Joe Girardi said that “I wasn’t hired to put on a farewell tour” to justify why he played Dean Anna over Derek Jeter in a game against the Red Sox earlier this season. He is trying to rest a 39 year old shortstop coming off a severe ankle injury in order to keep him healthy and rested for the entire season. This is entirely reasonable and expected from a baseball manager.
Then the following sequence of events occurs.
Brendan Ryan is activated off the DL on May 6th. Carlos Beltran plays his last game on May 12th before going on the DL. 17 games (some extra inning affairs) occur after May 6th and Brendan Ryan plays only 5 games and 27.1 innings at shortstop. Then, to top it all off, Ryan subs in to play first base in a high leverage situation (7th inning in 1-run game against the White Sox) while Jeter remains at shortstop. Girardi correctly identifies his job description to win games but makes this questionable tactical decision.
Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops in the league and has to play there in order to have value to the team. Jeter is one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league and his playing time should be very limited at the position. The defensive numbers are worth repeating.
Since 2007 Ryan has saved 97 runs and has a 51.0 UZR. Since 2003 Jeter has “saved” -150 runs with a -69.7 UZR. The Yankees are giving up runs on defense when Jeter is at short and Ryan doesn’t play. The potential upgrade from playing Ryan over Jeter at short is enormous and it’s not like Jeter would have to remain out of the lineup. Beltran going to the DL gave Girardi the perfect opportunity to utilize Jeter as the DH. Ichiro Suzuki and AlfonsonSoriano would platoon in right field. That setup hasn’t really happened. Ryan has little value as a bench player as a glove only player. He has close to no value as a bench player if he subs in as a first-baseman.
Jorge Posada went through the same situation as he approached 40. His skills declined and Girardi appropriately moved him off of catcher and limited him to the strong side of a DH platoon. Bernie Williams also experienced a serious erosion of skills in 2006. Unlike Girardi, Joe Torre kept running him out there enough to receive 462 plate appearances , play 666.1 very bad innings across the 3 outfield spots, and cost the team -1.3 fWAR.
Girardi has set a precedent for being able to limit the playing time of an aging star player and fan favorite for the benefit of the team. The Yankees have a fairly recent example of how a former star player can cost the team wins if allowed to play full-time as a shell of his former self. Girardi might be showing respect to one of the most beloved players of all-time.
At the same time he is disrespecting the other 24 players and the organization in their attempt to win as many games as possible by playing Jeter while Ryan sits on the bench. Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr., and Robin Yount moved off the second hardest position on the diamond as they aged. Apparently, Jeter is exempt from this despite playing on a team with playoff aspirations and an excellent alternate option on the bench.