Joe Girardi Strikes Again

Hi, my name is Kevin, and I think Joe Girardi is an idiot.

No, this is not a blog for recovering baseball manager haters, although I understand how you might have gotten that impression. I’m simply introducing myself because my dashboard is telling me that I am getting many, many new readers tonight. I know why that is, of course. During tonight’s Rangers-Yankees game, Robinson Cano hit a high fly ball to right field. Nelson Cruz went back for the catch, but got his glove entangled with the outstretched arms of three fans. The TBS broadcasters floated the idea of fan interference, and just like that, my hits went through the roof. I love when that happens.

But back to the main point, which is that Joe Girardi is a horrible manager. My regular readers will tell you newcomers that this is a hot button for me, and they are absolutely right. The man is a disaster. Before getting into the specifics, you need to know that I know the following:

  • the Yankees lost tonight because AJ Burnett is a crappy pitcher
  • the Yankees are behind in the series because their offense has vanished
  • the Texas Rangers are a good team

So, to be clear: it is not all Joe Girardi’s fault. But he does have control over several aspects of his team, and it is in those areas that he routinely and disastrously errs. 

Tonight, Girardi’s most egregious mistake was sticking with AJ Burnett for too long. All day, I had jokingly told friends that all I wanted for my birthday was five innings and two runs from Burnett. It seemed that I had gotten my wish, but then Girardi sent him back out for the 6th inning. Burnett was clearly tiring at this point, pulling his curveball wide of the plate and sailing his fast high out of the zone. Then, with a 3-2 lead and a runner on second base, Girardi ordered an intentional walk for David Murphy to get to Bengie Molina. Molina promptly hit a home run, giving the Rangers a 5-3 lead.

There are two problems with this. The first is, like I said, that Girardi stayed with Burnett for far too long. Burnett had fallen out of favor enough to be bumped from the ALDS rotation and was reluctantly inserted into the ALCS. He pitched poorly all year. Mariano Rivera was available for multiple innings tonight (more on this in a bit). Given all of that, what exactly was Burnett doing in the game? He hasn’t earned that trust. He didn’t need to provide length to save a taxed bullpen. Leaving Burnett in to pitch the 6th was a first-guessable move, and it went predictably awry.

The second problem is this: David Murphy. Or, more like: David Murphy!?!? I understand that he hits righties better than lefties. I understand that Burnett is better against righties than lefties. That doesn’t matter much. David Murphy is not Barry Bonds, or Albert Pujols, or even Josh Hamilton. He does not deserve to be intentionally walked. David Robertson struck out Murphy in the 7th inning. If Girardi doesn’t think Burnett can get out Murphy, he needs to go get someone from the bullpen who can and not needlessly add baserunners (according to FanGraphs, the intentional walked actually added to the Rangers’ win probability).

Let’s move on to the catching position. Girardi started Francisco Cervelli tonight instead of Jorge Posada, presumably because the former has a good rapport with Burnett specifically and the pitching staff in general and is an upgrade defensively. Let’s just pretend that is true, and that Cervelli didn’t actually lead American League catchers in errors despite being a backup, or that his 14.1% caught stealing rate ranked 47th in the league, or that his CERA (which is an utterly stupid statistic) is virtually indistinguishable from Posada’s. Let’s pretend that those facts are misleading and that Cervelli is actually awesome at handling a pitching staff and doing gritty defensive things. How did he do tonight?

Cervelli was terrible. He allowed two stolen bases, one to Elvis Andrus and one to Ian Kinsler. He allowed a passed ball, permitting David “Barry Bonds” Murphy to advance to second base (he would eventually come around to score). He deftly, grittily, enthusiastically, and passionately massaged his pitchers into allowing seven runs in seven innings. And he was typically impotent with the bat, grounding out weakly and striking out in his two plate appearances. What exactly does Cervelli bring to the team? The answer is “nothing.”

Of course, Girardi has no earthly idea that this is the case. Up 3-2 in the 4th inning, with two outs and runners on first and second, Girardi refused to pinch-hit for Cervelli. I’m assuming Girardi is at least dimly aware that Posada is the superior hitter, so the manager’s inaction leaves me no choice but to believe that he thinks Cervelli’s game-calling skills and defensive prowess will yield more net runs over the next five innings than Posada’s bat would in that situation. This is an asinine conclusion to draw. Then, as if to insult me personally, Girardi pinch-hit Posada for Cervelli in the bottom of the 7th inning, with the Rangers leading 7-3 and nobody on base. Madness.

