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.

Ban the shift? That’s a solution to a problem that might not even exist

The Dodgers used this shift back in 2014.
The Dodgers used this shift back in 2014.

Two nights ago Nathan Eovaldi lost a no-hitter in the seventh inning on a ground ball single to the shortstop position. The Yankees, as they often do, had an infield shift employed, so the shortstop was standing somewhere else. The ball scooted on through and the no-hit bid was over. So it goes.

Prior to last night’s game Joe Girardi was asked about the infield shift in general, and, to my surprise, he said he would like to get rid of them. Here’s what he said, via Dan Martin:

“It’s illegal defense, just like basketball,” he said. “Guard your man. Guard your spot. If I were commissioner, they’d be illegal. As long as it’s legal, I’m gonna play it.”

“I just think the field was built this way for a reason,” Girardi said. “Two on one side, two on the other.”

Girardi is entitled to his opinion and he’s certainly not the only person who would look to see shifts outlawed. I’m sure Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann would be in favor of them going away too. Lots and lots of left-handed batters have lost hits and batting average points and, by extension, dollars in their pocket because of the shift.

The rulebook says that with exception of the pitcher and catcher, defenders can position themselves anywhere in fair territory. Eliminating the shift would be a relatively easy fix. Second base creates a nice boundary, so MLB and the MLBPA could change the rules and force teams to play two infielders on each side of the bag. Boom. Problem solved.

I respectfully disagree with Girardi here. I’m not a fan of eliminating the shift. I’m not a fan of any rule change that would limit creativity within the game. Baseball, like everything else, is survival of the fittest. Players have to adapt to stay in the league and those who can’t get left behind. The game went through a seismic shift when breaking balls were first introduced because only a few players could hit them. After some time, hitters caught up.

Offense is down around the league these days for many reasons, and the shift is surely one of them. It is worth noting the league wide batting average on balls in play has not changed much over the years. The league has a .297 BABIP this year. It was .299 in 2015, .297 in 2010, .295 in 2005, and .300 in 2001. Since the strike in 1994, only once has the league BABIP fallen outside the .296-.303 range (.293 in 2012). The overall impact of the shift is overstated.

The shift has been around for years and yet it is still a relatively new phenomenon. Every team uses them to some extent, though a few holdouts have not fully bought in just yet. Teams haven’t yet had time to try to develop a generation of hitters to be shift beaters. The shift is still a baby. It’s still a little too early to be re-writing the rulebook for something that may fizzle out on its own in due time.

Creativity and innovation are good. I want teams to try to outsmart each other and come up with new ways to gain an advantage. It makes the game more competitive and more interesting, I think. We shouldn’t push aside something new because it goes against the way the game has been played for the last 150 years. Baseball is too old fashioned as it is. It could use some fresh ideas.

The Coaching Staff [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees made some changes to their coaching staff this past offseason. Not huge changes, but changes nonetheless. Two years ago Gary Tuck replaced Mike Harkey as bullpen coach. Last year the duo of Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell replaced Kevin Long at hitting coach, and Joe Espada took over as third base coach with Rob Thomson moving to bench coach and Tony Pena moving to first base coach.

This past offseason the Yankees replaced Tuck with Harkey — Tuck was reportedly let go due to a disagreement with the front office about the use of analytics — and promoted Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames to replace Pentland. Well, technically Cockrell was promoted to replace Pentland as the main hitting coach, with Thames replacing Cockrell as the assistant. Got all that?

It’s tough to preview or review the coaching staff because so much of what they do happens behind the scenes. Sometimes we can see the results of their work — Thames helped Ben Gamel add a leg kick last year, for example — but oftentimes we’re talking about adjustments the untrained eye won’t see. So rather than provide a rigorous analysis of the coaching staff, here is a more casual preview of the upcoming season.

The Manager

Can you believe this will be Joe Girardi‘s ninth season as manager? The Yankees have had two managers over the last two decades. They had eleven managers in the two decades before that, not counting the guys who were hired multiple times. I was still very young when George Steinbrenner was in his hiring and firing heyday, so I can’t really appreciate the continuity the Yankees have had the last 20 years.

Anyway, I have long believed the manager’s most important work takes place is in the clubhouse, where he has to manage 25 personalities (way more than that, really) day in and day out for eight months a year. That can’t be easy. The Yankees seem to have a very cohesive clubhouse — Alex Rodriguez referred to the veteran players as the “Board of Trustees” because of the way they oversee things — and that surely helps Girardi. Over the last few seasons the team has been largely distraction free and that’s a good thing. Girardi keeps the chaos to a minimum.

