There are currently four teams in Major League Baseball without a manager—the Red Sox, Nationals, Mets, and Phillies. At season’s end, Joe Girardi’s contract expires, meaning the Yankees could very well be the next team on that list. But regardless of whenever or however the Yankees’ season does finally end, Joe Girardi should be retained as manager of the Yankees. Despite criticism—justifiable or not—Girardi’s track record, managerial style, and the current job market make him the best man for the Yankees’ job.
Joe Girardi is about to finish his tenth season as Yankee manager, making him the third most-tenured manager in the league. Only Bruce Bochy of the Giants and Mike Scioscia of the Angels have spent more time with their respective clubs. Because of his tenure, Girardi has seen several different iterations of the Yankee roster, but none of them have ever finished below .500.
The 2013, 2014, and 2016 Yankees all should’ve been below .500, according to their Pythagorean win-loss record. Each year the Yankees had a negative run differential, but still, each team outperformed their expected records by seven wins, coincidentally. Measuring Girardi’s impact on their performance is certainly difficult, but one cannot ignore the fact three Yankee teams with very different rosters all outperformed expectations. Finding success with different rosters isn’t just confined to these years, either.
This season the Yankees made it to the ALCS for the fourth time since 2009, the most by any team in that time frame. It is also their first ALCS appearance since 2012. No team who has made multiple ALCS appearances since 2009 has gone that long between appearances. The Yankees only have 3 players on their roster that were also on the team in 2012: CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson.
Moreover, the 2012 and 2017 rosters are constructed in vastly different ways. The 2012 roster was the oldest in the Major Leagues, and no rookies saw meaningful playing time. Robinson Cano, at age 29, was the youngest everyday position player, and Ivan Nova, at age 25, was the youngest pitcher on the team.
The 2017 Yankees couldn’t be more different. Not only are the regulars much younger, but several prospects earned meaningful playing time over the course of the season. If it weren’t for the matching uniforms, the contrasts between the 2012 and 2017 rosters make them completely different teams. The fact that Joe Girardi has been able to find success with both teams is a testament to his skill not only as a manager of baseball players but a manager of personalities.
Girardi has taken some flak for his managerial tendencies, especially in the past few weeks, but quantitatively speaking, Girardi is one of the best in the league. Quantitative measurements of a manager’s effectiveness are rather new statistics extremely difficult to measure, but Girardi ranks among the best in many categories.
Managerial statistics predominately analyze bullpen management, lineup efficiency and replay challenge success. FanGraphs published managerial statistics from the 2016 season show that while Girardi tends to keep his relievers in defined roles, it seems to be of little-to-no consequence. The data also shows Girardi was one of the league’s best at insuring his best relievers pitched in the most high-leverage scenarios.
The FanGraphs article mentions that their bullpen management statistics “aren’t based on multiple years and regressed in the same way” as wRM+, another bullpen management stat. Baseball Prospectus did use wRM+ to measure managerial effectiveness, and it showed Girardi is actually the best in the league at bullpen management, not just one of the best.
The real-world implication of these statistics is really hammered home in Joshua Diemert’s article from earlier this week. In the last two years, Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter both lost big playoff games while their team’s best reliever sat unused in the bullpen. Joe Girardi would never fall into that mistake.
Girardi did not score very well in FanGraphs’ measurement of his lineup efficiency, but I’m hesitant to buy into this data because the numbers are only from 2016. The Yankees lineup this season is, thankfully, much different than it was last year. From my perspective, there were definitely some odd choices in the Yankee batting order at times this season. For example, Jacoby Ellsbury had 21 starts at cleanup or fifth this year, but I’ll hold off judgement until more up-to-date data is available.
In replay challenges, Girardi is again among the league’s best. The Yankees were third in total number of successful challenges with 30. Texas led the league with 33. The Yankees did lead the league in percentage of successful challenges. The Yankees had a 75% success rate, 5% better than the second-place Royals.
Obviously, Girardi missed the biggest challenge of the year in the second game of the ALDS. The criticism he took from that was warranted. But ultimately, the non-challenge didn’t change the outcome of the series, so it should factor into the decision to retain Girardi next year.
If Girardi’s performance alone isn’t enough to earn him another contract with the Yankees, then the lack of a better option should secure him an extension.
Dusty Baker is perhaps the most prominent name on the market right now after being fired from the Nationals. Baker seems to foster strong relationships with his players. However, Baker is more than a step behind Girardi in the deployment of analytics, and that shows up in the managerial statistics.
Alex Cora could be an entertaining option, if he weren’t all but committed to the Red Sox already. Cora is currently the bench coach of the Houston Astros, one of the most analytically-focused organizations in the MLB. Plus, he’s a former big leaguer and won a championship with the Red Sox in 2007. However, preliminary reports say that Cora will be named Red Sox manager once the Astros are eliminated from the playoffs.
The Tigers recently fired their manager, Brad Ausmus, but by no means should he be considered as a potential Yankee manager. Ausmus took over a very good Detroit Tigers team but struggled to foster good relationships with his players and the media after the departure of legendary manager, Jim Leyland. Ausmus would take over the Yankees under very similar circumstances. And if a guy struggled with the media in Detroit, I shudder to think how he might fare in the toughest market in the United States.
With that said, not every great manager is a hot pick when they first get hired. As Joe Sheehan pointed out yesterday, Joe Torre was 109 games under .500 when the Yankees first hired him, and we all know how that turned out. At the same time, Girardi has proven to be one of the best managers in Yankee history. As long as Girardi wants to continue managing, he is the best man for the Yankees job.