Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Look Back At 2008: Joe Girardi

Tomorrow is October 1st and for the first time in 13 years the Yankees won't be playing baseball in October. It was a disappointing season to say the least. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be taking a look back at the individuals that took part in the 2008 Yankees campaign, offering up some opinions and assigning each person a grade. I hope to do at least one person a day so make sure to check back. And please feel free to add your own thoughts and comments.

Today's installment is Joe Girardi. What better place to start than with the manager?

I was in favor of hiring Joe Girardi over Don Mattingly after the Yankees stupidly let Joe Torre go after the 2007 season. I thought Girardi was the wiser choice. I still think Girardi was the wiser choice. Joe has always struck me as a wise baseball guy. I thought this after listening to him as a YES analyst and having seen him manage the Marlins. He has a reputation as being extremely prepared and I thought he started the season off real well, whipping the team into shape with his boot camp style spring training workouts. I thought it was just what the team needed. Now that the games have been played and the season is over, I'm not as sold on Joe as I once was.

For a smart baseball guy, Joe made some pretty stupid decisions in my opinion. The biggest that still sticks out to me was when he pulled a double switch, and had Melky Cabrera pinch-hit and Ivan Rodriguez pinch run. One of Girardi's faults in my opinion is that he relies way too much on lefty/righty matchups then on actual performance. In that game, the Yankees were trailing by 4 with runners the bases loaded and 1 out in the 7th. Giambi was on 1st and Justin Christian was up. Girardi sent Pudge to 1st and brought in Melky to face the RHP. Melky predictably popped up to short and the rally was pretty much dead. Melky is obviously faster than Pudge and Pudge is obviously a better hitter than Melky. Pudge has a career average of 300 against RHPs. That move still makes no sense to me.

I think Girardi did a horrible job in getting the best from his players, something that he apparently did pretty well his one year in Florida. The manager's job is to get 100% from his players day in and day out. The Yankees offseason struggled all season and one of the biggest disappointments was Robbie Cano's performance. Cano is widely known as a lazy player. He's the type of player that needs a kick in the pants every now and then. Joe Torre and Larry Bowa figured this out and pretty much wrote the book on how to successfully manage Cano. That being the case, it should never have taken Girardi until September 15th, with 13 games left in the season, to pull Cano and have him sit. And the only reason he pulled him was because he didn't run after a grounder that trickled off Giambi's glove. I don't think it's a coincidence that Cano turned it on after getting benched. In the final 12 games of the season, Cano went 14 for 46 (.413) and hit in the last 11 games. The Yanks went 9-3 in those 12 games. If only Joe was wise enough to pull Cano sooner. Maybe then the Yanks would still be playing. The same goes for Robbie's buddy Melky. Girardi left Melky in the lineup a lot longer than he should have. I didn't think Girardi was going to have any trouble managing the youngsters. Sadly, I was wrong.

Another major fault of Girardi's was how he dealt with the media, often pretty much straight up lying to everyone only to have others in the organization contradict him. I understand not wanting to give your opponents a competitive advantage by not disclosing injuries, but at least own up to them once it's public knowledge. Damaso Marte missed several games with in August with a bum wing. When Girardi was asked about it, nothing was wrong. When Marte was asked about it, the team was giving him time to rest. Recently, Girardi said Mariano left Toronto early to get a standard end-of-the-year physical and that there was no injury. As it turns out, Mariano was complaining that he had a sore shoulder, something confirmed by Yankees GM Brian Cashman. When asked about Mariano again, Girardi stuck to his story, not agreeing to the information that was given by Cashman. Joe has to do a better job in his dealings with the media. It's one of the intangibles that is going to make him successful.

I can't think of many positives except for how Girardi managed the use of the bullpen. Sure, he may have brought in the wrong guy, or left in a pitcher for too long, but he did spread things around, something that Joe Torre wasn't really good at. Michael Kay remarked several times during the season that Girardi was doing a great job managing the pen, keeping them out of the league leaders in appearances. I think at one point there weren't any Yankees in the top 15 in appearances, a category they typically have several in. The Yankees finished the season with 543.1 bullpen innings, second most in the AL. 22 different pitchers took the hill for the Yankees in relief, with Mariano appearing the most, in 64 games, which was tied for 22nd. In 2007 the bullpen threw 529.2 innings with 22 guys throwing in relief. 3 Yankee RPs ranked in the top 20. In 2006, they had 510 bullpen innings, split between 23 guys with 3 ranking in the top 10. Girardi did a good job in spreading the ball around. I think that was one of the reasons why the bullpen was a bright spot for the 2008 Yanks. The 2008 bullpen ERA was 3.78. 2007 was 4.35 and 2006 was 4.18.

So overall, Girardi's first year as Yankees skipper was disappointing to say the least. I'll hearken back to something Hank Steinbrenner stupidly said back before he, or anyone for that matter, was hired to replace Torre:

"I think the most important thing is whoever we hire, give 'em a chance because he's not getting the '96 Yankees. He's getting an even younger team or for the most part a team in transition. Give him a little while. We want to win the World Series every year. We're not stupid enough to think we can do it. Of course, we'd love to win the World Series next year."

That quote still burns me. As I said last year after Hank made that comment, if it was thought that it would be a year of transition because it was a young team and not the '96 Yankees, then Joe Torre should have been brought back. Torre was run out of town for failing to win the World Series. Sorry for going off on a tangent. My point about the quote is that Girardi was given a young team, one that was definitely in transition. I understand that the Yankees' failures this year were not entirely his fault. There were a lot of factors that contributed to the team's poor finish. However, Girardi didn't really do much to help the cause. I think the negatives far outweighed the positives. He needs to do a better job in getting 100% from his team. That's really what the job boils down to. There were several guys who underperformed and Girardi needs to find ways to get them to perform to their potential. In that respect, he did a very poor job.

Taking all things into account, J-Boogie's 2008 final grade for Joe Girardi is a C-/D+. Feel free to post your own grades or comments.

The next look back at 2008 will focus on Jorge Posada.

Peace, love and Pinstripes,