’s no sense in tipping your hand. He did talk about the value of McCann’s veteran leadership, how nice it is to have a power-hitting lefty/righty tandem behind the plate, and how there are DH at-bats available. Cashman said he’ll listen on McCann, but he values him highly, and he wants something significant in return.

As for Higashioka, adding him to the 40-man roster is a no-brainer. You don’t cut loose a good defensive catcher who hit 20 homers at the upper levels of the minors. At worst, you add him to the 40-man and trade him. Letting him go for nothing is a non-option. I don’t think Higashioka joining the 40-man means McCann or Austin Romine will be traded though. The Yankees could easily send Higashioka to Triple-A and stash him there next season. They don’t have to make a move.

The Coaching Staff & Front Office

  • On the job Joe Girardi did in 2017: “We the front office did what we felt was necessary (at the trade deadline), and his job description is do everything in his power to win with whenever you get … I appreciate his efforts and everything he did from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi favoring veterans over young players: “I don’t think that’s the case at all … I think it has more to do with just assessing the talent. Sometimes it plays into the decision and sometimes it doesn’t. I was really satisfied with the team’s competitive spirit from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi as a lame duck manager next year: “We will go through next year and ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward. There is that built in assumption in the process, where we play our contracts out. My contract expires the next year too … We’re going to focus on the present, which is the cast of characters currently, and how we can maximize value out of all of this right now.”
  • On bringing the coaching staff back: “Everybody is signed except for Larry Rothchild. His contract expires and I will meet with Larry today … I don’t have interest in recommending changes.”

I both am and am not surprised the Yankees are not making any coaching changes. I didn’t think they’ve overhaul the staff, but when you miss the postseason three times in four years, someone usually takes the fall. That’s why hitting coach Kevin Long was let go two years ago. Cashman wants to bring everyone back though — I’m not thrilled with keeping Joe Espada as third base coach, but it is what it is — and I’m sure they’ll get a deal worked out with Rothschild soon.

As for Girardi, Cashman made it clear that he was speaking about both Girardi and himself when he said “ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward.” In the past, both have played out their contracts and gone a year as a lame duck. Once their deals expired, they went to the negotiating table. There were no extensions and there was no reason to think this year would be any different. Business as usual.

Things could get interesting if the Yankees miss the postseason against next year. That’ll be four October-less years in five seasons. Girardi and/or Cashman might not survive that. Then again, I guess it depends how they miss the postseason. Did they crash and burn because all the kids flopped? Or did the fall a handful of games short while the young players established themselves as bonafide big leaguers? That’ll play a factor in Girardi’s and Cashman’s next contracts.

The Rebuild & Youth Movement

  • On the fan response to selling: “We have a worldwide network (of fans) that we’re proud to have … They’re very sophisticated. This was something that we think is something that they wanted to transpire, and they wanted us to press the reset button. And you know, in many cases I was tired of seeing what was transpiring in the first few months this year. Been there, done that, it’s time to do something that wasn’t part of the DNA … I think our fanbase recognizes what we did in July, and responded in kind with a lot of excitement.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s future: “(His performance in) the bullpen is not changing anything for me. That’s where guys go when they can’t be quality starters. I certainly hope that he can be a starter as we move forward. Certainly you’ve got to factor in and keep in mind his age. I think he’s 22, 23. But at the end of the day I have to have patience. I have to be objective that way. There’s a starter profile on him … He will get that opportunity (to start), whether it’s New York or it’s in Scranton next year remains to be seen.”
  • Can Clint Frazier make the Opening Day roster? “I don’t think so … But I remember when Robbie (Cano) — I know he was coming out of our system, the number one pitching prospect at that time was (Chien-Ming) Wang — we anticipated that at Double-A he would be being ready in two years, (but he arrived a) full year in advance after a good winter ball. (Alfonso) Soriano was the same way. It was just like, ‘how we get this guy on the roster?’ When you take the full package, once it all comes together — Gary Sanchez, I guess, is a more recent example too — it’s just like a flood.”
  • On Jorge Mateo playing center field: “We’re trying to diversify. We’ve got a lot of shortstops … It’s just to give us more flexibility. He’s played shortstop, second base, DH, and center in Instructs. We just gave him a crash course. It’s something that’s been part of the evaluation process from the beginning.”

