September 22, 2019

Joe Girardi: The Perfect Modern Manager?

September 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve read my last two Seamheads pieces (found here and here), it should be pretty clear that I haven’t been thrilled with the recent direction taken by my beloved New York Yankees.  Since my last post, the Bronx Bombers have continued their sluggish ways, winning four, losing six, dropping out of first place in the AL East, and even giving the Boston Red Sox an outside shot at winning the AL Wild Card.  In the New York area, a lot of the fan frustration has focused on manager Joe Girardi.

To summarize the complaints, Girardi has milked the Yankees’ significant lead in the Wild Card race, while eschewing the division pennant.  He’s so interested in keeping his starting lineup healthy for October that he rarely puts his best nine players on the field at the same time.  Also, he seems to manage his bullpen by opting not for the best reliever for the situation, but the reliever who is least likely to come up lame after throwing his next pitch.

It reminds me of a bit by Jerry Seinfeld.  In it, the comedian ruminates on what horseracing would look like if the horses knew that any leg injury could be fatal.  He says that if they did, “you’d see some mighty careful stepping down that homestretch.”  He goes on to quote the horse: “You finish first.  I’ll finish… whatever.”

I’d imagine Girardi’s pregame talks sound pretty similar.  Every sentence he utters must be some modification of please don’t get hurt.

Nice game, A-Rod.  You hit two homers, robbed a double down the line, and found a new starlet to date.  I know it’s only the third inning, but I’m going to take you out.  We need you for October.

Pettitte, ice that groin.  I don’t care if you haven’t taken the mound yet.

Vazquez, don’t die.

(It’s probably the nicest thing he can say to Javier Vazquez after this season.)

The problem is that cautious and calculating don’t jive with American culture.  We love swashbucklers, gamblers, and rogues.  Fortune favors the bold.  When hitting on his kids’ elementary school teacher, Don Draper didn’t take no for an answer.  Rounders’ Mike McD didn’t leave his heads up game against Teddy KGB after he worked his way out of debt.  George Costanza didn’t just get fired from Play Now Industries, that guy got CANNED.

In our culture, villains are meticulous and cunning.  Heroes jump off buildings and yell “yippee-kay-yay, mother-@#$%er!”

Having said that, is it possible that Joe Girardi is the perfect modern manager?

Hold on.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.  I’m going to go take a Breathalyzer just to be sure I’m not drunk.

Here we go.

Processing…

Nope.  Well within the legal limit.  Take that, Braylon Edwards.

(What? Too soon?)

In today’s major leagues, the specialized bullpen determines the outcome of a significant number of games while winning the division offers no significant advantage over winning the Wild Card.

Well, in his three years as manager of the New York Yankees, Girardi has excelled in his management of the Bronx bullpen and in preparing for his only postseason opportunity.  In 2008, the Yankees’ bullpen ranked in the top ten in ERA.  Last year, Girardi MacGyvered together an efficient bridge between the starting pitching and Mariano Rivera with paper clips, chewing gum, and Alfredo Aceves.  This season, his relieving corps has been one of the best in the American League.

Similarly, Girardi’s “mighty careful stepping” down the homestretch has kept his aging and battered team relatively healthy.  Remember, the Yankees’ average age is closer to that of a United States congressman than an Olympic athlete.  The chances that Jorge Posada pulls a hamstring rounding third or that Alex Rodriguez tweaks his back while kissing his biceps are equal to that of the housing market’s continued decline.  By frequently resting his highly paid offensive stars and shying away from the use of his best relievers on consecutive days like my wife avoids public toilets, Girardi has sacrificed the division and consistent performance for possible postseason success.

It’s a strategy that’s not unheard of.  In 2000, the Yankees had a nine-game lead over the Red Sox on September 13, effectively shut down the engines and coasted, and clinched the division on the 27th by default while losing their last six games.  Then they won the World Series pretty handily.  Joe Madden, the manager of the rival Rays, has publicly said that the only way he would start the team’s ace David Price on the last Sunday of the season is if he had to win to make the playoffs.

At this point, we know that Wild Card teams aren’t at a disadvantage.  In today’s game, fortune favors the healthy.  Wouldn’t any rational human being sacrifice the regular season for the chance at winning the World Series?

So, is Girardi at fault for playing the cards dealt to him?

Right now, Girardi’s a poker player with pocket eights and three face cards on the board.  Why go all in and risk his whole stack?  Maybe when the calendar turns, he’ll have aces.

Like it or not, until things change, that’s the perfect modern manager.

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