It makes Joe Girardi sad to be yelled at. Don't make Joe Girardi sad. (Image: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)

Cut Joe Girardi Some Slack

No, I don’t understand why Robinson Cano batted 5th while Mark Teixeira batted 4th last night. I don’t know why Rafael Soriano pitched two innings and 40+ pitches, or why Pedro Ciriaco was intentionally walked, or why CC Sabathia pitched eight innings on Monday. I personally disagree with all of these moves. 

However, I don’t think we should be angry at Joe Girardi for these questionable decisions. Here are some reasons why:

1. There are a lot of factors in play, most of which we are completely unaware.

Look, it’s easy to sit on the couch while watching a game and form opinions about managerial decisions. But we don’t know the half of what goes into most of these decisions. Take Cano batting behind Teixeira last night. Yes, on the face of it, the choice seems odd given Cano’s ridiculous hot streak and the fact that Teixeira just came off the disabled list.

But what if Girardi had looked at the tapes of Lester and Cano and saw a bad matchup? What if Cano had shown some sign of injury or fatigue the day before? Maybe Yankee scouts told Girardi that Lester’s mechanics in his previous start favored righty hitters. This is just a small part of the plethora of information that Girardi has access to, just because he is the manager of the New York Yankees.

And I haven’t even mentioned the more intangible aspects of these decisions. It is possible that Girardi felt that Sabathia would feel more prepared next time out if he stuck with his normal routine. Maybe Joe felt that Soriano needed that second inning to regain confidence after a shaky first. Obviously these factors shouldn’t be the only considerations, but they are nevertheless factors that only people in the clubhouse are aware of.

2. Managers have a hell of a lot more baseball experience that any of us.

Joe Girardi played baseball professionally for a long time. His entire life has probably always been about baseball, and that experience cannot be discounted. For fans, who generally have a very small amount of baseball experience relative to managers, certain decisions may seem absurd. But it’s important to remember that these guys have been around the game for a long time, and have a much better understanding of it than most of us.

Now this is not to say that managers are always right. In fact, I think that managers are usually very old-fashioned and resistant to change, which can be a huge hindrance to the team. Oftentimes the numbers are just completely contradictory to the decisions that managers make, and that’s really frustrating. But we should still retain a sense of humility when making judgments about managerial decisions because of the fact that our experience is nothing compared to theirs.

3. There are usually other people that deserve a lot more blame than managers.

This is probably my biggest objection to becoming angry at managers. Even if we assume that a decision was wrong, the negative consequences that result are rarely entirely the manager’s fault. Again, Teixeira’s spot in the lineup is a perfect example. Yes, if Girardi had put Cano 4th instead, the game probably wouldn’t have had to go 12 innings. But is switching your 4th and 5th hitters really that major of a mistake? Don’t you think we should be blaming the guy that left nine men on base?

Managers are too often the objects of blame that would be better directed towards the players. If a team underperforms, fans often assume that it must be the manager’s fault, when really it’s the players (or the upper management) that should be blamed. Yes, Bobby Valentine seems to have done a pretty awful job at managing the Red Sox this year. But to blame him entirely ignores the awful performance of the Boston players. Bobby hurt his team without a doubt, but he was not the only reason, nor was he even the biggest reason, for the Red Sox collapse.

In the same way, even if we assume that Girardi was wrong to make all of the above decisions (which we’ve already concluded isn’t necessarily true), he wouldn’t deserve all the blame if the Yankees weren’t doing well. If the Yankees lost yesterday, many fans would blame Girardi, but I would blame Teixeira and the rest of the offense. If Soriano gave up a run in his second inning of work, many would blame Girardi, but I would blame the offense for missed opportunities. If the Yankees play a wild card game and Sabathia isn’t available, I will blame the rest of the team for losing two in a row and putting themselves into the situation in the first place.

Yes, Girardi would deserve some blame in all of these cases, but he does not deserve most of it. Luckily for us, the Yankees have won the last two games, so Girardi is off the hook. But if he makes a questionable decision tonight, and the Yankees lose, remember the above three points. We don’t have all the information, Girardi has a lot more experience than us, and other people are probably just as much to blame. That doesn’t mean that we can’t criticize his decisions, but do so with humility and fairness.

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  • Jimmy Kraft

    Couple of things:

    1. The old-fashioned’ness of managers absolutely kills me. I think given the high-profile stature of the profession and the egos involved, managers decide things a little more close to the vest. He simply can’t bat Tex in the eight spot without a huge backlash from ownership, media, and fans. There’s a plethora of politics that go on behind the scenes that most of us aren’t privy to. It’s one reason I respect Joe Maddon so much, he’s funky and mixes lineups to help his team win, rather than being rigid and stubborn. Helps too that his players buy into that.

    2. I somewhat disagree with your third point. I think, while I agree it’s not entirely on the manager’s shoulders, if a player is struggling or coming off the DL, he shouldn’t just assume he’ll get his old spot back. The manager has to put his players in the best position to not only help the player succeed, but more so the team. A manager sticking his head so far into the binder can definitely help him lose perspective on the game. I think we’ve seen that at a few points with Girardi this season.

    Great article as always, Matt!

  • Matt Hunter

    Thanks for the comment Jimmy.

    1. I completely agree. The point of this post wasn’t the let managers off the hook, because I also think that they are often very old-fashioned, stubborn, and just plain wrong. But like you said, there are so many other factors that go into being a manager, that’s we should be careful when, and to what extent, we criticize.

    2. I agree with you here too. I think Girardi was probably wrong to put Tex in his old spot right away. But he had hit a home run the night before, so it’s not like he had no chance of being productive. My main point is that small changes in the lineup have a very small effect on the game for the most part, so even though in that particular game, it happened to matter, usually it makes very little difference. I think it’s really easy to blame the manager for all the bad things that happen to a team, but usually those kinds of issues go way beyond the manager.