No surprise Cashman isn’t giving up on Severino as a starter. That would be silly. He has the stuff to start, at least when he has a feel for and confidence in his changeup, and he’s so young that you give him a chance to figure things out in that role. I think at worst, Severino showed he can be a really great reliever. He still offers upside as a starter and the Yankees should without question allow him to continue developing in that role.

I thought the Cano and Soriano comparions for Frazier were interesting. They were all highly regarded prospects with high-end skills, and Cano and Soriano forced the issue. They were too good to keep down in the minors any longer. Frazier has the potential to do the same this year. The big difference here is position. The Yankees needed a new second baseman when Soriano and later Cano came up. They’re not desperate for outfielders right now. Still, once Frazier is ready, you make room for him. He’s a special talent.

Injured Players

  • On James Kaprielian and the Arizona Fall League: “(Instructional League is the) process to finish him off so he goes to the Fall League. That’s the plan. So the public has been alerted … He’s not on the official roster. The roster on the website is not the official roster. I know Twitter will look at it like ‘OMG what’s going on here?’ … He’s healthy and he’s throwing max potential.”
  • On CC Sabathia‘s knee: “I think CC is going to have a knee (procedure). He’s going next week … It’s just going to be a routine cleanup. It’s not something that is a concern or considered serious. It’s something that is expected and was expected the last two months.”

My audio was all garbled and I couldn’t get a clean transcription, but Cashman said that while Kaprielian is not on the AzFL roster, the league is aware the Yankees plan to send him as long as he comes through Instructs in one piece. He pitched in a game the other day and by all accounts everything went well. And yes, Cashman actually said OMG. Oh em gee.

Miscellany

  • On the disappointment of 2016: “It was a series of twists and turns of this year. We obviously had high hopes … It was a mixed bag. It was a very frustrating and difficult process in the first three months of the season, and I think it was a very exciting dynamic that transpired in the final three months this season. Ultimately, we know when the dust settled, when it’s all said and done, the 2016 season did not achieve the stated goal, which was the first get to the playoffs and try to compete for a championship in October. “
  • On the luxury tax: “Haven’t had any open discussions since no one has any idea what the CBA is going to be like … We’ll certainly be very interested in ‘resetting the clock’ and not being in position to lose more money than any other clubs because we’re penalized more than ever.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka and the World Baseball Classic: “I don’t think we have say in that … Even though he felt healthy and looked fine and all that stuff, we made the right choice in saying you know what, see you in the spring, whether it’s going to be in Tampa or in the WBC.”
  • On trying to win in 2017: “Every decision we have to make — whether it’s deciding support staff, coaches, the manager, anybody in the front office, and most importantly the players — every decision is designed to get us closer to being the last team standing, and that’s the approach that’s got to take place. And that can happen in 2017. That’s the goal, but every decision (has be made with a) World Championship in mind.”

If I recall correctly, teams can hold players out of the WBC if he finished the previous season injured. Did Tanaka finish the season hurt? Technically, yeah. He missed his last two starts with a forearm injury. But he was never placed on the DL though, and both the GM and manager admitted he would have made his final start had the team not already been eliminated. We’ll see. If Tanaka wants to go and the Yankees can’t stop him, what can you do other than help he doesn’t get hurt?

The luxury tax stuff is just the worst. Hate hearing about it. Every time we do it’s a remainder the Yankees are willfully throwing away their market advantage and scaling back payroll at a time every other team is raising payroll. The Yankees seem to have convinced a lot of fans that resetting the tax rate is good and necessary. Is the luxury tax saved enough to make up for the lost postseason and ticket revenue? I hope so. Otherwise this will all have been a giant waste of time.

Girardi’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Youth Movement, Severino, Pitching

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Prior to Sunday’s season finale, Yankees manager Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference, during which he discussed the state of the franchise and where the team is heading in the future. Things like that. The usual, basically.

You can watch the entire 20-minute press conference right here, if you’re so inclined. I compiled what I thought were the most interesting tidbits and grouped them together below. I also added some thoughts, because why not? Here is our annual recap of Girardi’s end-of-season press conference. Brian Cashman‘s is Wednesday. That’s the most important one.

