A baseball manager is an easy target. When his moves work, it’s easy to give credit to the players who made it work. When his moves don’t work, it’s easy to blame the decision and assume that a different choice would have led to a better result.
Is Derek Jeter’s strong second half a credit to Jeter, or a credit to Joe Girardi for sticking with him in the leadoff spot?
Is the Yankees division series loss because key hitters didn’t produce in key spots, or because Girardi didn’t pick the right hitters for those situations? Would anything have changed if Jesus Montero were given an at-bat in Game 5?
These are three of Girardi’s most questionable moves this year. Are the results that followed Girardi’s fault?
Given six viable starting pitchers at the end of July, the Yankees chose to keep all of them. There was constant talk of trimming to a five-man, but Ivan Nova pitched too well to be optioned, Phil Hughes showed signs of improvement, and Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon had workloads that were cause for concern.
The six-man might have kept Garcia effective, but it might also have limited CC Sabathai, who had a bad second half – by his standards – and is well known for his preference to stay on turn (for him, short rest seems preferable to extra rest).
The division series lineup
Let’s start this with my own admission that I happen to agree with Girardi on this point: Whatever postseason numbers suggest, I think it makes more sense to choose a lineup based on regular season results. The larger sample size gives a better indication of what a player’s capable of doing. To me, shaking up the lineup for Game 5, immediately after the team scored 10 runs in Game 4, would have been second guessed more than sticking with the regular batting order.
That said, Girardi’s lineup clearly didn’t work. The heart of the order started slow and stayed that way. Russell Martin had a bad series and was allowed to hit for himself in a big spot in the finale.
Oddly enough, the Girardi lineup decision that had me most puzzled in the division series was the decision to pinch hit Eric Chavez for Brett Gardner strictly because Girardi was hoping for a home run. At this point, I’m just not sure Chavez is legitimately a bigger home run threat than Gardner, and I think Gardner had a better chance of either driving a double to the gap or at least rolling the lineup over to the top of the order.
The significance of Robinson Cano
From beginning to end, last season was a fairly significant proof that Robinson Cano had developed into the Yankees best all-around hitter. He was an MVP candidate and a more dangerous hitter, despite the fact he was protecting Alex Rodriguez (not the other way around).
Unconvinced by one season – fair enough – Girardi kept his third, fourth and fifth hitters unchanged out of spring training, giving Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira well-earned time to reassert themselves. But that never happened. Rodriguez got off to a strong start, then got hurt. Teixeira hit for power, but never his for his usual average, especially not against right-handers.
It wasn’t until the last series of the season, when he had two full seasons of overwhelming evidence, that Girardi finally made the switch and moved Cano up to the No. 3 spot in the order, dropping Teixeira’s all-or-nothing bat into the fifth hole. As I said several times when the Yankees leadoff spot was being debated, I’m in the camp that does not believe the exact order of a lineup makes much of a difference, but the hesitance to move Cano spoke to a greater issue of Girardi’s slow-to-change approach.
Associated Press photos