Joe Girardi Strikes Again

October 19, 2010

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.  Read the rest of this entry »


Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

October 19, 2010

I’m going to try and make this quick, because it’s my birthday and I have more important things to do, like play Fallout: New Vegas for the next seven hours.

Last night’s Rangers-Yankees game featured some unforgivably stupid bullpen management, courtesy of both Joe Girardi and Ron Washington. Let’s start with Girardi, who has generally done a good job so far, due to his suppression of his manic, Coffee Joe alter ego. With the Yankees down 2-0 entering the top of the 9th inning, Girardi put in lefty specialist Boone Logan to face Josh Hamilton. This was a defensible decision, as Logan’s job is to get out tough lefties and Hamilton is the only tough lefty the Rangers have. Unfortunately, Hamilton doubled and the bullpen merry-go-round began. Girardi called on David Robertson, who blew the game wide open in an uncharacteristically horrendous appearance. Sergio Mitre mopped up the inning, but the damage was done: 8-0 Rangers, ballgame over.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

How on earth did Girardi not use Rivera at any point in the inning? The Yankees were down 2-0. The heart of the order was due up in the bottom of the 9th. Cliff Lee’s night was over. The Yankees had a chance to win the game. Once Hamilton doubles, Girardi has to use Rivera to hold the line. Moreover, AJ Burnett was (and is) due to pitch the next game, which made going for broke in last night’s game even more obvious of a decision. You could argue – convincingly, I think – that the Yankees’ season was on the line with Hamilton on second and nobody out. And Girardi left the greatest reliever of all-time on the bench because it wasn’t a save situation (even though a save situation was impossible in last night’s game), because he doesn’t understand that being down by two is often a higher leverage situation than being up by three, and because “if you bring in Mo, you may not have him available for multiple innings tomorrow if you want to use him.” Of course, the only scenario in which Rivera will pitch multiple innings is if tonight’s game is tied late or if there’s a slim lead late, neither of which is likely with Burnett pitching. If Rivera doesn’t get into tonight’s game at all, I’m going to break something.

Not to be outdone, Ron Washington had his own gaffe. With the Rangers up 8-0, Washington used closer Neftali Feliz to finish the game. That’s right, the same Neftali Feliz who sat on the bench in Game 1 as Washington shuffled through reliever after reliever after reliever to stop the Yankees’ rally. So apparently being up by eight in the 9th is a good spot for Feliz, but watching a four-run lead dwindle in the 8th is simply the wrong time to use your best reliever. Fittingly, the Yankees were patient with Feliz, forcing him to throw 20 pitches in his single inning of work, so it’s possible that he’ll be unavailable tonight. And if he pitches tonight, he’ll certainly be unavailable tomorrow. Well done, Ron Washington.

I’m sorry, but most managers simply aren’t that bright.

Defending Curtis Granderson

July 16, 2010

Having emerged unscathed from my first onslaught of grad school work, I’ve been trying to catch up on what’s been going on in the world of sports. For my Yankees updates, I checked with the wonderful LoHud Yankees Blog. This blog has always been a wonderful source of Yankees news and tidbits, but it’s really taken off since Chad Jennings and Sam Borden took the reins. It’s required reading for Yankees fans, so if you fall into that category, I strongly suggest you both check it out and bookmark it.

Anyway, I read Sam Borden’s post about Curtis Granderson’s performance so far. The conclusion:

To be fair, Granderson has had a few moments (he also battled an injury) yet ultimately it’s hard to call his first half with the Yankees much more than average. Most of the “grades” I’ve seen writers and bloggers do for the Yankees have Granderson in or around a “C” and I can’t really disagree. At the very least, Granderson has failed to show the improvement against lefties that he (and the team) was hoping for (.537 OPS).

Obviously the Yankees have been doing fine without Granderson’s typical impact but you know there will be some valleys during the course of the second half. Will Granderson step up and be the kind of star the Yankees imagined when they traded for him?