The Youth Movement

  • On expectations Girardi had for the kids going into 2016: “I was pretty convinced in my mind that (Gary) Sanchez would help us at some point this year. When you look at Aaron (Judge), I thought he had a possibility of helping. I was not sure about Tyler (Austin) just because — the year before was pretty good — he had some physical issues. He was making a position change. But I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s adapted to first base. I hope he’s going to continue to get better. He works really hard and he’s done some things that at times I’ve been surprised what he’s done for us.”
  • Do you have to manage kids differently than veterans? “You manage every group somewhat different because they’re different types of players, but yes. I mean, obviously with (veterans) they’ve been through a lot … You have a history of how they handle those experiences and maybe those slumps. You’re not sure how (young players are) going to react and what they are capable of being, the situation, how they’re going to handle it. But again, you manage differently depending on their strengths and weaknesses.”
  • Who is Girardi looking forward to seeing in 2017? “(I’m) most excited to see some guys that I haven’t seen a lot of. I’m not sure who’s going to be in my 40-man roster either … There are some guys I haven’t seen because of the trades we’ve made. And next year could be an interesting Spring Training as a WBC year.”
  • On expectations for Gary Sanchez next year: “My hope is the expectations aren’t so large that no matter what he does, he can’t reach those expectations. But I think you can expect a talented player and a good player to go out there and improve.”

The expectations for Sanchez next season will be interesting. Interesting and scary. The kid hit like Babe Ruth for three weeks, and as good as Gary is, it’s completely unrealistic to expect him to do that again. Expectations for Luis Severino got out of control last season. I don’t think that contributed to his poor season, but a lot of fans set themselves up for disappointment by expecting an instant ace.

Hopefully Sanchez can be a middle of the order bat next season. I’m sure the Yankees will count on him to be exactly that. But asking him to be one of the best hitters on the planet again, especially across a full season, is not fair at this point. The learning curve for catchers can be steep. Sanchez hitting, say, .270/.320/.450 with 25 homers in 2017 would make him one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. I also feel like many folks would consider that a disappointment.

The Offense

  • On situational hitting: “As far as the situational hitting, when I said at times we didn’t hit well, that was a big part. Situational hitting with runners in scoring position, we did not do a good job. There are years that are better years than other years, and the teams that score runs are the teams that do really well in that category, and that’s something that we learned last season.”
  • On the offense wearing down late in the season: “I mean, guys get beat up physically and they get run down in the month of September, and we’re not the only team that goes through that … Your pitching needs to remain constant and sometimes they have to pick each other up. But you know, there’s definite problems. I feel that this club is capable (of having a good offense). I think they’re capable.”

I’m honestly not too worried about the situational hitting. That stuff is so unpredictable from one year to the next. A year ago the Yankees hit .256/.341/.465 (114 wRC+) with runners in scoring position and this year it was .228/.308/.350 (73 wRC+) even though they had the same damn lineup most of the season. As far as moving runners over and that stuff … if the Yankees start obsessing over that, they deserve what they get.

There’s no need to overthink this. Get as many quality above-average hitters as possible, and let the rest take care of itself. Want good hitters with runners in scoring position? Then get good hitters overall. The correlation is pretty damn strong. The Yankees have gone defense over offense at a few too many positions (center, left, short, third) and it’s dragging down the offense overall. The Yankees don’t need better situational hitters. They just need better hitters.

Luis Severino’s Future

  • Is he a starter or reliever? “I think it’s really up to him and the way he pitches. If he’s going to be a starter, commanding the fastball is extremely important. Changeup is coming. Slider is much improved (from earlier this season) … My expectation is he’s still going to be a starter.”
  • Does his final role need to be determined soon? “When you look at the way things went down, he was stuck in the bullpen (because that’s where we needed him). He’s fairly young and aggressive. He’s going to make a case. We’re going to work here with him.”

At no point this season did Severino look like a capable Major League starter. Not once. Not in April, not in his brief August cameo, and not in September. He looked great in relief though. That said, the kid will be 23 in February, and it’s way too early to think about a move to the bullpen full-time. Let him start next season. All season. If that means he has to go to Triple-A, so be it.

