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Girardi and the young arms

Steven Goldman takes a look back at Joe Girardi's time in Florida
11/02/2007 3:19 PM ET
By Steven Goldman / YESNetwork.com
MAYBE IT'S JUST THAT DON MATTINGLY WAS TOO LAID BACK
As Bill James observed, teams oscillate between high-tension and low-tension managers. Buck Showalter was a high-tension personality. Joe Torre was comparatively laid back. Judging by many of Joe Girardi's Showalterish responses during yesterday's media blitz, he leans more to the Showalter than the Torre side of things.

Anecdotes from his Florida stay seem to bear out the theory that the Yankees, consciously or not, choose the heavier managerial hand this time around. Dissatisfied when rookie pitcher Scott Olsen acted out after being removed from a game, Girardi grabbed him by the collar in the dugout. Contrast this with rookie manager Joe Torre's response when freshman outfielders Lee Mazzilli and Steve Henderson's outfield collision cost the Mets a game in 1977. Would Torre chew them out? Heck no. "It's all new to them," he said. "You don't want to ruin them over one mistake." Ruben Sierra aside, the man just didn't allow himself to go off, and with Sierra you get the sense that he was more perplexed than angry.

If the Yankees are truly going to aim for a younger roster in the coming seasons, perhaps a coach who holds a tight leash is what they need. That said, as Showalter has shown repeatedly, there's a high burnout factor with this kind of managerial personality. Success, of course, is the great insulator, so tolerance for the super-rigid and wins correlate closely.

Girardi's reticence about Florida seems to be an example of his idea of control-he's mastered the story by refusing to feed it, even at the risk of letting attacks on his abilities go unanswered. It's not a bad tactic, and one you wish that Alex Rodriguez and the odd politician had taken back in the day. Still, his lack of response to questions about the Josh Johnson rain delay incident are highly troubling because the Yankees are hiring him to show good judgment about young pitchers and his handling of Johnson is an example of Girardi showing anything but good judgment. When asked, Girardi responds as if the question is another attempt to get him to expound on his relationship with the Marlins front office and ownership, but in fact it has nothing to do with that and everything to do with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and the rest. Until Girardi explains just what the heck he was thinking, and disavows whatever that thinking was, it's hard to assume that he's not going to destroy a young arm because allowing him to throw 150 pitches in a blizzard seemed like a good idea at the time.

We can assume that Brian Cashman has asked him about Johnson and received an explanation that satisfied him. It's hard to imagine what that explanation would have been. Perhaps it was something like, "My bad, sorry. Won't happen again." What else could he say? "I took the wrong medicine that morning and thought I was looking at Iron Man McGinnity"?

TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
TO THE 2008 RAMPARTS WITH JOE GIRARDI AND HARRY POTTER
Mr. Goldman, I was wondering what your view was as I can't understand the 'Yankees are doomed next year' attitude that is everywhere at the moment. The way I see it, the difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox this year ended up being minimal: pitcher hamstrings in April/May and the difference between having a 5-game series or 7 game one in October, the Red Sox also went down 1-3 to Cleveland but just had a chance to come back that the Yankees never had. During the international broadcast of the World Series the commentators said the Red Sox wouldn't swap any of their players with the Rockies position for position. Questionable but it got me thinking the Yankees would only really take 2 position players and Beckett from Boston (1st and DH definitely, LF you might however Manny is a good hitter but a grade A fool. I can't imagine his HR posturing sitting well on the Yankees), the rest are pretty equal or a Yanks advantage, both have good closers, Joba matches Okajima and Boston had their own Farnsworthian arsonist in Gagne.