To be sure, I investigated Borden’s claim that most writers have been giving Granderson grades in the C-range. This turns out to be true. The Daily News gave him a C-, with this comment:

The biggest offensive acquisition last winter, Granderson has failed to live up to the hype with a .240 average – including a .207 mark against lefties. He missed a month with a groin injury.

ESPN New York gave him a C:

Granderson no doubt was slowed by the groin pull that cost him 23 games and most of May, but by just about any offensive yardstick has been a disappointment. His .240 average is 30 points below his career average, his OBP is down, his strikeouts are up and his struggles against left-handed pitching have been every bit as bad as advertised. Has played a good centerfield — covers a lot of ground and has a decent arm.

The New York Post gave him a D:

A few big hits are all that keep this grade from being an F. Brian Cashman’s big off-season splash has been a dud. You expected the .207 average against lefties, but he has not been that much better versus righties (.261). His defense is shaky, and could cost the Yankees at some point.

I’m not going to tiptoe around this: all of the criticism directed towards Granderson really bothers me. The criticism largely surrounds Granderson’s inability to hit left-handed pitching, which is a totally fair and accurate observation on its own terms. He is completely useless against lefties. But here’s the thing: he’s always been horrible against lefties. A refresher course:

  • 2006: .218/.277/.395
  • 2007: .160/.225/.269
  • 2008: .259/.310/.429
  • 2009: .183/.245/.239
  • 2010: .206/.250/.287

Given that Granderson’s career line against lefties (778 plate appearances) is .210/.267/.337, what exactly where the Yankees expecting him to do? Granderson has consistently demonstrated that he simply does not have the ability to produce against southpaws. This isn’t an indictment of his effort, work ethic, or character. In fact, by all accounts, he has worked extremely hard to improve this deficiency. And yet, he’s still hitting like a AAA middle infielder against them. He’s tried. He just can’t do it.

The onus falls on both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi for this one. I liked Cashman’s move at the time, and I still do, but the caveat remains unchanged: don’t put this guy in the lineup against left-handers. In this case, Cashman and Girardi are both guilty of wishful thinking. The former acquired Granderson with evidently no plans to platoon him, and the latter insists on sending Granderson out there as if he were an everyday player. Both believed that with some hard work and Kevin Long’s help, the Yankees could do what the Detroit Tigers couldn’t do in over five years, and that’s get Granderson to start hitting lefties at the age of 29. I guess we could toss in some hubris along with the wishful thinking.

Criticizing Granderson for not hitting lefties is unfair. If Stan Van Gundy asked Dwight Howard to bring the ball up the court 40% of the time (which is roughly how many of Granderson’s PAs have come against lefties), and Howard kept turning it over, would we slam Howard for it? If Sean Payton lined up Drew Brees as a left tackle 40% of the time, would we criticize Brees for all the sacks he allowed? No, we wouldn’t, because those are obvious instances of management asking a player to do something that he simply cannot do. That’s exactly what’s going on with the Yankees and Granderson, and not only is it unfair to the player, but it’s indicative of poor management.

Applauding Girardi’s Decision

June 24, 2010

Thanks to the World Cup and my desire to enjoy my pre-graduate school vacation, I have not posted in quite a while. With school starting next week, I have no idea how often I’ll be posting in the near future. I posted quite frequently last time I was in school, but the quality of those posts was awful and I had lots of free time because, well, I didn’t take my undergraduate education seriously. So really, anything could happen. I’m going to try and keep the ball rolling, though.

When you last heard from me, I was doing what I always seem to do – complaining about closer usage in the modern era. But I’m proud to announce that I’m going to be relentlessly positive for a moment, and even prouder to point out Joe Girardi’s decision-making during last night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. If you look closely at the box score – as I did – you’ll notice that Girardi did something that I can’t remember seeing him do before, something that makes me swell with pride and joy.

