Thoughts on Joe Girardi

As far as I can tell, there is no statistical way to quantify a manager’s affect on wins and losses. Some say that managers have no bearing, that only performance by the players leads to victories and losses. Others lay of lot of credit to the guy that makes out the lineup card, makes pitching changes and is somewhat responsible for the way the team is run. It seems that most managers that have managed a long time have those value decisions made for them. But what do you go by? Many times, a manager’s overall record over time is considered. But again, a guy could get four jobs managing really bad teams. Does that make him a lousy manager? Joe Girardi has an overall managerial record of .570 and is .591 with the Yankees. That’s impressive. But how much credit can you give him?

I have often wondered if the Pythagorean won-loss record is any indication of a manager’s ability. This measurement looks at a team’s run differential and predicts what the team’s won-loss record should have been with that differential. During the mid-2000′s the Angels consistently outperformed their Pythagorean record. Did that make Mike Scioscia a genius? Is he a dope now that his team is struggling? In 2009, the Yankees beat their Pythagorean win-loss projection by eight wins. But they have been underneath that metric for every other season Girardi has managed the club. He is +2 for his career. Does that mean he managed great in 2009 and not any other season? I don’t think we can make that statement. So that doesn’t really work either.

Therefore, thoughts on the manager become subjective. Does he call a good game? Does he make the correct lineups? Is he less than others from a strategy standpoint? The answers become subjective. Intentionally walking a batter in the first inning flies in the face of statistical logic culled from many months of study. Yet he does that sometimes. Does that make him a stupid manager? Playing Eduardo Nunez in the field leads to defensive problems. Do we fault Girardi? Make no mistake, he gets called out for such things by Yankee fans and writers alike. But again, do such decisions make him a bad manager?

Ron Washington, the manager of the Texas Rangers is wildly criticized for his in-game decisions. The guy has taken his team to the World Series for two straight seasons. Does that make him a dolt that the team wins in spite of or does he get any credit for the team’s results? Make the argument. Show me your facts. Joe Maddon has taken the mantle of genius from Tony La Russa. Some of the things he does fails. Tony La Russa brought the wrong pitcher into a post season game last season. Oops. But his team won it all.

So, without any statistical nuggets to support such theories, any thoughts I have on the guy are subjective. Personally, I like him as the Yankees’ manager. From my subjective thinking, he seems to handle the bullpen extremely efficiently. From my perspective, he really seems to care about his players and is good with communicating with them. There is Mark Teixeira saying he’s never played for a better manager. And Teixeira has played for Bobby Cox and Mike Scioscia. But then again, Teixeira has not performed as well in recent years. So what do you make of all of that?

There hasn’t been a report of a single player angry at Joe Girardi. You cannot even say that of the great (at least to the subjective me) Joe Torre who was criticized by several of his ex-players. His events during Spring Training to build team camaraderie are now legendary. He seems to handle the media calmly and intuitively. He never throws his players under the bus in such events. His body language in the dugout is good. Compare that to Jerry Manuel during his tenure with the Mets when it always appeared that the sky was falling. Does all that make him a good manager? To the subjective me, well, yes. Does he always make the right calls during the game? Well, no.

These thoughts do not appear to be going anywhere. Perhaps, again, that is because there are no empirical ways to judge a manager that are satisfying. I can’t think of another manager out there that I would rather have for the Yankees than Girardi. Does that mean I won’t criticize his moves at times? No. But even those events have to be taken in context whenever possible. We can blame him for putting Raul Ibanez in the outfield, but when your bench is limited and you have two regular outfielders missing, what are you going to do?

The bottom line for me from a totally subjective point of view is positive for Joe Girardi. I like him. I like him a lot. Will he take the team to World Series win Number 28? That will be up to his players and luck in the post season if they get that far.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Joe Girardi

  1. BrienJackson

    Counterpoint: I hate him.

    • williamjtasker

      I knew that was coming. :)

      • David

        Didn't make it any less funny though! :D

    • David Reyes

      Smart man

  2. roadrider

    I dislike Girardi – as a manager, that is. I have no idea what kind of person he is. My personal view of baseball managers, and I go back to Ralph Houk in the early sixties, is that most of them do more harm than good and the "best" ones are the ones that manage least (and by manage, I mean only the on-field stuff – I have no knowledge of the clubhouse or off-field stuff which, I will concede, is not unimportant).

    Girardi, to me, seems like a compulsive over manager who makes poorly considered decisions based on a combination of an amateurish understanding of statistics and slavish devotion to conventional baseball wisdom. He has the advantage of managing a very good team whose collective talent usually overcomes his meddling in the long run.

    Will he take the team to World Series win Number 28? That will be up to his players and luck in the post season if they get that far.

    This is a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. Girardi's contributions will be at best irrelevant and/or insignificant and at worst detrimental to the overall outcome of the season in comparison to the performance of the players and uncontrollable factors such as luck.

    I'm sure there will be more than commenter bringing up the fact that the Yankees won the 2009 World Series with Girardi at the helm. Well, yes but how much credit does he deserve? After all, some really clueless managers, like Bob Brenly, have won World Series (rather, he was there when Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling won the World Series for the Diamondbacks) and other equally clueless ones like Ron Washington have come very close.