And now, the coup de grace. I wrote earlier today about Girardi’s non-use of Mariano Rivera in the 9th inning of last night’s game. I argued that Rivera needed to be in the game to keep the deficit at two runs, giving the Yankees at least a puncher’s chance to come back against Neftali Feliz in the bottom of the 9th. Naturally, Girardi saw it differently, using David Robertson because “if you bring in Mo, you may not have him available for multiple innings tomorrow if you want to use him.”

Well, that “tomorrow” is now “today.” And as it turns out, Rivera did not get into tonight’s game – not for a single pitch, much less for “multiple innings” – for the precise reason that I predicted: Burnett is not a good pitcher and his ineffectiveness would likely result in a score that precludes the use of a closer. That is exactly what happened. The Rangers were ahead by multiple runs late in the game, which according to modern bullpen conventions, means that Rivera won’t be pitching. This was an entirely foreseeable situation. Foreseeable for people that aren’t running the Yankees, that is. So for the second straight game, the best reliever on the Yankees – who also happens to be the best reliever in baseball history – did not throw a single pitch, simply because his team doesn’t need him unless it has a lead.

Hi, my name is Kevin, and I think Joe Girardi is an idiot.


6 Responses to Joe Girardi Strikes Again

  1. Yeah, you can argue that Girardi left Burnett in a batter too long, but are you as shocked as I am that the Yankees didn’t blow it wide open in the 4th inning when Hunter was reeling? It seems to me that their offense was the main reason they lost. Texas’s bullpen just isn’t that good. Burnett pitched pretty well — better than Sabathia did the other night.

  2. sasoc says:

    Hilarious post, I agree. Here’s a question for you: since Berkman’s average as a righty is around 1.50, more than 100 points below his left side, why not bat from the left side against a left-handed pitcher? Who says he’ll do better batting righty against a lefty? Certainly not his average……


    I think that Molina was the catcher for Burnett in Toronto – he knew him.

  4. Kevin says:

    Keith: You’re absolutely right that the underlying issue with the Yankees’ performance has been their offense. It’s just that Girardi has very little control over how his players hit, but total control over who plays, who pinch-hits and when, and bullpen management. He is repeatedly failing in the area over which he has total control.

    Sasoc: I’m glad you brought up Berkman. There’s no way he should be hitting against lefties, and the fact that he was allowed to do so last night with the bases loaded is another horrible non-move by Girardi. Even worse, he’s starting tonight at 1B against CJ Wilson (a lefty). Why is Austin Kearns even on the roster then? Move Swisher to first and put Kearns in right.

    Grumps (don’t ask): I doubt that Molina’s history with Burnett had much to do with it. To name just one example, Victor Martinez caught CC Sabathia for years in Cleveland, but has hit only .227/.292/.545 against him in 23 PAs. I think AJ was just gassed and losing it, a factor that Girardi clearly failed to notice or ignored.

  5. Jeff says:

    In the debate among New York sports fans as to whether AJ should have been left in for the 6th, I notice people consistently overlook that AJ almost threw the ball over Cervelli’s head during the process of walking Murphy intentionally. Cervelli was standing at the time, not surprisingly, and he had to jump to catch the ball. That by itself was enough evidence to pull AJ. He has absolutely no idea where the ball is going to go when he throws.

  6. Eric Young says:

    Hey Kevin – I came across this post because we both used the tag “Bullpen Management.”

    I remember this game all too ugily well and I’m with you on much about Girardi’s in-game, binder-led, small-sample-set decision-making. As a fan, I very much dislike Girardi.

    The question I don’t have a verifiable answer to, though – and the reason I don’t bash him yet – is how does he do as a motivator of men? Clearly, such a thing is beyond the ability of any stat to reflect but it is, to me, something that is the difference between a great manager (Billy Martin) and a bad manager (Gene Mauch). Can you get guys to achieve their own greatness?

    I don’t see it in Girardi – his slouching during press events following losses is particularly disturbing – but I have no evidence one way or the other as to how he “manages” ballplayers.

    Many of Martin’s in-game decisions seemed atrocious, too, but he led multiple teams to greatness (Minnesota and Oakland? Holy f**k!).

    Anyway, if you’ve got any additional thoughts, I’d love to hear them and, heading into ’11, I’ll follow what you’ve got to write.

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