Yes, Girardi used his closer in a tied game on the road. I can’t believe it either. With the score 5-5, he sent Mariano Rivera to the mound in the bottom of the 9th inning. Apparently and finally recognizing that if the opposing team scores in this situation, the game ends and the Yankees receive a loss, Girardi took no chances and deployed his best reliever to prolong the game instead of trying to earn Rivera an arbitrarily constructed statistic (the “save”). Rivera subsequently retired the side in order. In the top of the 10th inning, Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run, giving the Yankees a 6-5 lead heading into the bottom of the 10th. With the heart of Arizona’s order due up, Girardi left Rivera in to, in a rare moment of semantic accuracy for the statistic, save the game. Sure, Rivera loaded the bases with nobody out only to get out of it and prevail, but this is almost totally irrelevant to me. Girardi did what every manager in baseball should do: ask their best reliever to get the most important outs (as dictated by situation, not inning number) late in ballgames. And, to my tremendous delight, he was rewarded for his choice.

Now, there’s a reason I said I was going to be relentlessly positive, and that’s because there’s evidence suggesting that Girardi’s decision didn’t represent a sudden and profound mastery of baseball tactics. Rivera hadn’t pitched in two days and only threw 13 pitches during his last appearance. He was well-rested. The Yankees also have an off-day today, so Rivera could be extended without fear of impending unavailability. Lastly, the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays had all lost earlier in the day, presenting a rare opportunity to gain a game on all three division rivals simultaneously. There’s no way that all three of these circumstances didn’t occur to Girardi, spurring him on to finally pull the trigger on an obvious decision. But for now, I’m choosing to ignore these factors. For now, I’m going to applaud Girardi for using his closer intelligently.

A Slave To The Save

June 9, 2010

On Saturday, in yet another bullpen mismanagement-induced tirade, I wrote the following:

“I’m already dreading Tuesday’s game against the Orioles, when the Yankees will be up by several runs, and Girardi will use Rivera because “he hasn’t been able to work much lately.” That’s going to be a blast.”

While this exact scenario didn’t come to fruition (largely because Rivera pitched in Sunday’s game, negating the need for some work), another revealing situation unfolded in its stead.

With the Yankees up 12-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Joe Girardi correctly put mop-up man Chad Gaudin into the game to get the final six outs. As mop-up men will do, Gaudin quickly gave up two runs, making the score 12-5. He came back out for the bottom of the 9th – also the correct decision – and gave up two more runs. Then, with the score at 12-7, with runners on first and third, and with one out, Girardi called for Mariano Rivera to warm up. The reasoning was simple, at least to Girardi. If the current batter reached base, it would become a save situation, and that’s when Rivera must pitch.

I believe that this is the most damning proof possible that managers are slaves to the save statistic. Certainly, this conclusion has never really been in much doubt. We see it happen all the time, managers foregoing the ideal tactical move because that move wouldn’t garner their best reliever a “save.” But this instance really does prove that, when it comes to closers, managers abandon all autonomous thought in favor of mindless convention.

The variable that makes this so damning is the quality of the Yankees’ opponent. The Orioles, as we know, are woeful. They have scored the second-fewest runs in baseball. Their OBP is the third-worst in the game. They are tied for fourth-worst in slugging. And yet, with this miserable hodgepodge of hitters slated to face Chad Gaudin with runners on first and third and one out, with a five-run lead, Girardi chose to warm up one of the very best relievers in the game today. Aside from the obvious fact that this is like building a nuclear bomb to kill a moth, Girardi’s decision stands in startling contrast to his thought process on Saturday afternoon against the Blue Jays. Having used every available reliever in extra innings except for Gaudin and Rivera, Girardi used Gaudin in the bottom of the 14th inning, even though the Yankees would lose if they allowed a run. Think about that. That’s the highest leverage situation possible. So, in the most important situation possible, Girardi used his worst reliever. Then, last night, Girardi was prepared to bring in Rivera with a five-run lead against one of the very worst offenses in baseball. He was one walk away from using his elite reliever in what was a minimally threatening situation.