Severino’s issues are mostly command related. He admitted he lost confidence in his changeup this year, but he has a pretty good one. We saw it last year. He just lost a feel for it. Severino needs to get comfortable with his changeup again, and do a better job locating pretty much everything. The Yankees could let him work on that in the big leagues next year. I say let him earn it. If the command and changeup don’t look good in camp, Triple-A it is. I’m not counting on Severino to be a big piece of the puzzle next year.

The Upcoming Offseason

  • On the biggest area of need: “(I will) sit down with Brian and let him handle those questions. You know he is the architect of the team. My job is to get the most out of the players, and I don’t want to speak before we’ve had a chance to talk … The other thing is, you know, we talk about it and the players start to wonder how we think about them, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
  • Do they need rotation help? “Well I think we have good players if we stay healthy, but that doesn’t happen very often so I’m sure we will look into that as well.”

Listening to Girardi the last few days, it seems pretty clear he believes the Yankees need to improve everything. The offense, the defense, the pitching staff … all of it. You can’t look at the 2016 Yankees and point to one problem area of the roster. Yes, the offense was the main culprit, but the back of the rotation and the middle of the bullpen were weak too. So was the defense at times. The baserunning too. So bad. So, so bad.

How do the Yankees overhaul most of the roster? Well, plugging in young players is a good start, plus many of the big contracts will soon be off the books. Others like Brett Gardner and Brian McCann could be traded this offseason. The Yankees underwent a lot of change this past season. I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon. I think this was only the beginning.

Miscellany

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s improvement: “What he improved on was the amount of innings and starts, and staying healthy — we’re shutting him down in a sense, if (Saturday’s game) meant something, he would have started — so I think that’s a big improvement. And just keep moving forward in that sense. I thought he played well, and when you can count on 200 innings every year, I think it’s the best thing.”
  • On Mark Teixeira‘s final game: “You know, I saw him earlier today and he was smiling and seemed very happy. And I think this day is going to be filled with every type of emotion. I think there’s going to be happiness, there’s going to be sadness, and there’s going to be appreciation for having the opportunity to play this game and to play here and play in front of the fans.”
  • What move would Girardi like to do over? “I was asked yesterday about, are there any decisions that I want like to have a chance to redo? I said no because I don’t have hindsight. I make decisions based in real time. I make decisions based on information that I have. And then you have to deal with the human element. So you know, in every play, in every case, you could second guess if you want to.”
  • On selling at the trade deadline: “I understood why they they traded veterans away. I mean, we were in a situation where we weren’t getting it done. And I think Brian’s job is (evaluate the team), but he also has to look at the future … As an organization, we thought it was in our best interest to make trades to try and get back to the World Series.”
  • Does the World Series or bust mantra need to change? “No, no. I think you should all set your goals. You know I don’t think you should be satisfied with just making the playoffs.”
  • Girardi’s message to fans: “We will do everything we can to bring a championship here. That’s everyone’s job in this organization.”

Girardi’s comments on the trade deadline were pretty interesting. He seemed excited about all the young players and also disappointed that the Yankees were forced to sell. As he said, the goal is to win the World Series every year, and the Yankees had to sell because they were far from World Series contenders. Selling was a result of the team’s failure to perform, and ultimately that (or at least part of that) falls on Girardi.

Don’t expect the goal to change, either. Girardi was clear about that. The Yankees are going to try to win next season, even while incorporating younger players into the lineup. Those things don’t always work well together, not unless every position player comes up and hits like 2016 Sanchez while every pitcher performs like 2015 Severino. I’m curious to see what gets prioritized next year, the development of young players or winning.

Saturday Links: Fan Appreciation, Caps, Girardi, Refsnyder

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
This year’s rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)

The Yankees and Blue Jays will continue their four-game series with the second game this afternoon. Until then, I recommend checking out Jeff Passan’s 25 things you didn’t know about baseball, plus these bits of news and notes.

Yankees holding Fan Appreciation Day

The Yankees announced they will hold a Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday, October 2nd, at Yankee Stadium. That’s the final day of the regular season, and the day of Mark Teixeira‘s farewell ceremony. Here’s the press release with all the details. In a nutshell, there are ticket discounts and seat upgrades and random prizes. All sorts of cool stuff. Best of all, everyone in attendance gets a voucher for two free tickets to a game next season. Nice work, Yankees. This is pretty great.

