Why I Defend Joe Girardi

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I frequently defend the decisions made by Joe Girardi. In fact, it has reached the point where some seem to regard me as the resident protector of the Yankee skipper, and send me emails and tweets whenever they encounter some angry criticism of him in order to goad me into a response (This often succeeds). I think I need to take a paragraph or two to clarify where I stand on Joe and on criticizing managerial decisions in general.

The internet provides a fantastic forum for the discussion of baseball. It has fostered tremendous growth in the knowledge and understanding of the common fan, and is clearly an overwhelmingly positive development in terms of growing the sport. That said, one problem that it has caused is that it has lead to the growth of a “smartest guys in the room” syndrome amongst intelligent fans. We assume that we have perfect information, and then speak without equivocation where ambiguity exists. Although there may be a range of reasonable decisions, we glom onto one as the “right” one, and any decision-maker who disagrees is deemed “wrong” and, too often, incompetent.

This brings me to managing. We throw around big words like leverage and run expectancy, assume that we know everything that factors into a decision, and then reach a black and white conclusion. Twitter, in particular, leads to this sort of analysis, because the 140 characters we are afforded leave little room for shades of grey. But strategic moments in a game can often be dealt with using a variety of “correct” solutions, something that gets lost when we deal in the absolutes of right and wrong.

Whether we like it or not, the manager does have more information than us, in terms of being able to interact with his players during the game, knowing how they are feeling, and knowing what they are comfortable doing. The manager has coaches who can provide him with real time scouting, such as “Pitcher A’s arm slot is dropping,” so that he can make decisions based on more than pure results, which are often illusory. He also is more likely to be considering the long-term ramifications of a decision, whereas we sometimes get caught up in the heat of the moment. This does not mean that the manager is necessarily right, but it does suggest that he might, from time to time, have justifications for a decision that seems to be a mistake on its face.

Just to provide an illustration, consider a situation where one decision leads to a change of .50 in run expectancy, and the alternative leads to a .35 change, it might be fair to assume that picking the latter path is within the range of acceptability that the manager’s informational advantage provides. Too often, we lock onto one decision as being the right one and neglect to consider the possible explanations and rationales that might make the manager’s decision a reasonable one.

Which leads me to Girardi. I think he is an adequate in-game strategist, about average amongst MLB managers. But the amount of vitriol that he faces practically every time he makes a move is well out of line with the quality of his decision-making. I frequently hear words such as unacceptable and indefensible regarding decisions that are neither of those things, that are in fact nestled comfortably on the spectrum of acceptable moves. Would I make the same moves? Often not, but that is besides the point. I defend those decisions because although I disagree with them, I understand them and recognize that they are usually backed by reason and sound strategic thinking. To rip decisions that are within reason simply because the manager does not share your subjective philosophies about certain elements of the game is folly. Hopefully, we can all set aside our collective belief that we almost always know better than the manager and give credence to reasonable ideas that do not perfectly conform to our own.
 

37 thoughts on “Why I Defend Joe Girardi

  1. Good stuff Moshe. I definitely agree with a number of your points. I find myself consistently frustrated with the reactionary vitriol of dozens of armchair managers (especially on Twitter), when in reality there is a lot of gray area involved in these decisions. Girardi doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight like we all do. Is he a perfect manager? No. Is he better than most managers? I think so. There are definitely externalities that we as fans may not be aware of, and I think a little humility on our part could contribute to a more intelligent discourse. Of course it’s cool to think you’re smarter than the manager and rip him for things that you would have done differently, but that discussion is often counterproductive (and I reserve the right to make Captain Hindsight references when you do).

  2. Mo, I absolutely loved every word of this piece. For the folks who think Girardi is an idiot for not doing what they thought was clearly and obviously the right move during a ballgame, I have a suggestion. Do YOURSELF a favor. Instead of making an ass of yourself for all to see online, watch the post game. The Yanks have lots of fine beat reporters who will bring up most of the questionable moves, and Girardi will explain his thought process. Agree or not, you can’t make an intelligent criticism until you first have his side of the story.