On the field, I think Girardi has two key responsibilities this year. One, don’t screw up the laughably great bullpen he’s been given. And he won’t. Girardi’s very good with his relievers. Yes, he makes moves that sometime backfire. That makes him like every other manager. We now have eight years worth of data telling us Girardi is good at a) turning marginal relievers into assets by putting them in good positions to succeed, and b) keeping his bullpeners fresh.

Managing this bullpen with the lead will be easy. Are the Yankees up in the late innings? Bring in Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, or Aroldis Chapman. Any of three will do. That’s the easy part of managing this bullpen. The tough part is all the other innings, when you’re trailing or deep into extra innings and the three big guys have been used. The Yankees are going to shuttle relievers in and out all year again, and it’ll be up to Girardi to get the most out of them.

The second key on-field responsibility this season is resting the regulars. Girardi and the Yankees seem to be all-in on this. They’ve been talking about it since the end of last season. They want to rest the veterans and try to avoid another second half offensive collapse. The versatile Aaron Hicks will make resting the outfielders easy. He can play any outfield position and he’s a switch-hitter. Hooray for that. The infield? Eh, things are a little up in the air there. Either way, keeping players fresh and productive will be very important in 2016.

Beyond all that, I’d like to see Girardi try a few more Hail Mary instant replay challenges this summer, which I discussed a few months ago. The team’s replay success rate may dip, but who cares? They don’t give out a prize for that. Girardi has to navigate this weird transition period as the “get younger and trim payroll but remain competitive” thing continues. I don’t think his job will be (or should be) in jeopardy if they miss the postseason, but who knows. After eight years, it’s pretty clear Girardi is an asset and one of the game’s better managers.

Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)
Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)

The Hitting Coaches

The Yankees are on their third hitting coach(es) in three years. They scored the second most runs in baseball last season, and outside of Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury, pretty much everyone in the lineup met or exceeded expectations. That seems to be the criteria by which fans judge hitting coaches. Did the team score a lot of runs? Did the players meet expectations? If the answers are yes, the hitting coach is doing a good job.

This summer the Cockrell/Thames tandem will be tasked not so much with keeping the veterans productive, though that’s obviously important. Given the team’s direction, the more important goal is helping the young players, specifically guys like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. We could also lump Hicks and Gary Sanchez in there as well. The Yankee have put aside the present for the future, that couldn’t be any more clear, which is why the young guys are the priority. That’s … pretty much all I have to say about the hitting coaches. Go team.

The Pitching Coach

This year the Yankees did not give Larry Rothschild a project. Last season they dropped a shiny new Nathan Eovaldi into his lap and told Rothschild to turn him into a better pitcher. And he did! Rothschild taught Eovaldi a splitter and he was way more effective with that pitch. Based on that, the project was successful in the short-term. We’ll see what happens in the long-term.

In 2016, Rothschild’s pet project will be Luis Severino and perhaps Bryan Mitchell, assuming he’s in the Opening Day bullpen. Severino is very refined for a kid his age, but the Yankees do need to monitor his workload, and Rothschild is in charge of mapping that out. Mitchell has to improve his control and command and gosh, that’s a tough one. Rothschild can only do so much there. Baseball history is full of live arms who washed out because they couldn’t locate.

Rothschild is about to begin his sixth season as pitching coach — how the hell did that happen? didn’t they just hire him? — and in those five years the Yankees have had plenty of pitchers exceed expectations, and I’m talking about both veterans (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and young pitchers (Betances, Adam Warren, even Ivan Nova). Most of their pitching failures have been injury related. How much credit does Rothschild deserve? We can’t say, exactly. After five years, I feel pretty good with him running the show.

The Other Coaches

Harkey left the Yankees two years ago to take over as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. Arizona canned him at the end of last season, which was inevitable. He was a holdover from the previous regime and it was only a matter of time until GM Dave Stewart and head baseball operations hocho Tony La Russa brought in their own guy. They gave Harkey a year, then moved on, so now he’s back with the Yankees as bullpen coach. It’s like he never left.

Thompson returns as bench coach and I have no opinion about that whatsoever. Pena returns as first base coach — his is Pena’s 11th season on the coaching staff, by the way — and I also have no opinion about that. Both guys have been around forever and they wouldn’t continue to be around if they weren’t quality baseball minds. All bench and first base coaches are cool with me because I’m don’t really know what they do or how much influence they have. Pena works with the catchers. I know that much.

