2014 Season Review: The Manager

Joe Girardi
(Chris Carlson/AP)

Joe Girardi is a good manager. Figure I might as well get that out of the way. He seems to be a dividing force among Yankees fans. You either think he’s in the top 5 managers or in the bottom 5.*

*Yes, I know there are people who think he’s average, but it’s hard to be vocal about averageness, so the extremes, as per usual, pervade.

Here is the thing with Joe Girardi: if you think he’s in the bottom 5 managers, you feel he performed poorly in 2014. If you think he’s in the top 5, you feel he again performed well with a not-so-good roster.

Never one to back down from an unwinnable argument, here is the case for Joe Girardi’s greatness as a manager.

He has little patience for idiocy

After each game, Girardi has no choice but to sit in front of reporters for the postgame press conference. But he doesn’t have to like it, and oftentimes he shows exactly how thrilled he is.

This is obviously a personal thing. I know a few fans who don’t like when Girardi snipes at reporters who ask dumb questions. But I don’t see why. If reporters ask dumb questions, they should get dumb answers.

Yes, I understand that it’s tough to ask fresh, original questions 162 times a year. But it’s also tough to sit up there and listen to the same old, “what were you thinking?” sleep-inducers. Reporters have all game to think about an original question. It’s not that difficult to come up with just one.

So here’s applauding Girardi for, at least sometimes, not tolerating these kinds of questions. He’s no Mike Mussina in that regard — miss that guy — but with Derek Jeter gone at least there will be one guy in the Yankees clubhouse unwilling to constantly tolerate dumb questions.

He manages a quality bullpen

Again, we might find people who contend with the idea that Joe Girardi manages a fine bullpen. They’ll point to instances where he brought in a clearly inferior reliever, when he should have brought in Betances.

On this point, unlike the one above, I won’t concede much. Through the years it has become clear that Girardi puts his relievers in a position to succeed.

What does that mean, exactly?

1) He settles guys into roles. We might decry managers pigeonholing guys into roles like closer, 8th inning, 7th inning. It seems inflexible. But if players feel comfortable knowing they play a specific role, they might perform better.

2) He knows when guys need a break. You can’t keep calling on the same guys day in and day out. Girardi seems to know pretty well when his guys need a breather.

3) At the same time, he remains as aggressive with his usage as is responsible and reasonable.

For the last point, Betances is a great example. Girardi used him as much as possible early in the season, while knowing when to back off before getting him hurt or losing his effectiveness.

Heading into the season it didn’t appear that the Yankees had the strongest bullpen. They’d lost the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and didn’t do much to strengthen it over the off-season (signed Matt Thornton and that’s about it). Even though he needed the bullpen extensively, they still performed relatively well.

He gets the call right

This comes from baseballsavant.com’s replay tool, which is simply awesome. Their other tools are excellent as well.

MLB ChallengeJoe Girardi Challenge
On the left is the MLB average rate for manager challenges overturned. On the right is Joe Girardi’s rate. If you need hard numbers, he got the call overturned 82.14 percent of the time, while the average manager got it right 47.65 percent of the time.

He outmanages expectations

If a team outperforms its Pythagorean record, is that a reflection of the manager’s work? In isolated incidents, no, there are plenty of factors that can play into a team winning more or fewer games than their run differential indicates. But when it happens year after year, with the manager being the only constant? That’s another story.

In the last two seasons, given a roster that averaged 641.5 runs, against the AL average of 689.5, Giradi managed to beat the team’s negative run differential and win 13 games more than expected. If that happens in one season, maybe it’s a fluke. If it happens two in a row, both with similar conditions of poor offense and a patchwork pitching staff, the manager can start to take at least a little credit.

One question that came to mind: do teams with good pitching and poor offenses naturally out-perform their Pythagorean records in this low run environment? The answer seems to be no.

Tampa Bay, a team that allowed fewer runs than the Yankees, had a higher Pythagorean record than them, yet underperformed that number, winning only 77 vs a projection of 79.

Atlanta, which allowed under 600 runs, outperformed their Pythagorean record by one win.

Miami, which was close to New York with a -29 run differential, underperformed their Pythagorean by a win.

Cincinnati, with a -17 run differential and only 612 runs allowed, underperformed their Pythagorean by three wins.

