The Game Girardi is Really Managing

Back in June, Joe Sheehan – one of my favorite baseball writers – listed all the managers in baseball 1-30 based on their ability to manage a game (i.e., the ability to manage men over 162 games was not considered).  The idea being, if you could pick any Major League manager to manage your team in a best of seven series, who would it be?

Joe listed Joe Girardi number three, behind Terry Francona and Buck Showalter, right in front of Joe Maddon (…???)  There was my first audible “Wow”.

This was disconcerting.  One of my favorite baseball writers either A) doesn’t watch any Yankee games and doesn’t realize how bad Girardi is, or B) I don’t see enough of other managers, and there really are 27 managers in MLB that are worse than Girardi.

Either way, I’m bothered.

Admittedly, as much as I criticize Joey Bullpen, he isn’t as bad as a lot of other mangers.  Jesus, watching John Farrell make bullpen choices makes one call for mandatory drug testing for managers, never mind the players.  Craig Kimbrel is one of the best two relievers in baseball, is in the process of collecting $42 million from Boston and Farrell barely lets him have any impact on the outcome of games.

Back to Joe: As of this writing, the Yankees are exactly league average in the American League in sacrifice bunts.  (Houston has the fewest in the league and also, not coincidentally, leads the league in runs by a mile.)  Yes, I use that simplistic of a marker to judge managers.  Bunting in the American League is almost always a mistake.  Therefore you can quantify the number of mistakes managers have made in this particular, albeit small category.

Houston also leads the league in On Base Percentage, which as we all (should) know is the most important statistic with regards to scoring runs.  Obviously, OBP is greatly dictated by player performance and is heavily influenced by the front office’s ability to build a roster.  That being said, the manager sets the lineup.  A manager that consistently puts players in the lineup with low OBP when there are better options available, can be a detriment to his team’s scoring ability.  As has been noted here before, Joe’s ability to set a lineup –  both with regards to player selection and batting order – needs some work.  (He wrote, understatingly…)

But despite, bunting, the lineup and an embarrassingly bad season of bullpen management, one of my criticisms of Girardi has nothing to do with analytics and numbers.  Joe seems to be a bright guy, and I’m sure the Yankees have bright guys on their payroll that give him good information.  But…

My impression is that he is just plain scared of criticism.

I think this is a factor in how he (mis) manages the bullpen, and I think it’s definitely a factor when he decides who gets playing time.

Joe isn’t the only manager to do this obviously, but it sure looks like he’s playing the blame avoidance game.  It’s easier to do the safe thing – even if it’s dead wrong – because you won’t catch flak from it after the fact.  If the manager makes the safe move and it doesn’t work out, the questions get directed at the players and the GM.  Look to the Los Angeles Angels (or whatever they’re called this week) and Mike Scioscia’s job security as an example of this.

Take the curious case of Todd Frazier for example:

Out of 155 players who have qualified for the batting title, Frazier is 110th in Slugging Percentage.  Among 3rd basemen, he’s 16th out of 18.  I’m using SLG as a quick reference because a day does not go by where a member of Simpleton Summer Camp does NOT mention the Yankees got him to add power.  And not once do they mention he has no power.  Pinches bridge of nose…

At various times recently, Girardi has had Garrett Cooper, Tyler Austin and Greg Bird available to take at least some of Frazier’s at bats.  Chase Headley has an OBP 32 points over league average, so spare me your Headley hate.

I’m sure we agree it’s extremely unlikely that Cooper, Austin and/or Bird would produce less than Frazier.  So why is Frazier out there?

Because Joe is playing the blame avoidance game.

If Frazier falls flat on his face, it’s Frazier’s fault and Brian Cashman will take heat for the acquisition.

If a young player falls flat on his face, Girardi takes the heat.

That’s why we watch Todd Frazier every day and will continue to do so.  Based on how long it took Girardi to stop playing the blame avoidance game with Jacoby Ellsbury, we’re going to have to get used to the Toddfather.

As a point of reference, Tommy Lasorda, who’ll never be confused with a rational, thoughtful person (he got into a fight with the Phillie Phanatic, among other departures of what would be considered normative behavior), did have his strengths.  Among them, he managed 9 (NINE) Rookies of the Year.  Obviously that’s due to multiple factors, but he clearly was brave enough to put a kid out there when a veteran wasn’t cutting it.

Maybe Girardi isn’t as bad as other managers.  But if indeed that is the case, it’s because the bar is pretty low.


Postscript: For the record, among MLB managers, there is Terry Francona, Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter and everyone else.  (Although if I were stuck with A.J. Hinch or Bob Melvin I’d be fine with that…)

Thanks to Joe Sheehan and Brian Kenny for some of the information here.


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