Third base coaches generally get a bad rap. They’re either hated or unnoticed. Espada was conservative sending runners last year and at least part of that was out of necessity. The Yankees are not a fast team aside from Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Also, the Yankees scored a lot of runs last year, and when you can hit for power like they did, it makes sense to hold a runner if you think there may be a play at the plate. Teams that struggle to score runs have to really push it. The Yankees aren’t one of those teams.

That said, Espada did appear to be overly conservative at times, perhaps due to poor reads or not knowing the scouting reports on the outfielder’s arm. (Guessing it was the former, not the latter.) That’s something that has to be cleaned up. Espada’s not a rookie third base coach — he was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 — so he has experience. Hopefully his second year in New York goes a bit more smoothly now that he’s seen the league and is more familiar with his personnel.

Joe Girardi’s Spring Press Conference: Chapman, Tanaka, Castro, Gardner, Ellsbury, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa for Spring Training today, meaning the first steps of the marathon that is the 2016 season have been taken. Joe Girardi met with reporters for his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning, and of course he was asked about all aspects of the team.

“Pretty much (quiet). I think it was evidence in the amount of time it took someone to ask a question this morning,” said Girardi when asked about this being a normal camp because they’re no huge stories. “We haven’t had the big story and that’s nice … It is a pretty regular Spring Training. I hope that doesn’t make it a boring Spring Training, but it is regular.”

Normal spring or not, Aroldis Chapman dominated this morning’s press conference, with questions about his pending suspension, the domestic dispute incident, and his role as closer. You can watch Girardi’s press conference right here (it’s chopped up into smaller clips.) Here’s a recap of the important stuff with some thoughts thrown in.

All Things Aroldis

  • On an appropriate punishment: “I think that’s up to the commissioner to decide. That’s not my job. Obviously I wasn’t in the room when they put the (domestic violence) policy together. I have not reviewed the cases … I know it’s very serious and we have to take it very serious. To me, it’s very important when there’s an issue, it’s taken care of.”
  • On behavioral concerns: “Obviously you look at behavioral patterns to see if guys are maturing … We’ve all probably done things in our lives we wish we could do a little differently. I want to get to know him before I really form an opinion about his character. It’s unfortunate sometimes players get labeled before you a chance to know him.”
  • On conduct: “I think there’s an expectation of conduct and how you’re supposed to handle things. The court of law is different than the court of MLB or the MLBPA (or) the public’s opinion. I think we have a responsibility as athletes with the way we present ourselves on and off the field, and I’m okay with that.”
  • On Chapman’s decision to appeal any suspension: “I think it tells you he wants to question the suspension … Does it tell me maybe he (doesn’t think he did) something wrong? I don’t think it says that.”
  • On getting to know Chapman: “I think it’s really hard to form a really good opinion by talking on the phone. There’s some language issues there … He’s very thankful to be here … But until I really get around him it’s really hard to form an opinion.
  • On making Chapman the closer: “He’s been a closer most of his career. It’s (a role) he’s probably most comfortable with. Andrew Miller did a tremendous job … Andrew has been a reliever most of his career — setup guy, seventh inning guy, lefty specialist — I thought it would be (easier for him) to adjust to it better than Chapman.”
  • On the trade itself: “His name was brought up, then it kinda died, then it happened really fast. I had some information about it (but) I was not given much information.”

Girardi danced around any questions regarding Chapman’s domestic dispute incident, which was to be expected. Technically MLB’s investigation is still ongoing and he wasn’t going to say anything remotely controversial. Girardi deflected everything with “that’s up to MLB” and “I have to get to know him,” basically.

I hope commissioner Rob Manfred announces the suspension soon, however long it may be, so Chapman can file his appeal and go through the process. The longer this goes on, the more of a distraction it will be. Let’s rip the band-aid off, so to speak. The sooner we can begin focusing on nothing but baseball, the better. During the press conference you could tell Girardi felt the same way.

The Rotation

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow: “We will watch him closely to see where he’s at … We’ll make sure that we put him in a situation where he’s ready to go pitch before he gets into a game. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.”
  • On the fifth starter spot: “I think you have to let things work their way out in Spring Training. I know (CC Sabathia‘s) name has been brought up in that conversation, as well as Ivan Nova. Sometimes things have just a way of working out. The competition just goes way. A lot of times, unfortunately, that comes down to health … The big thing is that we have five healthy starters when we leave Spring Training. That’s my goal. We’ll take the five best starters.”
  • On managing workloads: “I thought putting an extra starter in there helped them … I think just watching them physically and watching their innings (is important). You have to be sensitive to your bullpen that it doesn’t get overworked. I think we were able to manage that because (the young relievers) were able to come up and be interchangeable.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s workload: “I think he’s a guy that can handle 200 innings.”

