Monday, March 4, 2013


In five years as the New York Yankees manager, Joe Girardi has a .591 winning percentage and his team’s average finish is 1.6.  During that time the team won its 27th world championship and has reached the playoffs four times, winning the AL East three times.  The Yankees have won at least 95 games each of the last four seasons.

Yet Joe Girardi remains the “Jeff Gordon” of the franchise – you either love him or you hate him. The fans that admire Girardi see the leader taking a team criticized for being too old and overrated to the playoffs every year.  The manager of their boys in pinstripes is constantly handed challenges that he overcomes time and again.

They point to last season where the team lost young hurler Michael Pineda – slated to be in the rotation – for the year before he had ever taken the mound in the Bronx.  Then to make matters worse, starting left fielder Brett Gardner was gone for most of the season (starting in April) with injuries to his arm and elbow.

When April turned to May, things only got worse for the Bombers.  Certain Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL while shagging fly balls on the warning track before a game against Kansas City and was out for the year.

At the end of June, Girardi was handed more hurdles to clear when CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were placed on the DL within hours of each other.  They were the rotation’s only southpaws and arguably the team’s best pitchers. When the smoke cleared and the final game of the regular season completed the Yankees sat atop the AL East with 95 wins – the most in the American League.

Given the constant setbacks of a year ago, it is hard to argue with anyone who says 2012 was one of Joe Girardi’s finest as a manager. However, the Yankees manager does have his detractors.

The Yankee followers that criticize Girardi point out his reliance on statistical matchups during a game.  “Old School” fans dislike the fact that rather than show more of a feel for how a game is flowing, Girardi will refer to a “binder” of computer generated historical comparisons and let that dictate his next move.

One need not look past the first game of 2012 to see their argument.

In the bottom of the first inning of the game against division rival Tampa Bay, Yankees ace CC Sabathia allowed two of the first three batters to reach base before getting a ground ball for the second out.  With runners on second and third and two away, right handed hitter Sean Rodriguez stepped to the plate.  All-or-nothing slugger Carlos Pena, a left-hander, was on deck.  Girardi decided to play the numbers and intentionally walk Rodriguez to get the lefty-lefty matchup with Pena.

The rest is history.

Pena blasted a 3 – 2 pitch into the seats for a grand slam leaving the Yankees manager open for criticism as to why, in the first inning of the first game with two outs he did not let his number one starter work his way out of the frame.  Why would he put added pressure on the pitcher so early in the game and the season by loading the bases for the sake of getting a favorable statistical scenario?

That was just one example out of many through the season which led to some referring to the “Binder” as if it were the team’s manager.

The reality is that Joe Girardi falls somewhere between the two sides of the argument.  Clearly he handles personnel well in adverse situations, and squeezes every ounce of success from the hand he is dealt.

He also lives and dies on what historical data dictates and many times ignores the “big picture” in doing so.

However, there is one thing that cannot be argued with, and that is the results.  In his tenure, no other team in the AL East has finished first more than his, and none of the other managers within the division has won more games.  He’s doing something right.

Here’s who Joe Girardi will be matching wits with in the division this season:

Toronto Blue Jays:  John Gibbons returns for his second stint as manager of the Blue Jays.  During his first run at the helm (from 2004 – 2008) he put together a 305 – 305 record, however he never had the talent that this year’s club provides.  This season will be a good indication of how Gibbons handles high expectations as many have picked his team to win the division

Baltimore Orioles: With every passing season Buck Showalter’s standing among the game’s greatest managers grows.  It seems that every team he commands turns into a winner.  Other than his time with the Texas Rangers (2003 through 2006), Showalter has posted a winning record with every club he has managed (including the Yankees from ’92 to ’95).  The Orioles are no different as he had the young club contending for the division title into the final week of the season in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:  Joe Maddon has led the Rays to 90 or more wins in four of the last five seasons.  In that stretch the team has not finished lower than third in the division and has made a World Series appearance (2008).  He is known as a players’ manager and his strategies are often unpredictable, yet successful (the shift for Mark Teixeira is an example).  He is quickly rising to a status among the most respected managers in the game.

Boston Red Sox:  In a unique trade, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays engaged in a deal last October that brought manager John Farrell to Boston.  As manager in Toronto over the previous two seasons, Farrell holds a 154 – 170 record and two fourth-place finishes in the American League East Division.  He inherits a Red Sox team that finished last season on an eight game losing streak, leaving them with a 69 – 93 record – their worst in 18 years.  Only time will tell if Farrell can turn the franchise around.

Here is how we see the managers of the AL East division stacking up:

1. Baltimore – Buck Showalter’s legend will continue to grow as he turns the Orioles into perennial contenders.

2. Tampa Bay – Joe Maddon’s imagination and unpredictability will keep the Rays at, or near the top of the American League.

3. New York – Joe Girardi will need to adapt to a roster with less power and depth to keep his string of playoff appearances intact.

4. Toronto – John Gibbons is on the hot seat as he has been handed a completely new lineup and rotation for 2013.

5. Boston – John Farrell will get the chance to show if he can turn a struggling organization around.

Let us know what you think!

--Steve Skinner, BYB Guest Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1


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