New Era logo coming to MLB caps

According to Chris Creamer, all MLB caps will feature the New Era logo on the left side starting this postseason. MLB’s contract with New Era was amended to include the logo recently, and this extends into the 2017 season. I’m not sure about beyond that. So yes, the iconic Yankees hat will have a New Era logo on the side next year, similar to this:

Yankees New Era hat

Hats were the last piece of the uniform that did not bear the manufacturer’s logo. In fact, Creamer says the Yankees are the only team in baseball exempt from having a Majestic logo on their jersey sleeves. I didn’t know that. The New Era logo is far more noticeable though, and frankly, it looks kinda amateurish. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now I’m not a fan. Maybe put a smaller New Era logo on the back of the hat near the MLB logo?

Girardi among best bullpen managers

Earlier this week Rob Arthur and Rian Watt put together a study that attempts to measure bullpen management, essentially by comparing reliever quality and leverage index. Which managers have their best relievers on the mound in the most important situations, basically. According to their metric, the best bullpen manager since 2000 is Joe Torre, believe it or not. He was 13% better than average. Joe Girardi and Ozzie Guillen are tied for second at 11%.

Two things I found interesting about Arthur’s and Watt’s work: One, there’s not much correlation in bullpen management from year-to-year. A manager can have a good year one year and a bad one the next. I imagine reliever quality, which is very volatile, has a lot to do with that. And two, the difference between the best and worst bullpen managers is only about a win across a full 162-game season. That seems low, but remember, ultimately it’s up to the pitcher to perform. The manager doesn’t pitch. Even great pitchers have bad outings.

Refsnyder a Marvin Miller award finalist

Through fan voting, Rob Refsnyder has been selected as the AL East finalist for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, writes Bryan Hoch. The award is given annually to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” The winner is picked through a players-only vote, and the MLBPA will donate $50,000 on behalf of the winner to the charity of his choice.

Refsnyder has been working to raise money for A Kid’s Place, which helps Tampa area children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. He designed and is selling a t-shirt through Athletes Brand, with all proceeds this month going to the charity. The other division finalists for the Man of the Year award include two ex-Yankees: Curtis Granderson, David Robertson, Anthony Rizzo, Lance McCullers Jr., and Justin Turner.

The Yankees should evaluate more than just their young players down the stretch

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Moreso than at any point in the last 20 years, the Yankees are in the middle of a youth movement. Aaron Judge is playing right field every day, and, most notably, Gary Sanchez has taken over as the starting catcher. That’s a big deal because Brian McCann is still on the roster. Judge is replacing the traded Carlos Beltran, so it’s an easy. McCann’s role has been reduced to make room for Sanchez. The Yankees are going all-in on the kids.

Beyond Judge and Sanchez, the Yankees have also called up Tyler Austin to take at-bats away from Mark Teixeira. Alex Rodriguez has been released too. Chad Green and Luis Cessa are in the rotation, though that’s more out of necessity than anything. Once rosters expand we’ll see Ben Gamel and Rob Refsnyder again, probably Luis Severino and others as well. Ben Heller will be back too. He was up last week but did not appear in a game.

The Yankees are making these moves and decisions because this season is close to a lost cause. Yeah, they’re technically still in the wildcard race, but it is a long shot. They admitted as much when they traded away arguably their three best players at the trade deadline. The Yankees are looking ahead to the future and allowing their top young players, the guys they intend build around doing forward, to get their feet wet now.

So far everything is going pretty well. Judge and especially Sanchez have produced right away, and while the instant success is good, how do they handle the inevitable failure? That matters too. The young players are front and center, and the Yankees will evaluate them the rest of the season. They’re not the only people the Yankees have to evaluate though. There’s also Joe Girardi. Is he the right man to lead the team through what they’re calling a “transition?”

I’m not here to criticize Girardi or call him a bad manager to anything like that. This is a legitimate question. The Yankees are trying to mold Sanchez and Judge and everyone else into the core of the next great Yankees team, and you want to have the right person leading them. This is important stuff. Managers don’t just fill out lineup cards and change pitchers. There’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes. Here’s what we know about Girardi’s experience managing young players.