    I can’t tell you how many times I thought he was dead wrong, heard his reasoning and found his take to be much more advanced, much more mature, and much more comprehensive than whatever I was bitching about. Eventually, I learned to trust Joe and understood why they hired him. If you were running a team, you’d have trouble finding anyone smarter, more well organized and more qualified to run your team. The contrast between him and Torre (who I thought was asleep at the wheel and fatalistic about coaching players) is stark, to say the least.

  3. Did you like the 3 man rotation in the 2009 playoffs? Everyone first guessed him, said it was stupid, and all he did was win the World Series.

    He was also roundly criticized for “overmanaging” with his bullpen moves in 09, and his bullpen outperformed all others by the end of the playoffs.

    Have you noticed that relievers arms aren’t falling off like they did under Torre? That’s not an accident, its by design.

    That’s 3.

  4. Let me make another point, a particular pet peeve I have about run expectancy. Those numbers are applicable in a broad sense, but not always in specific instances.

    Lets use the bunt play. In a given situation, you may hear people say the bunt reduced run expectancy from 1.58 to 1.01 that inning. But what if you have a big, lumbering pitcher on the mound who is poor at fielding his position? Maybe you have a poor fielding 1B as well as the pitcher, and a speedy batter with poor numbers facing that pitcher. Where was the 3B playing? Was he playing very deep and the bunt was an attempt to exploit what the defense was giving you?

    Some people just mindlessly read a number out of Tom Tango’s book and think that makes them smarter than everyone else. Yet if you read Tango’s website, he’d be the first to disagree with you for being overly simplistic and too broad with your conclusions.

    It’s good to know the overall numbers, that’s why you don’t bunt on every play. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have applications when employed judiciously.

  5. Just name me 1 really good move he’s ever made. All the bunts. All the crappy pitching decisions. The bad lineups. And I’ve never watched a game and after said ‘wow what a great job Girardi did’.

  6. I want to take personal responsibility for this post, you’re welcome Moshe.

    No but seriously, well said. A lot of this stuff is more black and white than we would care to admit, I wholeheartedly agree. It works both ways though as you said and I think often times decisions are not RIGHT vs WRONG they’re just option A vs option B and they can unfold any number of ways. There is almost always a counter point to any decision made on the field. It’s great to keep the next 5 days in mind when managing but it’s all opportunity cost- should you use Shit Pitcher B in order to save Excellent Pitcher A for later and lose the game? This is a tight division, how many games can you afford to give away like that? I don’t see any definitively right or definitively wrong answer to that question.

    The smartest guy in the room syndrome is definitely a factor on twitter but that also works both ways. I think it’s good to keep in mind you’re not omniscient either and sometimes just respectfully disagree with people who are just venting on the issue. I generally don’t think every decision has to devolve into a pissing contest of who knows best on run expectancy charts and platoon splits. Maybe it would be good to keep above the muck sometimes on that. Playing the constant Devils Advocate doesn’t make for a very fun game discussion, at all.

    Honestly though I feel your pain on this. Decisions that don’t work out do not mean they were the wrong decisions. People forget that. The back and forth though between the pro and con Girardi people is fucking exhausting. Luckily I adhere to a pretty strict in game drug and alcohol regiment to make twitter bearable during these moments. Maybe both sides could be a little more aware they’re being dicks and just try and enjoy the game a bit. Responding to every single little thing on twitter doesn’t seem like a productive exercise to me either way, especially when it’s just defending or assaulting opinions unlikely to change regardless.

    Let’s all just relax, enjoy the game and admit we have no idea what we’re talking about. Especially Matt Imbrogno.

  7. I couldn’t have said it better myself Mo, loved the peice!

    Most of the people who go overboard in their criticism of Joe would do the same with any manager we ever hire, there just seems to be a large group who love to focus on the negative. Often times skipping over the positive to get as fast as possible to said negative.

