Three cheers for Joe Girardi

The BBWAA will announce their selections for Manager of the Year later on this afternoon, which I guess means that it’s time for my annual rant about how inherently asinine this award is. Sure, in concept it makes sense to want to award the field general who had the best season, but in practice, the performance of a manager is such an ephemeral thing, at least in the positive direction, that voters have more or less abandoned any pretense of making an effort to objectively assess the question, instead opting to turn it into a de facto “surprise team of the year”* award instead. Which is fine by me, though maybe a touch demeaning to the organization who “wins,” but I wish we’d at least call it that and abandon the notion that we’re rewarding the manager for superior performance.

Consider the case of Buck Showlater, who’s probably the prohibitive favorite in the American League. What exactly is the case for him supposed to be? That the Orioles made the playoffs after 14 consecutive losing seasons? That everyone looked at the Orioles roster before the season and vastly underestimated what they were capable of? What does Showalter’s performance have to do with any of that? Where I’m sitting, it looks like most of what made Baltimore a surprise team should mostly be attributed to Dan Duquette’s machinations, or even to some additions made by previous general manager Andy MacPhail, while Showalter’s most notable managerial decision was slotting J.J. Hardy‘s .238/.282/.389 batting line into the second spot in the order every night. And don’t get me started on Robin Ventura, whose team pulled off the truly herculean feat of finishing second in their division, behind a disappointing preseason favorite and ahead of three 90 loss teams.

The most absurd element of the voting process of all, however, is the inescapable fact that the manager of the Yankees is deemed to be ineligible for the award. By any objective measure, Joe Girardi did a pretty impressive job this season in guiding his team to the league’s best record despite a huge number of injuries to key players, including losing five Opening Day starters for at least a month, plus being without Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda as well. Yes, yes, Girardi has the benefit of the game’s largest payroll to support him, but that’s a lazy dismissal that’s losing whatever salience it might have had to begin with. Take away the money allocated to Alex Rodriguez (an aging shell of his Hall of Fame peak), Mariano Rivera (out for the vast majority of the season), and Mark Teixeira (who’s on a steady decline at this point in his career and also dealt with his own ailments for much of the season), and what sort of payroll are you left with, To say nothing of C.C. Sabathia, who made two separate trips to the 15 day disabled list this season?

I’m not saying Girardi is clearly the cut-and-0dreid winner or anything, indeed I didn’t even vote for him in our own end of the season voting here, but to more or less completely ignore what he did this season is a total travesty. You don’t need to look any further than the vaunted Red Sox or the trendy presesaon pick Blue Jays to see the sort of havoc that injuries can wreak on a team’s performance, but the Yankees managed to not only avoid a total collapse in the face of losing guys like Pineda and Rivera, they finished the year with more wins than anyone else in the American League. That’s a testament to the kind of season guys like Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Hiroki Kuroda had, to be sure, but it also speaks to the work Girardi did in plugging the holes left behind, and massaging the bullpen into a strength despite having very little consistency outside of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson for all but the first month of the year. If the voters aren’t going to recognize that this year, then there’s no longer any question that it’s time to get rid of this award once and for all. E

*(Incidentally, has anyone else ever noticed the circular logic on display here? The media determines that a team like Baltimore or Oakland are awful before any games are played, and then when they do better than expected it’s chalked up to an amazing performance by their manager. The possibility that everyone was just wrong about their talent level in February/March is apparently not considered.)

9 thoughts on “Three cheers for Joe Girardi

  1. forged
  2. William Tasker

    I agree with your premise that there really is no way to properly evaluate the job a manager does and the voting has become all about the surprise teams. But I do think that Buck Showalter did have a positive effect on his team and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he won the award. But it will probably go to Oakland’s manager. I also agree that Girardi did a wonderful job (during the regular season).

  3. Steve

    $0.02 – your central point, namely that Girardi doesn't get enough credit for this season, is sound. But to sugges that everyone was simply "wrong" about how good/bad the Orioles and A's were before the season is a strawman.

    While the possibility exists that "everyone was just wrong about their talent level in February/March," the likelihood that this is the case is infinitesimal. The fact is, the Orioles, during the off-season, didn't project to play at the level they sustained throughout the season. As for the A's, half the guys on the team were a collection of "who?" only surpassed by the patchwork quilt of nobodies they ran out on the field in Seattle every night (King Felix excluded.)