1. The Yankees have never asked Girardi to do something like this. Since hiring Girardi during the 2007-08 offseason, the Yankees have been a win-now team. That was the case even coming into this season. Things didn’t work out that way, so the team shifted gears at the trade deadline and now the emphasis is on young players. There’s been a Brett Gardner here and an Ivan Nova there over the years, but that’s pretty much it. The front office is now dropping a bunch of kids in Girardi’s lap, all at once. They’ve never done this before. The closest thing to this is when they started the 2008 season with both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes in the rotation, and that lasted barely a month.

2. Girardi did manage a lot of rookies with the Marlins. Thanks to one of the team’s trademark fire sales, Girardi had to manage an incredible 22 rookies (!) with the 2006 Marlins. Heck, Girardi was a rookie himself. That was his first season as a big league skipper. He had a rookie middle infield (Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla), a rookie outfield (Josh Willingham, Reggie Abercrombie, Jeremy Hermida), four rookie starters (Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen) and more. That was an entire team of young players.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Managing a bunch of rookies with a Marlins team that has zero expectations and is under no microscope is a much different animal than managing rookies with the Yankees. Girardi had no choice but to play those guys in Florida. Hanley and Uggla were going to be his middle infield, the same way Didi Gregorius was going to be his shortstop last year. The difficult part is when you have a veteran like McCann and need to play a rookie like Sanchez. That can be tough and uncomfortable.

Last week was not Girardi’s finest week with the Yankees. He said last Sunday he would play A-Rod as much as he wanted during his final week, then it didn’t happen. That’s not a good look. Anything that could potentially compromise the players’ trust in the manager is bad. That also seemed to be an isolated incident, and I’m not entirely convinced Girardi wasn’t under orders from above to keep A-Rod on the bench. It’s not like that was part of a pattern. Quite the opposite, really.

Girardi generally defends his players tooth and nail and does what he can to take the heat off them. He’s not above calling players out when they make a mistake, but it is rare. He’s going to protect his players and I see that as quality you want in a manager in charge of a rebuild. The kids are going to make mistakes. They’re unavoidable. They’re going to throw to the wrong base, they’re going to slump, they’re going to do all of that. Being a young player trying to cut your teeth in the show can be overwhelming, especially in New York, and you want a manager who will guide the player through the tough times, not just pat him on the back when things go well.

At the same time, I’m a big believer in managers having a shelf life. Eventually things get stale and it’s time for a new voice and fresh ideas. Every manager is different, so sometimes getting stale happens after three years, or five years, or 15 years. Is Girardi approaching his shelf life? Eh, that’s tough to say. That’s something for the players to decide. It does seem like we’ve seen more careless mistakes (baserunning, etc.) from the Yankees this year than in the past, and fair or not, that reflects poorly on the coaching staff and manager.

I don’t think there’s any chance the Yankees will fire Girardi after the season, so this is all probably a moot point. Trading away veterans at the trade deadline took all the heat off him as far as missing the postseason. The people above him too responsibility for that. Brian Cashman and, more importantly, Hal Steinbrenner seem to like Girardi, so I think he’s safe. There’s two years left on his contract too. Like it or not, all signs point to Joe being back in 2017.

With that in mind, I am curious to see how Girardi handles the young kids the rest of the year, and not just the playing time. I’m curious to see how he helps them deal with the media when they struggle, and also how he helps them learn and become better players. The objective has changed. For most of Girardi’s time here it’s been all about winning. Now it’s about developing these young players into the next great Yankees, and the team wants to make sure they have the right man in charge to do that.

The Yankees and Joe Girardi don’t come off looking too good in the final days of A-Rod’s career

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Last night, for the 15th time in the last 16 games, Alex Rodriguez was not in the Yankees’ starting lineup. A-Rod has started only nine of the team’s last 33 games now, so seeing him on the bench was not unusual. He hasn’t hit since last August and the Yankees have benched him, understandably so. The circumstances were slightly different last night, however.

Over the weekend the Yankees and A-Rod announced he will play his final game this Friday before joining the front office as a special advisor and instructor. Listening to the press conference Sunday, it was pretty clear Alex feels he still has some quality baseball left in him. You can tell this isn’t what he truly wants, but it is his best option, so he’s taking it.

During Sunday’s press conference Joe Girardi said he will talk to A-Rod to see what he wants to do this week as far as playing time. The team only promised him a start on Friday, in front of the home fans at Yankee Stadium, but they have to play three games in Boston before that, and Girardi did say he’ll play Alex in those games if he wants to play.