San Diego is the closest to a team outperforming their Pythagorean in the same way as the Yankees, with plus-two wins.

The Yankees were the only team with a negative run differential to finish with a winning record — in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014 only the Cardinals, darlings of the league, outperformed their Pythagorean by as many runs as the Yankees did. No team matched their six wins over expectations in 2013.

Again, this trend (or, phenomenon) can’t be 100 percent credited to the manager. But Girardi does deserve a share of the credit. We know that managers can outperform run expectancy tables. It stands to reason, then, that they can scale that and outperform win expectancy tables.

Love him or hate him, Girardi is under contract for the next three seasons. Given how he’s performed since taking the job in 2008, he’s probably going to last those three seasons.

Guess it’s fortunate that he’s a good manager, eh?

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Joe Girardi finishes sixth in Manager of the Year voting

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Former Yankees manager and current Orioles manager Buck Showalter was named the AL Manager of the Year on Tuesday night, the BBWAA announced. He joins Tony La Russa as the only managers to win the award with three different teams. Showalter received 25 of the 30 first place votes and finished with 132 points.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia finished a distant second (61 points) and Royals skipper Ned Yost finished third (41 points) in the voting. Joe Girardi received one token third place vote and finished tied for sixth with Athletics manager Bob Melvin. Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners and Terry Francona of the Indians also received votes. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Dellin Betances finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting on Monday. The Yankees don’t have any finalists for the Cy Young or MVP awards, but there’s always some bottom of the ballot weirdness. I’m sure a few New York players will get random votes.

Girardi’s Press Conference Notes: Coaching Staff, A-Rod, Offseason, Prospects, Leadership, More

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees wasted no time jumping into the offseason this year. Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference on Monday afternoon, the day after the team closed out its regular season. Usually they wait two or three days. Not this year though.

There was no major news announced during Monday’s televised press conference — no coaching staff changes or surprise injuries, etc. — though Girardi did talk at length about all sorts of stuff. Especially Alex Rodriguez. People love talking about A-Rod. Here’s a recap of Girardi’s state of the team address.

On A-Rod

  • “We’ve gotta see where he’s at. That’s the thing we have to do,” said the skipper when asked what he expects from Alex next year. “We have to see where he’s physically at. If he can play the field, how many days will he DH, play the field … I don’t think any of us know about him until we get him in games in Spring Training.”
  • “I thought our guys handled it pretty well (when A-Rod returned in 2013),” added Girardi while acknowledging the first few days of Spring Training will be hectic. “Will there be a number of new guys in there? I’m sure … We’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s not a distraction, but until we get into it we don’t really know. My personal opinion is it won’t be.”
  • “I have a good relationship with Alex. Our team enjoys Alex (in the clubhouse),” said Girardi. “I don’t think that will be an issue. Will he have to deal with some angry fans? Yeah, but we’ll help him get through that.” (Girardi also joked that fans have been hating on A-Rod for years and he’s used to it by now.)
  • Girardi said the Yankees “absolutely” expect Rodriguez to be on the team next year. “He hasn’t played in a year. That’s not easy to do, to sit out a year … Do we expect him to be a player on our team? Absolutely.”
  • Girardi also confirmed they have not discussed having A-Rod work out at first base. “We expect him to be our third baseman,” he said. They’ve stayed in touch via text message over the summer.

[Read more…]

ESPN NY: Girardi ripped players in team meeting last week

Via ESPN NY: Joe Girardi ripped players in an “angry” team meeting before Thursday’s home finale, reportedly chiding some players for being overweight and others for not being “hungry.” Girardi and several players confirmed the meeting happened without giving details. “I’m not going to go into what I talked about. Write whatever you want,” he said.

“It was a speech the likes of which I’ve never heard him give before. It’s something he probably should have said back in Spring Training,” said someone involved with the meeting to ESPN NY. I’m guessing stuff like this happens much more often than we hear about and there’s nothing wrong with some brutal honesty and tough love in my opinion. The Yankees played like crap and definitely didn’t look “hungry” at times this year. It needed to be said.

Mailbag: Awards, Lindgren, Sept. Call-Ups, AzFL

Got a nice and big nine-question, seven-answer mailbag for you this week after skipping it last week. Blame the trade deadline. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, comments, links, complaints, whatever. We get a ton of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if yours is not picked.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

nycsportzfan asks: Do you think Joe Girardi could win Manager of the Year even if they don’t make the postseason?