The Yankees were the best team in baseball from June onwards and providing Pettitte, Posada and Rivera are back, won't be tremendously worse. A-Rod might have left but with a decent (not necessarily great) replacement and a decent 1st baseman, they should still be strong offensively and the pitching can only improve from the 2007 indignity of having Pavano as the opening day starter. Wang and Pettitte will be joined by a full season of (an improving) Hughes and a mix of Chamberlain, Kennedy and Mussina would round out a pretty good staff, barring trades, with some talent in the minors capable of spot starting here and there. The bullpen is the cheapest place to improve (and maybe the area they will be sure to target, on this note any idea on the plans for Humberto Sanchez, might he be a bullpen option?)Managers have little real control over games providing they are not completely incompetent and in fact Girardi may actually get the Yanks a couple more wins with better bullpen use (Hopefully we may be spared Farnsworth appearances with a lead smaller than 4 runs) Sorry for the long email but it's been frustrating me, I'm actually really looking forward to watching the team in 2008 (and beyond) and think the Yanks will be competitive and a lot better than people think. Am I just ridiculously optimistic or are people writing the Yanks off prematurely?

Anyway, thank you for your time and keep up your work on the blog/bible (By the way where is your Harry Potter 7 review?! It was definitely my favourite of the series, and you could tell Rowling had been itching to write this one.) I hope all goes well with the eye operation and that you get no further complications.
All the best, Kerry

Thanks, Kerry. I think I mentioned once before that by the time I was ready to write my review on Potter 7 my take would have been pretty redundant, it not being too different from most of the critical readings. I enjoyed the book, but after the big action opener, Rowling completely deadened the pacing for what seemed like (and probably was, if I went to check) hundreds of pages, as the kids go on the camping trip from hell. The Harry-Ron conflict in that section seemed contrived just to break up the monotonous sameness of the plot, and I didn't buy the chaste Harry-Hermione interaction during that section either, having myself been a teenager left alone with a member of the opposite sex. At an age where hormones have great sway, quite often things happen regardless of what seemed to be immutable boundaries beforehand, and as anyone who has ever had a workplace romance or infatuation will tell you, tension and a common sense of mission will often make bedfellows of people who would have little reason to be attracted to each other had they met outside of the workplace.

I think what Rowling as after in that section was the sort of tension that you get in a story like "The Most Dangerous Game" or "North by Northwest," where the protagonists are fleeing an unknowable, implacable foe, but she failed to achieve that effect. The rest of it (SPOILERS) moves along pretty well. Rowling first undermines the heroism of the Harry Potter character by revealing the extent to which he's been manipulated by Dumbledore, then builds him back up again by having him make the ultimate sacrifice. My favorite aspect of all of this, is the book's subversive lesson. It's not that Dumbledore is gay, but that Dumbledore is massively flawed, often misguided, occasionally inept, and not nearly the sagacious, kindly, all-knowing, flawless father/grandfather figure he's been built up to be. If you want a lesson to teach your children, this is the one: all our heroes have feet of clay. Doesn't make them any less heroic for that, but more heroic. A flawless man, if one ever existed, is heroic by reflex, in the same way that he puts on his pants. All the others must overcome their own demons before they can do battle with anyone else's. That is true heroism.

As for the novel's much-derided last chapter, it's a happy lie, and it says something about how well Rowling has taught us to be a bit suspicious of such things that it is so obviously false.

Your comparison with Boston isn't unfair. It shows how small the difference is between an also-ran and a champion, something like five percent more talent and three percent more luck. We should admit, though, that in the context of the Yankees' strengths and weaknesses this year that Josh Beckett by himself constitutes a major difference between the clubs. The Yankees haven't had that kind of put-'em-away starter in years.

As to 2008, they're not doomed unless they make a spectacular series of mistakes this winter, including losing Posada, failing to make up for some of A-Rod's lost production at first base, and not adding at least two relievers, deciding to keep Joba in the pen, or reversing course and signing Carlos Silva, they should be competitive. Of course, anything could happen-maybe 600 innings of Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Maybe some of the vets continue to age in a bad way-Jeter's legs look as sluggish in April as they did in September. Hideki Matsui loses another step in the outfield. Johnny Damon is up and down again. You can conjure up all kinds of scenarios. Until we see how the free agent/trading season shakes out, we're just speculating. CLICK HERE TO COMMENT