    So I guess that puts me in the anti-Girardi camp but I'm not really convinced that he's that much worse than anyone else who would conceivably get the job so I don't really obsess over it.

    • williamjtasker

      Excellent comments and counterpoints, Road.

      • roadrider

        Thank you! Your posts are always thought provoking.

    • Ralph

      This. Girardi is simply clueless as a manager. Mr. Overthinker

  3. David

    I, too, have always liked Girardi from catching to now. Even the pulling over and helping the woman on the side of the road story, post-WS, didn't even make me blink — more of an "of COURSE he did that, he's Joe Girardi!" (Imagine that in the "I'm Keith Hernandez" voice).

    I also agree that his clubhouse and player handling seems exemplary. And, really, I think that's the key. In THIS city, with THIS press — you need someone who can handle the pressure/players/press/etc. first and a great in-game tactician second. And I think that the front-office realizes that and will use that as a criteria for managerial hires going forward. So, to me, I thank my lucky stars we have Girardi who is, in my estimation, a "league average" tactician and an above-average NY Press Wrangler. ;)

  4. Professor Longnose

    Have you read Bill James’ book on managers? One of the interesting ways James tries to rate managers is to devise a predictor of how many games a team should win, based on a number of considerations, including how many games it won in previous years, and then see if some managers consistently beat those expectation. Quite interesting, as is the whole book, which chews over a number of different managerial things.

    I’ve never been in the camp that says manager’s have no effect, or can only screw things up. I think these days, with long-term contracts, and high salaries, managers can do less than they used to, and a much greater part of their job is morale rather than strategy. But I think managers can potentially do a lot. They can play players when and where they are most likely to succeed. They have influence on who stays and who goes. And they can manipulate the leverage–who gets to hit or pitch in high- or low-leverage situations. Plus the morale and the strategy.

    On Giradi I have mixed feelings. I do not like the way he approaches PR at all. I get offended by his lying, So much of what he says isn’t true, and is obviously not true. That, however, has nothing to do with how good a manager he is. It just makes me change the TV or radio dial when he comes on.

    I do think that, compared with Torre, he keeps his relief pitchers fresh. That sometimes means sacrificing some leverage, but it seems to work over the course of the season.

    Strategically, I don’t think he’s very good. Too many bunts, too much sticking with the overall plan even when the moment might suggest changing things a bit. On the other hand, these kinds of things get done much less frequently these days than they used to, and probably the average MLB manager is no better a strategist than Girardi. Offhand, other than maybe Scioscia, there isn’t anyone else I’d be excited to see take over the Yankees.

    • Joe Roast

      What are some examples of lies Girardi has told? Admittedly, I'm not a post game press conference devotee, I just read the snippets online, so I'm genuinely curious.

      I think the biggest problem we face when trying to evaluate managers is that we see very little of what they actually do. Fill out the lineup card, a couple pitching changes, defensive shifts and maybe a pinch hitter… and then get judged on the results rather than the process. Don't get me wrong, I could do without the sac bunts, but the overall impact of these tactical decisions is pretty small in the grand scheme of things.

      I believe that the managing of the personalities in the clubhouse (the players are people, not stat-producing machines), the front office and the media (especially in NYC) are much more crucial to success than anything we see on the field. Just ask Bobby Valentine.

  5. Fred

    I see Girardi as a mad scientist. Does he over manage? Absolutely. Look at tonight's (err Yesterday's) game. He used 3 pitchers for 3 outs in the 8th. Was that necessary? Probably not. But they went 1-2-3 and ultimately we won the game. In the first inning of the first game of the season he intentionally walked to get to Pena, who hit a grand slam off CC. Would we have won the game if he did differently? He's hit and miss on these decisions, but I do think some of the crazy moves end up helping us. As you said though, it is impossible to determine which moves were successful/unsuccessful based on the manager and which were because of the player.

    Off the field I think he's close to perfect. Comfortable and friendly, but not under the thumb of the media. Those comments by a guy like Teixeira mean a lot to me, I think one of the ways a manager can most directly affect player performance is by keeping them happy, but again, without being a pushover. He's done all of that, as far as I can see.

    Ultimately though, I think baseball is the sport where the manager has the least impact of the big 4 sports in this country. Its a game where the general manager is infinitely more important. Mostly, in my eyes, because there isn't as much direct teamwork, especially on the offensive side of the ball. In football/hockey/basketball the coach has an instrumental role in designing the plays that lead to scoring. The lineup in baseball does not equate to that level of "control" if you will, at least not to me. I think that's why highly talented teams can get away with a "bad" manager like Washington on the Rangers, and why "good" managers may not be able to take less talented teams to the top as immediately.

  6. michael

    Roadrider is spot on. I think a basic way to quantify managing would be to total the number of IBB and sac bunts called for. Yes, a very select few will come at a time when it doesn't decrease the win expectancy, but they will be negligible compared to the vast number of calls that do decrease win expectancy.

    Less rigorously, we may evaluate his pitching changes and pinch hitting which tends not to be sound, often relying on 15 PA matchups. The one major flaw that a manager has in ruing arms and organizational talent he avoids. All the pitchers are kept fresh, and young often players get playing time. The lineup order, given the surplus of bats, isn't much to do. I love that he puts Jeter-Swisher 1-2 vs LHP.

  7. tochudores

    :->)

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