Joe asks: Where is Brett Gardner in the AL MVP voting? No way he wins the award itself but he has to get some votes, no?

Might as well lump these two together. I think Girardi would have a serious chance to win Manager of the Year if they make it to the postseason, but he’ll probably be an afterthought if they miss again. Bob Melvin and Mike Scioscia seem to be the front-runners at the moment, and I’m sure Buck Showalter will get a ton of love if the Orioles win the AL East. John Gibbons would also get plenty of votes if the Blue Jays sneak into the postseason. If Girardi carries this team into the postseason after all the injuries, I have to think he’ll get a ton of consideration for the award.

As for Gardner, I doubt he’ll finish top ten in the MVP voting, maybe not even top 20, but there are always weird down ballot votes every year and he seems like a prime candidate to receive a few. Gardner has not only been the team’s best player this year, he’s also been one of the most productive outfielders in the league. Unless the Yankees completely flop and fall way out of the race these next few weeks, I definitely expect Gardner to get a handful of MVP votes. He’ll never win, but hey, just getting votes is cool.

Joel asks: Can you tell us what percentage of his at-bats Gardner gets to two strikes? I think it’s very high, and I think his batting average with two strikes is close to his batting average.

Prior to yesterday’s game — I’m not waiting around for Baseball Reference to update overnight, sorry — Gardner had gone to a two-strike count in 288 of his 475 plate appearances, or 60.6%. The AL average is 50.4%. In fact, Gardner leads baseball in two-strike plate appearances. Matt Carpenter is second at 287 and Mike Trout is third at 285. No one else is over 280. Gardner has hit .188/.278/.290 in two strike counts this year, and while that sounds terrible, it works out to a 124 OPS+ because the league as a whole has hit .180/.249/.267 with two strikes. Hitting in those situations is mighty tough.

Still no photos of Thornton as a National. (Presswire)
Still no photos of Thornton as a National. (Presswire)

Mark asks: In the simplest terms possible, could you explain the difference between the July and August trade deadlines? I think I have a grasp, but I would like clarification. Thanks in advance

John asks: I’ve been thinking – with the trade waivers period starting up – what would happen if a guy with a no-trade clause was claimed on waivers? Would he have to go to that team? E.g. what if Matt Thornton had a no-trade? Could the Yankees have just let the Nats take him?

Combining two more questions again. After July 31st, any player on the 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers in order to be traded. Trade waivers are completely revocable — if a player is claimed, he can be pulled him back and nothing happens. The player can be traded anywhere if he clears waivers, but if he is claimed, he can only be traded to the team that claimed him (within 48 hours). If a team tries to slip a player through trade waivers a second time, they are irrevocable. A team can also dump the player on the other team if he is claimed, like the Yankees did with Thornton. Players have to be in an organization on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster. No exceptions. That makes August 31st almost like a second trade deadline.

The no-trade clause stuff is interesting because there really isn’t an answer. MLB and the union have been arguing about this for years. A no-trade clause is technically a no-assignment clause, and both trades and waiver claims are assignments (as are demotions to Triple-A, etc.). The union says a no-trade clause should allow a player to block going to another team on waivers while MLB argues otherwise. The only time I can remember this even remotely being an issue was when the White Sox claimed Alex Rios from the Blue Jays a few years ago, but Rios agreed to go to Chicago and it was a non-issue. Most guys who have no-trade clauses have contracts other teams don’t want, so they are rarely claimed off waivers anyway.

Ryan asks: If you take a few of those early blowout losses out, what is their run differential? Probably closer to a slightly above .500 team?

The Yankees are currently 60-54 despite a -23 run differential, which says they should be something closer to 54-60. It seems like they win nothing but close games these days. In a one week stretch from April 18th through April 25th, the Yankees lost games by the score of 11-5, 16-1, and 13-1. That’s a -33 run differential right there, so in the other 111 games of the season, the Yankees are at +10. It doesn’t really work like that though, we can’t just ignore select games because they don’t fit a narrative. For example, if we remove their biggest blowout wins (7-0, 14-5, 10-2), they have a -47 run differential on the season. I believe the Yankees’ win-loss record better reflects their talent level than their run differential, but the numbers don’t lie. They are the record of what actually happened on the field.

