Joe Girardi had his fair share of up-and-downs this season. (Image: Rick Osentoski, US Presswire)

Grading the Yankees: Joe Girardi

Now that we here at Yanks Go Yard have completed grading all of the Yankees from 2012, it’s only fair to look at the other key elements in how the team performed this year: namely, Manager Joe Girardi. Girardi doesn’t always have the easiest go of things in New York. We as fans complain about him (that intentional walk to Sean Rodriguez in Game 1 to load the bases for a Carlos Pena grand slam still irritates me), and he regularly gets criticized for his use of The Binder. That said, it’s important to separate what Girardi has done well, what he could have done better in 2012, and whether or not all of the criticism we occasionally heaped on him for the team’s failure to perform was warranted.

Girardi receives a lot of criticism. Occasionally that’s warranted. For instance, take the way that the manager set his lineup during the 2012 American League Division Series, which opened with Alex Rodriguez batting third. Ordinarily, this isn’t a terrible decision- questionable, but not horrific. What was horrific was that A-Rod was batting an abysmal .125 during 18 plate appearances in that series, striking out a whopping nine times. Ultimately, the Yankees won the ALDS, and A-Rod is the third baseman for the team, and is a better defensive option than Jayson Nix, Eric Chavez or Eduardo Nunez, particularly in the playoffs. To that end, he should be playing. But batting third? C’mon, man. A-Rod was nothing short of a hot mess at the plate during the 2012 playoffs, ultimately leading to his benching later in the American League Championship Series. There is nearly zero justification for Girardi batting him third, so for that, the manager takes it on the chin.

Another questionable decision by Girardi was the bullpen restructuring immediately following the loss of Mariano Rivera to an ACL injury. Despite having a veteran closer in Rafael Soriano waiting in the wings, graciously provided by Randy Levine, the manager instead went to his young stellar setup man in David Robertson. I’m not here to argue that Robertson was a poor choice because he intrinsically doesn’t have the makeup for a closer (I don’t think that at all), nor because he blew a couple of games just after taking the role (it happens). I question it because you have a pitcher who had a league-leading 45 saves just two years ago. Robertson could very well be the closer of the future, but if you lost your closer, why rock the boat but re-adjusting the whole bullpen as opposed to just inserting Soriano as a closer? Hindsight is 20-20, but still and all, I questioned the move then and I question it now.

One other complaint I had about Girardi this season was his apparent channeling of Joe Torre when it came to the bullpen this season. Torre was roundly criticized for his overuse of certain pitchers (see, Scott Proctor). On the whole, I think Girardi has made a couple of hiccups (like the Boone-Logan-for-Phil-Hughes blunder against the Twins toward the end of the season), but most managers do make these mistakes. That said, I think he ran his core guys- Soriano, Robertson and Logan- into the ground a bit this season. Robertson missed a month with an oblique injury and still managed to log 60.2 IP in 65 games. Soriano pitched in 69 games, and with 67.2 IP, surpassed his innings from his 45 save season with Tampa Bay. Logan might have suffered the worst- a staggered 80 games and 55 IP for lefty. It’s not surprising that Logan’s hits, ERs, ERA and BBs were all elevated considerably from the year before. Part of Girardi’s overuse stemmed from lack of options — David Phelps was lost when he came to the rotation to fill in for injured starters, Freddy Garcia was a questionable choice, and Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada weren’t the greatest options. That said, as a manager, it is Girardi’s job to spread the workload evenly. Perhaps letting Freddy get in some work during garbage time, or using Rapada more here and there would have kept the numbers down for some players, and kept them a bit sharper. Though his moves didn’t affect the overall outcome for the team, Girardi does need to get back to doing a better job of managing the workloads.

For all the criticism, Girardi did make some good calls for the team, as well. For all the questions around the bullpen management, Girardi did a great job managing a constantly-injured rotation. He wasted no extra time in yanking Garcia from the rotation after it was clear the junkballer wasn’t getting the job done. Despite a pretty significant contract that Garcia wasn’t given the same rope that say, A.J. Burnett had and it was the right move to put the team in the best position to win. Further, it was a solid move to eventually drop Ivan Nova from the rotation. With huge spike in the XBH allowed, Nova was an abject disaster all season. The moves to drop him from the rotation as the season wound down, and leaving him off the playoff roster entirely, gave the Yankees better depth, and allowed David Phelps to further come into his own. To that end, Girardi’s confidence in the rookie not only spoke volumes, but allowed the Yankees to see just what they had in the young righty. In consistently supporting the rotation with Phelps, Girardi stretched out his long-man even further, effectively giving the Yankees six starters. This added length, it could be argued, kept the Yankees in the ALDS and ALCS, as the pitching was stellar.

Another good call Girardi made was the inevitable one: benching A-Rod. Girardi went from taking heat for batting A-Rod in the three hole to benching his former MVP third baseman entirely. In nine PAs in the ACLS, Rodriguez hit .111/.111/.111 with three strikeouts. Woof. The rest of the lineup was struggling mightily, as well, it’s not fair to blame the loss entirely on A-Rod. But he had been lost at the plate for about a month prior, as well. One of the biggest challenges Girardi has as a manager is having to manage aging players. It’s in a player’s nature to believe, intrinsically that they are better than they are, even in the face of obvious declines due to age. That said, it is up to a manager to make the best choices for the team, and that occasionally means sitting those superstars, who are now super in name only. A difficult decision is to bench those players, and kudos to Girardi, he had the gumption (among other things) to do it, and for that I applaud him. Unfortunately for us as fans, he couldn’t bench the whole damn team in the ALCS, but still- the idea that Girardi has the fortitude to bench the most expensive, perhaps most decorated player on his roster, speaks volumes about his prioritization of the team over the individual, and for that, he should be applauded.

COMMENTS:

  • needs to hit the brakes on the key bullpen pieces
  • understands the priority of the team versus the individual, despite paycheck
  • still makes the occasional bullpen mistake

FINAL GRADE: B

Girardi didn’t have a bad year as the manager for the Yankees, not by any means. Overall though, the hiccups seemed to be a lot more frequent this year — more than just an occasional failure by The Binder, it was more of a failure to see the forest for the trees when Girardi operated from a baseball perspective. That doesn’t even include the run-in with fan in Chicago in August, or his alleged screaming match with a New York Post reporter in September following a controversial loss. For any coach or manager, particularly of that of one of the most recognized team’s (and brand) in world, it’s a bad optic for fans, the players, and the organization and certainly doesn’t make his job any easier with all the media circus surrounding those outbursts. It was a down year from Joe Girardi, but he has shown the ability to win in this town, and at the end of the day, we as Yankees fans shouldn’t really be bothered by the occasionally mistake.

**Please check out our completed Grading The Yankees page for the 2012 season**

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