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2016 Yankees Season Review: Evaluating Joe Girardi

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Put the pitchforks down, the Yankees have one of the game’s best managers and this year was no different.

New York Yankees Photo Day
Player -> Manager -> Playaaaa (Sorry I’m not sorry)
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

About two months ago when the Yankees were right there fighting for a playoff spot, I wrote a piece wondering if Joe Girardi could win Manager of the Year. I’d like to just reiterate a point I made in that piece:

I’m of the opinion that baseball managers have the least impact on games in all sports. Not intended as a slight, but to me the biggest impact managers personally have on games is in regards to pitching and managing the bullpen

Obviously, it was probably easy to be high on Girardi when it looked like the Yankees might just sneak into the playoffs when they had no business being there. However, even after stumbling in September/October and another year without the playoffs, my opinion of Girardi hasn’t changed. He’s still one of the game’s best managers, and this year was no exception.

For starters, he once again led the Yankees to an above .500 record. That makes it nine seasons (his entire tenure as Yankee manager) in a row that he’s done that, especially with teams that probably had no business having that good of a record. At least three of the seasons he’s been manager (2013, 2014, and 2016), the Yankees probably should have finished under .500, yet they didn’t. This year, they did so with a -22 run differential. No matter how one slices it, when a team allows more runs than they’ve scored, they should be losers. These Yankees were not.

Does that mean he’s without his flaws? No it doesn’t. As I said above, one of the biggest areas where the manager has an impact is the bullpen. Girardi’s bullpen management is actually a common complaint of many Yankee fans. What’s highlighted most, especially these days with how Terry Francona has been deploying Andrew Miller for Cleveland, is how strict he was with assigning set roles to the Big Three (aka Fluffy) relievers when he had them.

Then there’s always complaints that he’s either over-dependent on his ace relievers and wears them out (aka why Dellin Betances struggled in September) or he sticks with bad relievers too much (Looking at you, Anthony Swarzak). Despite all of this, Girardi still ranks as one of the game’s best bullpen managers.

Per a FiveThirtyEight piece and a FanGraphs piece, both from earlier in the year, Girardi ranks in the top three of managers for bullpen management. Since 2000 Girardi is tied as the second-best manager in “wRM+” (weighted reliever management plus). And Girardi ranks third on the list in overall “WAM” (Wins Above Monkey/Random) among managers this year. Sure Betances was probably overused towards the end of the season, but after selling off Miller and Aroldis Chapman the Yankees surged their way into postseason contention. Betances being the only ace reliever the Yankees had, Girardi was forced to use him often. So Girardi’s hardly at fault there.

Another constant complaint of Yankees fans is how Girardi constructs his lineups. And even according to that FanGraphs article above, it shows that the Yankees were second-to-last in “Correlation of Actual to Ideal Lineup.” Sure he probably could have stood to move Didi Gregorius up earlier in the year, but I honestly don’t believe it would have made THAT much of a difference. Prior to Gary Sanchez’s arrival, the lineup consisted of two consistently good hitters: Carlos Beltran and Gregorius. Those two alone couldn’t do much. Once he started getting better performances from the entire lineup, the team was winning games. Again, easy to cut him some slack there.

For me, the biggest knock against Girardi this year came with the whole Alex Rodriguez situation. Shortly after Mark Teixeira announced this season would be his last, the Yankees and A-Rod announced that the team would release him but keep him on as a special instructor to honor the financial commitment they have to him. When it was announced, an emotional Girardi originally said that A-Rod would be able to play in all the games until his release if he wanted to play. Then he backtracked, and A-Rod was benched for four games between the announcement and his release.

The reasoning behind the backtracking is because the Yankees were still trying to win. Sure, they did eventually go on a tear and compete for a playoff spot, but at the time the Yankees had just finished “selling” at the deadline and it was widely understood the Yankees were playing meaningless games. What’s worse was Girardi’s handling of the situation.

"You know, we started to give the at-bats to other people because of what we saw," Girardi said. "And that's hard for me to say, because I believe in Alex. He was a guy that was always so productive for us. You know, I don't know. I don't know if there would be a right situation out there for him."

Girardi’s not wrong, but there’s no reason to kick a man while he’s down. This is an all-time baseball great, forced to end his career earlier (most likely) than he wanted. Everyone knew that A-Rod was a shell of himself, but for Girardi to be so blatant about it was shocking. This is a man who defended Stephen Drew of all people! So yeah, I hold that against Girardi. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s just one blemish against him.

Overall, there are things Girardi does well and things he doesn’t. Earlier this year, ABC Sports ranked all thirty managers “overall” and Girardi ranked 9th. I keep bringing up these rankings on Girardi, because for some reason he gets a bad rap among Yankee fans but by all measures he’s a good manager. The Yankees are lucky to have him.

The last few years, he’s led mediocre teams to out-perform their expectations and keep them in contention until the very end. When he does have a good team though, he’s proven that he can capably lead them, as evidenced from 2009-2012. Sure there probably are better managers out there, but not many of them, and honestly with the team Girardi had, I doubt anyone could have done much different.

How do you think Girardi did in 2016? Tell us in the comments!