Leigh asks: I know he has only thrown a handful of innings (and he isn’t on the 40-man roster), but do you think there is a chance we see Jacob Lindgren contribute as a LOOGY in September?

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Yes, definitely. I was on the fence up until the Thornton deal (this question was sent in before that), but now I think it’s pretty much a lock as long as Lindgren doesn’t get hurt or completely blow up the rest of the month. I don’t think you draft a pure reliever in the second round and pay him a seven-figure bonus to not get him to the big leagues as quickly as possible. You take him because you think he can help very soon, and Lindgren has done everything he’s needed to do in the minors. I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t up in September at this point.

Greg asks: What can we expect from this year’s class of September call-ups?

In addition to Lindgren, pretty much everyone who is on the 40-man roster and has already been up at some point this year will be back in September. A third catcher is standard and the Yankees will probably call up both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine, so make it four catchers. Extra arms like Bryan Mitchell and Matt Daley are a given, ditto Preston Claiborne if he returns from his shoulder injury in time. Zoilo Almonte and Zelous Wheeler are other obvious call-up candidates. My hunch is Manny Banuelos will be called up but Gary Sanchez will not.

Tyler Austin, Danny Burawa, Mason Williams, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, and Nick Goody are among the prospects who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, though I would be surprised if the Yankees got a head start on things and called any of them up in September. The only time they’ve done that in recent years was with Murphy and Romine, and only because they needed to get a third catcher on the roster. Lindgren, Murphy, Romine, Mitchell, Daley, Almonte, Wheeler, Banuelos, and Claiborne (if healthy) seem likely to join the club when rosters expand in September. There always seems to be a surprise call-up or two every year, both those are the guys I expect to see brought back.

Mike asks: Who do you see the Yankees sending to the Arizona Fall League?

Teams send either six or seven players to the AzFL each year, usually three position players and either three or four pitchers. All Double-A and Triple-A players are eligible and each team can only send one Single-A player. No players with a full year of service time are allowed, though the league has granted exemptions for young players coming off injury. The AzFL rosters are officially announced at the end of August, so not too far off now.

Players who missed time with injury during the regular season are the standard AzFL fodder, so I think Ramon Flores (ankle) and Goody (coming back from Tommy John surgery) are prime candidates to go to the desert. Banuelos is another as long as he feels well and his innings total is not an issue. Aaron Judge would make sense as the Single-A player if he’s physically up to it. It’s a long season and he might be worn down come October. If not, Eric Jagielo could go after missing more than a month with an oblique injury. The last two or three spots are usually fringe prospects for the taxi squad — they are only eligible to play Wednesday and Saturday, so they are never top prospects — the team wants to see a bit more. Taylor Dugas, Tyler Webb, Nick Rumbelow, and Jaron Long could fit that bill.

Girardi Notes: Camera, Foreign Substances

Got some spare Joe Girardi-related notes lying around, all stemming from last night’s game and the whole Michael Pineda pine tar incident. Away we go…

Yankees file protest, MLB investigating ESPN camera

During the game, Girardi “pushed” a remote ESPN camera that was filming Pineda in the tunnel while he was talking to pitching coaching Larry Rothschild and trainer Steve Donohue. The video is above. According to Erik Boland and George King, the Yankees formally protested to MLB because the camera was snooping around in what was supposed to be a private area. The league is investigating.

“What frustrated me is that the camera is meant for the dugout and Michael was already out of the game so I don’t want it down in our tunnel. It’s a private area and it has been clearly stated that it is for the dugout, not for the tunnel and conversations that happen between players and coaches,” said Girardi. “If I was really going to tear up the camera I would have torn it up but I was just trying to get it from being in the tunnel … I think MLB is going to have a problem with ESPN.”

I didn’t realize the camera was designated for the dugout and field only when I wrote last night’s recap, so I take back what I said about Girardi likely getting fined. I get that ESPN was trying to find a juicy shot, but if the tunnel was off limits, Girardi was absolutely right to turn it around. I don’t know what can come of the protest — this is not the same as protesting a play on the field — but hopefully the league puts the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader in Sports back in line.

