Ever since the Yankees “gave up” at the deadline and traded away their best players, they’ve turned into an exciting team to watch. That’s not so crazy because the team was running out old veterans every day and there was nothing to really look forward to. After clearing some space via trades and Alex Rodriguez’s exit, the Yankees made way for some of their young prospects to become everyday regulars. A funny thing happened on their way to just “getting the kids some experience” and they became a better team.
After losing Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Aroldis Chapman, one would think there’s no way the 2016 Yankees could be better off than they were but that’s what happened. Mostly led by Gary Sanchez’s incredible and historic start to his career, the Yankees have turned things around by going 16-11 in the month of August so far. That stretch has led to the Yankees being 3.5 games out of a wild card spot. But should Joe Girardi be given credit for this team turning things around and staying relevant?
Personally, 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 and even then that’s rarely done without the help of a pitching coach. That’s not to say there aren’t good managers and bad managers, there certainly are. And I certainly believe Girardi is one of the good ones.
Every year an award is given out by the Baseball Writers Association of America to honor the “best” manager of the year. But in reality, what has any manager really done to actually deserve/win the award? So if it’s just honoring the manager whose team has exceeded expectations, why not Girardi? Let’s take a look at what this 2016 team has accomplished.
They have a -11 run differential and yet are five games over .500. Their current Pythagorean win-loss percentage expectation is .491, but right now they are at a solid .519. Of course, this isn’t the first time Joe Girardi has led a team that’s outperformed expectations. The Yankees ended their season at .485 and .478 in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and yet ended those seasons .525 and .519. If the season ended today, Girardi would once again have led an underwhelming team to an above .500 record.
Consider the fact that he also hasn’t had the easiest roster to work with. Sure, right now there’s tons of room for flexibility, but for the first half of the season, there was no room for maneuverability within the roster at all. Yet somehow they were never technically out of the race. He kept them hanging around just close enough, though obviously they were far from being an actual contender before the deadline.
Since then, though, they have mostly gaining steam. The team was one victory against Baltimore away from being only a game and a half out of a playoff spot. That’s not to say Girardi isn’t the only manager in the running for the award. He technically has 14 others he’s competing with, but there are only a handful of managers who could clearly be ahead of him for the award.
The odds-on favorite for the award right now is probably Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland currently has a 4.5 game lead in their division and is fifth in the league in run differential at +90. The fact that Cleveland is good shouldn’t be too surprising because of their starting pitching, but where they are compared to the rest of their division is incredible. Sure a lot of that can be attributed to the other teams underachieving, but Cleveland deserves a lot of credit for taking advantage and running with it.
Jeff Banister, last year’s winner and Texas Rangers manager, is probably second behind Francona. He currently has his team 8.5 games ahead of the Astros in his division and he’s done that with Yu Darvish only pitching 12 games thus far this year. However, Banister’s win last year can be looked at as an example for Girardi. He led last year’s Ranger team from a 42-47 record on July 17th to a 88-74 finish en route to winning the AL West.
The only other real contender for the award was Buck Showalter at one point. The Orioles were expected to finish towards the bottom of the division before the season started, but they actually were in first for a while. However, their lack of pitching has really caught up to them and they are now behind both the Blue Jays and the Red Sox in the division.
It’s pretty obvious that the Yankees won’t win the AL East, they’re currently 6.5 games behind Toronto, but if they do reach the playoffs Joe Girardi deserves some consideration. Outside of making the playoffs, Girardi virtually has no chance of leapfrogging over Francona or Banister but could still end up a finalist given that the rest of the competition isn’t so great. If they do make the playoffs though, Girardi could just win the award.
What do you think? Does Girardi deserve any consideration for Manager of the Year or would it only be a conversation if this team makes the playoffs?
*Statistics provided by Baseball Reference