“I’m going to talk to him as we move forward here,” said Girardi on Sunday (video link). “Probably sit down and talk to him Tuesday when we get to Boston — maybe today after the game — and see where he’s at mentally … He’s earned the right to have the conversation with me and (say what) he wants to do here … If he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way.”

And yet, A-Rod was not in the lineup last night, and not because he didn’t want to play. He told reporters before the game he wanted to play these three games in Boston. During the game YES showed a clip of Alex’s pregame chat with reporters and he looked totally bummed he wasn’t in the lineup. It was kinda sad. The guy just want to play some games before his career ends, you know?

“I came to the stadium really excited, hoping I would play all three games or maybe two out of three,” said A-Rod to reporters yesterday, including George King. “He just said, ‘We’re trying to win games.’ It was surprising and shocking … He has his opinions and I have mine. But like I’ve said from the time I came back from my suspension, it’s up to Joe and I’ll do whatever he wants.”

Girardi justified his decision to sit A-Rod despite his “if he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way” declaration by saying he got caught up in the emotion of Sunday. He said something at the time and regretted it, basically. “I’m an emotional guy and my heart can get tugged at. I think I got caught up in the emotions. I’m human,” said Girardi yesterday. “I’m not saying he won’t play these next two days, but I’m managing to win the games. This is a very important series for us.”

Going back on that promise is pretty damn weak, isn’t it? One day Girardi says if Alex wants to play, he’ll play. The next day he says they can’t play him because they’re trying to win, which is a load of crap because the Yankees traded most of their good players at the deadline. Mark Teixeira still bats third. The wholly unproductive Aaron Hicks plays every day. Anthony Swarzak is a trusted reliever. They aren’t trying to win anything, and if they are, holy cow are they doing a bad job.

Girardi has been extremely supportive of A-Rod over the years, whether he was under fire because he didn’t get The Big Hit in the postseason or was returning from his 2014 suspension or something else entirely. Remember when Girardi almost punched Brian O’Nora as part of his tirade when Ryan Dempster threw at Alex back in 2013? (GIF via SB Nation)

Joe Girardi

All that unwavering support over the years is part of what makes the sudden change of heart this week so odd. I can’t help but wonder if Girardi is getting orders from above to not play A-Rod this week, or maybe something happened behind the scenes that caused him to change the way he feels about Alex. Or maybe he never truly cared about him and only had his back out of obligation. Who knows?

All I know is that on Sunday I heard A-Rod will play this week if he wants, and now that’s not happening. That’s not cool. The Yankees will be the first to tell you they’re a classy organization and all that, but we’re not seeing it here. The “we’re trying to win games” reasoning is dubious at best and a straight up lie at worst. A-Rod’s no saint. We all know that. But that’s not a reason to pull the rug out from under him this week.

It’s important to note the Yankees don’t own Alex anything. Well, other than the $20-something million left on his contract, but you know what I mean. They didn’t have to offer him an advisor/instructor job. They didn’t have to agree to let him play one final home game Friday. They didn’t have to do any of this. The Yankees could have released A-Rod on Sunday and it would have been 100% justifiable.

But they did do all of this. They offered him the advisor/instructor job, they agreed to let him play Friday, and Girardi stood at the podium Sunday and told everyone “if he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way.” Now that’s not happening, and it reflects poorly on Girardi and the Yankees because they’re backtracking. This is the team making one of the veteran leaders a promise and then reneging. How does everyone else in the clubhouse feel about that?

I want to see A-Rod play these final three games because he’s one of my all-time favorite players and his career will be over in less than 64 hours. I want to see him try to sock a dinger one last time. I want to see him play the field and show off the rocket arm one last time too, but maybe now I’m asking too much. Either way, if A-Rod strikes out five times and makes an error instead, well, who cares? The Yankees aren’t going anywhere and that’s not how I’ll remember Alex anyway.

I didn’t think this was possible, but the Yankees have managed to turn A-Rod into a sympathetic figure these last few weeks between the benching and the forced retirement and not playing him these final few games against his wishes. I doubt that was their intention, but it happened. Alex is the one who has come out of this looking good. Now it’s the Yankees who are saying one thing and doing another, and as A-Rod showed all these years, that no way to win over fans.