    Once again very well written!

  8. Against lefties I like Derek DH’ing, who else is going to? With Posada incapable of garnering a hit off of lefties, and Gardner suffering from a lefty on lefty matchup there really isn’t anyone else to put in that spot.

  9. OK, I’m going to disagree. *We really don’t have a better RH hitter than Jeter (or Posada) to DH when Derek’s getting a day off from SS? We have a better lead-off option than DJ, too.
    He’s costing us outs with silly base-running tricks and even had Granderson bunting a few weeks ago. He also keeps asking guys that can’t bunt to do so (Martin for one).
    He didn’t do the small-ball stuff nearly as much prior to this year, and DHing DJ whenever he isn’t at SS is right out of Torre’s mgr guide.
    I agree that criticizing every move is ridiculous, but I’m not convinced acting like he’s having a great year managing isn’t almost as wrong.
    *Cashman has deferred to his manager on almost every roster move since he got the job. Girardi could have a better option for DH than Posada and Jeter.

  10. Im fine arguing whether he’s had a good year. That’s a valid discussion. But there are plenty of people who rip every move, often being flabergasted at rational moves. Even that Granderson bunt, assuming we all knew Tex would be walked, actually raised run expectancy. But the people who use RE seem to only use it when convenient (I wouldn’t have bunted Grandy, but it was far from nuts, which is the reaction it got).

  11. I reject all of your arguments. Just for the fun of it.

    First, stop hanging around Twitter during the games, and hang around here. There are plenty of characters available (and a couple of characters who hang around the game thread, too).

    Second, Twitter doesn’t speak for everyone. Just because you run into people on Twitter being nuts doesn’t really have anything to do with the general arguments. You don’t have to take it upon yourself to make Twitter safe for rational argument. Have your say, and maybe you can raise the general level of argument eventually. Your arguments don’t have to degenerate into assessments of other peoples’ emotions just becuase they’re there.

    Third, my pet peeve: LEAVE THE FANS ALONE! They invest themselves emotionally in their teams, and that’s why they’re fans. If they want to gripe intelligently, that’s their right. If they want to gripe ignorantly, that’s their right, too. Not everyone has to be sabermetrically acute to be a fan. If people want to criticize Griardi’s moves because it makes them fell better to, it’s not a huge societal problem. Take it for the data it is: a part of the fan base is unhappy with not winning. It’s not exactly headline news, but that’s what it is. Really, it’s fun saying stuff stuff that akes no sense, like “Jeez, this guy couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag with a razor blade!” Try it. It really is a gas.

    Fourth, the whole sabermetric thing started when someone (take a bow, Mr. James) noticed that the info that professionals were generating and using wasn’t always correct. It’s perfectly fine to point out that some play is a bad on-field move, and then to wonder if there’s other info, and whether it may be right. Being quiet because, heck, someone down on the field might know what’s happening is not going to advance the debate. Sometimes, the professionals are wrong.

    Fifth, making players comfortable with your plan is part of managing; these days, maybe most of it. Some managers do it better than others, and managers are responsible for a lot of what goes on. If ballplayers can’t handle a particular plan, it’s certainly fair to point out that maybe another manager could put it through, a GM might make some changes to get it put through.

    Sixth, Girardi may be an average on-field strategist. I personally think that on-field strategy in the majors is pretty low. Some of it is unavoidable; it’s different economic structure to the game, and on-field strategy has taken a back seat. I have to accept that, but I don’t have to like it. I can still point out where things might be strategically more sound, even if baseball isn’t going to be played that way any time soon.

    So, to recap:

    BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

    P.S. On people being arrogant online, well, there you have me. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t just shut up and listen to me, but they don’t.

  12. I am really sick of all the Girardi and Cashman lovers. Both of these guys have to go. I wanted Girardi to replace Torre based on the aggressive manager that he was in Florida, not the by the book conservative, station to station, boring manager he is now.