    Buck Showalter's a heck of a manager, and I liked him back in 1995 when he was with the Yankees. He DOES deserve a chunk of credit for taking a 93-loss team and turning it into a 93-win team. He makes good calls with the lineup he's given, and knows how to use his bullpen effectively. Showalter's shown that at every single stop along the way. It's not a coincidence that he turns underperforming teams around.

    • BrienJackson

      I'll leave the A's aside for now, because that's something of a tougher nugget to crack, but as to the Orioles my biggest question to you would be this: who on their team significantly outplayed their realistic capabilities this year? Because I'm not seeing anyone who that's obviously true of. What I see is a team that got decent starting pitching, mostly from the underrated Jason Hammel and rookie Wei-Yin Chen, had an outstanding bullpen, and hit a lot of home runs. As it happened they turned that into a lot of wins, which is surprising based on what we thought they'd do, but not terribly hard to explain in hindsight.

      • Steve

        I'd argue that rookies who performed above expectation (Flaherty and Machado) played a big role.

        The issue isn't "explaining in hindsight" here, that's easy. You're arguing that, because it's easy to explain in hindsight, EVERYONE should have known better beforehand. That's a strawman; it's logically unsupportable because you're presupposing your endpoint based on information (hey, the O's are pretty damn good) which was unavailable at the time the decision (that the Orioles would be middle-tier at best) was made. More's the point: without their bullpen, the Orioles WERE downright mediocre. They scored SEVEN more runs than they allowed, and finished with 93 wins, with positively pedestrian numbers across the board…except the back end of the bullpen. Which, led by Jim Johnson (WHO???) was outstanding.

        So when you put it all together, the Orioles' season was nothing short of a magic trick. They won a ton of games, but their numbers suggest a .500 team was what we should have seen. Is that all Showalter? Of course not. That's silly. But to discount the manager completely is just as silly.

        • Serious question: why should expectations matter at all, much less more than the actual games? At the end of the day, they’re nothing but a parlor game we all play in March after all. To go the other way with it: did Boston and Philadelphia get trophies for being the World Series favorites before the 2011 season?

          • Steve

            I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer a question so integral to the human experience, even in the limited context of baseball games…but that being said, we like to think we know stuff and have others in our peer group acknowledge our superior intellect. (tongue firmly in cheek)

            More to the point, I think establishing reasonable expectations for — say, the Orioles — allows us to determine the likely results of the season. We presume the Yanks will challenge for the division lead, with Boston and Tampa Bay. When we're wrong about those presumptions we either enjoy the change, or we bemoan it because it creates new variables we haven't accounted for, like those pesky birds from Baltimore.

            With the O's, we start with "ah, they're playing over their heads right now." We assume everyone regresses, that no team can keep up the magic. Usually, we're right. Sometimes, as here, we're wrong and the models and prognostications and the damn numbers being put up every single day scream at us there's no way this can be sustained!…and yet they keep it up. It defies description.

          • Steve

            (continued)
            When that happens, we struggle to figure out how it happens. A team with mediocre numbers offensive numbers and similarly middle-of-the-road defensive numbers SHOULDN'T win 93! games. The proper response is not to say "ah, we should have known these guys were better than advertised" because the fact is…THEY WEREN'T! They were EXACTLY as advertised. It's utterly amazing they won 93 games (or even 80 games, to be honest.)

            Expectations matter because they provide a framework for understanding events. And when events explode that framework in this fashion, I believe the proper response is to respect the magic, and remember that this is precisely why we love this game.

    • BrienJackson

      Also too, is there a ton of evidence that this:

      "It's not a coincidence that he turns underperforming teams around. "

      is even true where Baltimore is concerned? As far as I can tell, the Orioles have two position players in Jones and Wieters coming into their own as the best players on the team, and other than that most of the Orioles' starters are guys who weren't there when Showalter took over. I just don't see a ton of evidence that Showalter is magically making the same group of players better, and Matusz and Arrieta in particular (long the focus of obsession locally) have made basically no gains at all since he's been there.

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