From this, you can draw one of two possible conclusions about Girardi’s beliefs. The first possibility: Girardi believes that a five-run lead with one out against a terrible offense (the Orioles situation) is a more threatening situation than a tie-game on the road in which one opposing run results in certain defeat (the Blue Jays situation). The second possibility: Girardi is yet another mindless manager who will unfailingly allow the save statistic to dictate his in-game decisions at the cost of improved chances of victory. Now, Girardi is far from a perfect manager, but he’s not an idiot. Only an idiot – and I mean that in the truest sense of the word – would believe that the Orioles situation is more dire than the Blue Jays situation. I repeat: five-run lead against a terrible offense versus tie-game, on the road, in extra innings against a team that leads baseball in homers. Only an idiot, and Girardi is not an idiot. So I think it’s fair to say that possibility number two most accurately describes Girardi’s thought process, to whatever extent that thought process even existed in the first place, because possibility number two means that he participated in the pushbutton, slave to the save management style that poisons today’s game.

Within the next five years, some bright young manager with ambition and the stones to match is going to realize that bullpen management is all fudged up. He’s going to use his best relievers intelligently and in the highest-leverage situations, and we’re all going to wonder why we ever did it differently. Until then, we’re stuck with the Joe Girardi’s of the world – talented and experienced leaders who are too wrapped up in convention to take a real shot at glory.

Wherefore Art Thou, Rivera?

June 5, 2010

Tied going into the bottom of the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th innings, not once did Joe Girardi even warm up Mariano Rivera. Saving him to preserve a lead the Yankees would never get, Girardi deployed every available reliever except for the team’s best. He sent Chad Gaudin out in the bottom of the 14th, who predictably allowed the winning run to score. And so Rivera – owner of 1,108 innings of 203 ERA+ performance, who last pitched on Thursday – finished the day exactly where he started: on the bench.

One day, managers will realize that a tied, extra-innings game on the road is a higher leverage situation than protecting a small lead on the road. In the former situation, the game is over if the home team scores. In the latter, well, it isn’t. It’s pretty simple stuff. I’m already dreading Tuesday’s game against the Orioles, when the Yankees will be up by several runs, and Girardi will use Rivera because “he hasn’t been able to work much lately.” That’s going to be a blast.

Managers may say they’re serious about winning. But until this widespread practice changes, I simply cannot take that assertion seriously.

UPDATE: From Chad Jennings’ fantastic blog:

Because this was a road game, Girardi said he never considered using Mariano Rivera with the game tied. “It’s not something we like to do,” he said. “If you’re going to go two innings with him, it’s something you might do, but I wasn’t going to use Mo for two innings today.”

And this exchange:

Q: Joe, some people would say that, even if you’re only going to pitch him one inning, you can lengthen the game, use your best reliever to go longer, and then figure out how to close it later. Why don’t you agree with that?

I did a Tiger Woods fist pump when I heard this question. To whoever asked this question: well, well done. Intelligent people everywhere thank you for your service. Now, the answer:

A: Well, we had opportunities to win the game. It’s not our pitching why we lost the game. And if I went to Mo in the 10th or the 11th, who knows, they might have scored in the 15th anyway. So, I mean, when you look at this game, we just didn’t hit well enough to win.

Sometimes, I can’t believe Girardi majored in industrial engineering at Northwestern.

Why A Sixth Grader From Brooklyn Should Manage Your Baseball Team

May 29, 2010

Early last week, three of my sixth graders and I played a game of Apples to Apples. One of them, whom I shall call “Freddy,” had to pick which red card matched up best with the green card featuring the word “best.” I forget what all three red card submissions were, but one of them was “home runs.” After some careful thought, Freddy chose the “home runs” card, which predictably incited a small riot amongst his peers (baseball is not their favorite sport). The riot soon died down, but my curiosity endured. “Why did you think ‘home runs’ went with ‘best’?” I asked.

“Because hitting a home run is the best thing you can do to help your team,” said Freddy.