There were surprisingly few questions about the rotation. I guess that’s what happens when you have five pretty clearly established starters plus a sixth starter who’s been around the block. I don’t buy Sabathia being involved in any kind of fifth starter competition though. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be in the rotation. We all know that. As for Severino throwing 200 innings … we’ll see. I’d bet against it.

The Position Players

  • On Brett Gardner playing hurt: “He actually got hit (in the wrist) in April. This was something he dealt with all year long, and if you remember his July, it was an MVP type of month. Sometimes it’s hard to predict. Was it fatigue? Was it the wrist? Did he just get in a bad way? … Everyone plays beat up, that’s the bottom line. That’s what happens in our game … You hope players are honest enough with you that when it becomes too much, they come to you. He never felt it was too much and we didn’t either.”
  • On expecting veterans to produce again: “I think you can expect it. You have to manage them physically and their workload in a sense to make sure they’re strong at the end of the season. And that’s something when you’re fighting for that spot to get into the playoffs, it gets harder to manage that workload … I think the versatility of our club should help that.”
  • On mending fences with Jacoby Ellsbury: “I have talked to him over the winter … I had a tough decision. Brett Gardner has been pretty successful here too. Maybe he wasn’t as big a free agent signee as Jacoby Ellsbury, but Brett Gardner has been extremely productive in his career. That was a hard decision. I was going to disappoint someone immensely. I did what I thought was best for the team.”
  • On Starlin Castro at third base: “It’s something that I need to talk to him about to see where he is. I have not talked to him. I want to talk to him face-to-face about the possibility of what do we do if we need to give (Chase Headley) a day off. That’s something that will be important when we get to Spring Training to talk about.”
  • On A-Rod: “He is our DH and we expect him to be productive … He’ll be ready.”

I though the Ellsbury question was pretty funny. Girardi was asked about saying he had to mend the fences with Ellsbury but quickly pointed out he never said that. He was asked whether he had to mend the fences at the end of last year, that’s it. He never thought much of it. Girardi spoke to Ellsbury this offseason and this seems like a whole bunch of nothing.

Girardi again made it clear the Yankees want to rest their veteran players as much as possible this season, and he indicated the Castro and Aaron Hicks pickups will allow them to do that. (He also said Castro and Didi Gregorius are young and don’t need as much rest.) He didn’t name names and didn’t explain how he intends to rest these guys, but I think we all have a pretty good idea. We’ll find out soon enough.

Miscellany

  • On goals for 2016: “Our goal is to win the World Series. Bottom line. I appreciate how hard our guys played all year, how they never gave up last year, but you know what? We didn’t get to where we wanted. We lost in the first round of the playoffs … Our goal is to win the World Series. That’s why we come to Spring Training.”
  • On getting over 2015: “It’s never easy … I really don’t get over it until baseball ends. Completely ends. There’s an emptiness inside that you should be there. You try to avoid that one-game playoff and be a division winner. Our first goal is win the division this year.”
  • On biggest spring concerns: “There’s some competition here. When you look at some spots in our bullpen, I think we have to iron that out. And I always have concerns about players trying to do too much. I will let them know you’re not going to impress me in your sides, you’re not going to impress me in the first week of games.”
  • On some new additions: “We added Castro, who gives us an everyday second baseman that has been productive in his career. (This) is a young man that has almost 1,000 hits and is only 25 years old … We added a switch-hitter as an outfielder, which gives us more of an opportunity to rest maybe our two left-handers out there against left-handers more often, in a sense. I think we’re deeper.”
  • On young players contributing again: “You might be a non-roster player, you might be in Double-A when you get sent down, but you may have a chance to contribute … That wasn’t an easy job for the relievers — I was honest with them, I told them what was going to happen — but be the guy what when we make another move, is throwing well … Anything can happen. If you’re in uniform, anything can happen, so give everything you’ve got.”
  • Are the Yankees better than last year? “I think so. I think on paper we are better. Paper doesn’t really mean anything until you go out and compete … I think there’s more depth. I think our younger players in the minor league system have gotten a taste (and are eager to contribute).”

There wasn’t as much talk about young players contributing this year. There’s been a lot of that the last few years. I guess that after last season — Girardi mentioned Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Rob Refsnyder (among others) by name when asked about who impressed him last season — and an offseason in which the Yankees signed zero big league free agents, it’s common knowledge they’re going to rely on young players again. That’s pretty cool. And kinda scary.

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.