Girardi may talk to MLB about changing foreign substance rules

The use of pine tar or other foreign substances has been universally supported around baseball, including by the Red Sox following last night’s game, but Pineda made the mistake of being so obvious about it. Girardi told Jorge Castillo he will consider talking to MLB about changing the substance rules so that pitchers can legally use something to help their grip.

“That’s something I’ll talk about with Major League Baseball,” said Girardi. “You’re at the highest level. You want safety. I’m going to talk with Major League Baseball.”

The thing that really stands out to me is that hitters are okay with pitchers using pine tar. Both Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski said they were fine with it as long it was well-hidden. If everyone within the game is fine with pitchers using something to improve their grips and no one is being harmed in any way, I don’t see why some kind of substance shouldn’t be approved. Let the whole process be transparent, have pitchers declare the substance and get approval from the umpires before the game. Makes sense to me.

Sunday Shorts: Cano vs. Girardi, Yanks’ Spending, Cano’s New Home

(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Just a few weeks ago, friend of RAB Jack Moore wrote an article at The Score about the potentially boring hot stove, not only this season, but for future seasons. His overall point remains strong:

The shift to buying out multiple free agent years in long-term extensions for young stars has led to fewer and fewer young stars hitting the free agent market in their 20s. The advent of the second wild card has led more and more teams to believe they can contend, leading to fewer fire sales.

Thankfully, the hot stove has remained interesting, at least this off-season, thanks to teams acting early and aggressively. Moore might be correct in the long run; he’ll certainly be right come mid-December, when all those free agents are off the board and teams are pretty set. But for the last few weeks we’ve seen a peak of hot stove activity, and nearly every moment has been enjoyable — which seems a good transition into the first short.

Cano didn’t like Girardi?

The Yankees are clearly sold on Joe Girardi at the helm. They’ve now twice extended his contract after hiring him in 2008, the latest a four-year deal that could bring Girardi’s tenure to a decade. It makes sense, then, that the Yankees wouldn’t aggressively approach a free agent who has a known problem with the manager.

According to a George King report, Robinson Cano was no fan of Girardi.

According to three people who know Cano, he didn’t enjoy playing for manager Joe Girardi and that may have factored into the decision, though the Mariners giving him $60 million more than the Yankees offered ($175 million) likely had more to do with him leaving.

“Robbie didn’t like batting second, he wanted to bat in the middle of the order,” one person said. “The Yankees wanted him second because that was best for the team. He wanted to hit in the middle of the order to drive in runs [to increase his value].”

This could just be sour grapes; we do see that kind of behavior frequently from Boston writers when players leave the Red Sox. After all, if Cano batted lower in the order he might not have driven in any more runs. It’s not as though the Yanks were awash in players who could get on base for Cano.

(For what it’s worth, Cano did hit .308/.396/.560 in 182 PA batting second.)

Money won the day, no doubt. But perhaps Cano’s displeasure with Girardi was one among many reasons the Yankees declined to increase their offer beyond seven years and $175 million.

Spending spree

Despite losing Cano, the Yankees have spent lavishly so far this off-season. To be exact: $299 million on Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hiroki Kuroda, and Carlos Beltran. I’ve seen fans and media alike questioning how the Yankees spent so much on these players, particularly Ellsbury, and didn’t go the extra mile of five for Cano. There is certainly some sense to their spending, as wunderkind Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish notes:

In other words, the Yankees eschewed re-signing their star in order to spread money among many different positions of need. That number will look a lot different by the end of December, since the Yankees have plenty of remaining needs. But their overall strategy remains clear: don’t get caught up in too-long contracts and spread the wealth. You can disagree about its effectiveness, but it’s nice to see that they have a plan, because…

Dysfunctional Seattle

This article by Geoff Baker has made its rounds, so perhaps you’ve seen it. If not, it’s an eye-opening look into the Seattle front office. They’re painted as arrogant fools who surround themselves with yes-men, rather than people whose dissenting opinions could help the team make stronger, more informed decisions. Given Seattle’s woes in the last few years, including their lack of success with young players, it comes as little surprise that the front office has its issues.

(The article actually goes well with the book I’m currently reading.)

Baker talks to only former employees, so the story would probably look better if the other side told its half. Still, that Baker got two former employees to talk on the record is pretty remarkable in today’s environment of anonymous hatchet jobs. The Seattle organization seems to be the polar opposite of the Cardinals, which you can read about in this Q&A at FanGraphs.