Quite honestly, I was stunned by the intelligence of his response. Not that Freddy isn’t a smart kid, because he is. But given that all of my students had a minimal or non-existent interest in baseball, it was a remarkably incisive and – most importantly – accurate assessment. Despite what you might hear from current and former players, analysts and reporters, home runs are not “rally killers” or in any way less valuable than walks or a series of base hits. They are the single best thing a hitter can do, and conversely, the single worst thing a pitcher can allow. That may seem obvious to you or me or even Freddy, but it’s not always obvious to mainstream media and fans.

I’m telling you this because I find that Freddy’s intuition stands in stark contrast to the popular beliefs and practices present within baseball today. This kid is more or less totally cut off from the game of baseball. He doesn’t watch it, doesn’t play it, doesn’t have any interest whatsoever in it. But what he is interested in is winning. Most of my kids are ferociously competitive, and Freddy is no different. He couldn’t care less about the actual or unwritten rules of the competition, but he sure as hell wants to win it. And because of that desire and because he’s generally a smart cookie, he understands the value of things like home runs. To Freddy, they are a key to victory, which is the ultimate goal.

When you compare Freddy’s outlook to that of major league managers, it paints a pretty bleak picture for the latter group. Managers will uniformly tell you that they want to win today’s game. Maybe not at all costs, because they do have a difficult job in that they must balance the importance of present and future victories. But they say they want to do whatever they can to win today’s game because, after all, tomorrow it might rain. That’s what they say.

But if actions are any indicator of true intent, then it’s pretty clear that someone like Freddy is more serious about winning than a major league manager. Take today’s game between the Indians and the Yankees. The Yankees had a 10-5 lead in the top of the 7th inning with David Robertson entering to pitch. He gave up a run, making it 10-6 Yankees. Not a huge cause for alarm just yet. Then, after a trainwreck of managing by Joe Girardi that I’m not even going to try to describe, Joba Chamberlain enters the game with the score still 10-6. He clearly had nothing, and the score is soon 10-7 with plenty of runners on base. Now Michael Kay is wondering how the Yankees bullpen is going to get to Mariano Rivera in the 9th inning, since the unit is currently decimated by injuries and recent use. Meanwhile, I’m wondering how the Yankees are going to get out of this situation right now (three-run lead, bases loaded, ineffective reliever on the mound).

It is at this juncture in the game when I would rather have Freddy managing my team than literally any manager in baseball. Freddy, in his oversized baseball uniform because he’s 12 years old, would turn to Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland and say “who is our best reliever?” Eiland would surely reply “Mariano Rivera,” and Freddy would equally surely say “put him in the game.” And if Eiland questioned him, Freddy would probably tell him to shut up because he’s the boss. Conversely, every other manager in baseball would look to their pitching coach and ask “who is the best reliever to use right now, excluding our absolute best reliever, because it’s not yet the 9th inning?” And the pitching coach would offer his suggestion, which would be someone other than the team’s best reliever, because we all know that that reliever doesn’t pitch unless the team has a relatively small lead in the 9th inning. But Freddy wouldn’t care about this, because Freddy just wants to win the ballgame and go home and play Xbox.

Whimsical example aside, I am entirely serious about this. In-game management has evolved to a point where winning the game more than occasionally becomes secondary to preserving roles and appeasing egos. Managers can’t see this, because they’re in too deep at this point. They are the ones brushing shoulders with the players whose roles they are trying to cement and whose egos they’re trying to leave undisturbed. And the result is often similar to the result of the Indians-Yankees contest, where a struggling second-tier reliever is left in the game to protect a small lead in a hugely important situation simply because “the book” says that the best relievers don’t pitch until the 9th inning. In this particular example, Chamberlain was left in until the score was 12-10 Indians. Now, with the highest-leverage moment over and the lead totally relinquished, there is virtually no chance that Rivera will be seeing any action. This situation happens every day in baseball, and it is gross mismanagement that reflects little seriousness about the goal of winning the game.

Freddy may have no idea what a double-switch is, or how to call for a pitchout, but at least he knows what factors contribute to wins and losses.