    I hate any manager who will give up one of his last three outs when he is down by a run. It is something you just do not do unless the lead off guy stole second and you want to move him to third with one out.

    Cashman and Giradi for all the resources they have to work with are horrible. Our so called great farm system is all hype by the media buddies of Cashman to try to get him an extension. We have to stop drafting number one and two draft picks who we know need “Tommy John” surgury. You draft those guys in the 15th round.

    Please guys, stop defending these two losers.

  13. Honestly, Girardi is a fine manager. The manager position in the AL is one that not that crucial to the outcome of a game. The National league requires more strategy involving small moves such as bunting, hit and runs, etc… I actually don’t mind the bunt that much but he does do it a little too much… For an offense with as much home run power as ours we really shouldn’t be in the business of giving away outs. I love his bullpen usage, such an upgrade over Torre… I also think the players have all come to respect him which is huge. I mean the guy’s track record speaks for itself. I also agree that Girardi has a basis for every move he makes, whether its matchups, hot streaks, or track records he always has a reason for making a certain decision. IMO he is a top 5 manager in baseball…

    However, what we also tend to forget is that Girardi doesn’t really run this team. Brian Cashman runs the team with the occasional butt in by Randy Levine. The concept of managers running the ball clubs is fading. The GM’s are running the teams now and that is why guys like Torre and Piniella, among others, are not getting manager jobs anymore. Girardi is a button pusher and I think he is a good button pusher.

  14. The Mike Mussina way

    After the 27th flag
    How nice if the core four
    Had bowed out
    With nothing but acclaim
    But that isn’t reality
    Andy did now making it the core three
    And now it gets dicey
    Posada has a freak out
    Jeter is no Pete Rose
    As he limps toward 3000
    And bats at the top of
    The order with a horrific OBP
    For a lead off hitter
    Only Mariano with his
    Special relationship
    Continues to dominate
    While Mike wistfully looks on

  15. Yep. Exactly. Saber types are in danger of creating a holier than thou echo chamber. I consider myself in the david cone spectrum; like saber, not wedded SOLEY to every untestable new idea. People need to realize there are multiple ways to solve a problem and disparaging the use of hunches at all times is just as bad as using, nothing but. Girardi seems pretty middle of the road. He has the binder, he clearly knows and uses v advanced strategy but he isnt completely absorbed with it. Other wise wed simply have a ego coach supplemented by a computer running simulations

  16. “We assume that we have perfect information, and then speak without equivocation where ambiguity exists”. Moshe that is the finest statement that I’ve ever seen in baseball print. Bravo! I think that everyone that thinks that baseball is a game that is played by points on a graph should really reflect on that idea. Personally, I think that Girardi is a too stiff with his managing style. I would like to see him try the occasional suicide or safety squeeze, maybe even a straight steal of home. The idea, for me at least, is that the other managers would have to account for the possibility of this type of a play, and would have to align their defense accordingly. Like-wise, I’m not big on all this hit and running. Earl Weaver was a believer in the run and hit philosophy. It allows the base-runner to do his thing, and the hitter to worry about hitting. I’ll also give kudos for Girardi using the whole squad, basically keeping guys sharp, and managing for the season, as compared to being over-worried about one game. If you, and many of your readers have not read “Weaver on Strategy” by Earl Weaver & Terry Pluto. It was released in 1984 and re-released under a slightly different tittle, Weaver was way ahead of his time. I think, (and I have read many dozens of baseball books over the years) that this book can teach anyone about baseball and explains the game in such a way that even neophytes are quickly brought up to speed (and hooked on baseball!). Again, thanks for a very incisive article.

  17. Giardi obviously reads this blog, and pays attention to the readers (not to mention the most esteemed Moshe’s)comments. Case in point, on 5/29 I was complaining that Giardi lacked imagination and needed to try the occasional straight steal of home, or a safety squeeze. On 5/31 Tex steals home! I deserve a cannoli.