THURSDAY, November 1: Posted at 5:24 p.m. ET

THANK YOU
As always, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who wrote to cheer me on as I went through my latest adventure with surgical knives. I know this must be the most boring/annoying aspect of this feature, my occasional absences as I deal with these complications that result from being a cancer survivor. It is amazing the amount of time I must now spend on this stuff both to deal with the consequences of my cure and to make sure that if the [expletive deleted] comes back it's not a surprise attack. That I have something to come back to, friends that are rooting for me and looking forward to seeing me again is always an encouraging thing to think about as I lie on the table with a bag over my head (one of the special aspects of eye surgery-you spend a couple of hours lightly dozing inside a shopping bag. Compared to being dead, these interventions are merely inconveniences. You help make them even less than that, and I am grateful. Thank you.

TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: OOOOOOOFENSE!

I differ with you in your analysis of Yankee offense. In the games I watched during the season, the Yankees looked very alive when they utilized the running game. I see no point in waiting around for a batter to hit a three-run home run. A running game can create havoc for the defense and makes things happen. What the Yankees lacked, among other things like starting pitching, in the postseason this year was timely hitting. The best thing, of course, is a combination of role players and power hitters a la the Red Sox.

Obviously there are other factors such as more competitive balance today, but the championship teams of the '90s and early 2000s were based on pitching, defense and timely hitting. And, yes, the Yankees won with Scott Brosius at third base. The idea isn't to lead the league in runs scored, home runs, and RBI but to win the most games--and the most games in the postseason. And, yes, Joe Girardi was either the starting or back-up catcher during the four years when the Yankees won 3 World Series. Thank you for all of your cogent thoughts.
-Alice

Thank you, Alice. I have a cat named Alice (and another named Teddy). There's nothing wrong with the running game provided it is used intelligently, and under Joe Torre the Yankees generally did that. The thing is, it's a tool. You don't have to be Earl Weaver-not that Earl Weaver was Earl Weaver, as some of his O's teams stole a fair number of bases, including the league-leading 1973 team, where Earl had everyone scampering around the bases to compensate for the team's lack of home run power. That's the whole point though. In an extreme home run era, which is what we're presently living through, the value of advancing one base at a time is reduced at most times. The risk just isn't worth it, because there's a good chance that one of the next two hitters will put the ball on the moon. Unless your team steals with near-perfect precision, the runs you're going to lose are going to outweigh the ones you gain.

Leading the league in runs is irrelevant, but you seem to be implying that stealing bases would detract from that goal, which is right. So I ask-if emphasizing the running game actually pushes down your total of runs scored, what's the point? As I said, the running game is a situational tool. You "make things happen" when you need to, if you can. You "create havoc" when appropriate, but you're going to create more havoc for yourself by running into outs. If your name is Whitey Herzog and you have a team of eight leadoff men, please ignore this comment. It applies to everyone else.

Winning is about scoring more runs than you allow. If a team has a weak pitching staff, they'd better pound the heck out of the ball if they want to keep up. That might involve leading the league in runs scored, it might not. I'll tell you right now, without even checking, that a high runs scored total correlates more closely with winning than does a high stolen base total.

2: TO THE SLAUGHTER WE GO WITH 3B REPLACEMENTS
What about the man that A-Rod replaced, Mike Lamb?
-Daniel

Yankees kind of blew that one, didn't they, dumping Lamb for a minor leaguer after acquiring Mr. Rod. Lamb would have been a very helpful semi-regular/utility guy these last four years. He probably still could be, if you want to split his time up between first base and third and the odd DH appearance. That said, the bulk of his hitting has been done in the friendly confines of Minute Maid. On the road he's been quite ordinary. He's also a lefty hitter. Since the Yankees already have Wilson Betemit, a switch-hitter who can't hit lefties and isn't a great glove, the most efficient solution for third base is a defensively strong righty who can platoon with him and replace him in the late innings. I don't see that guy among the major league free agents-think Marcus Giles would accept a utility role at this point?-nor in the Yankees minors. There could be a minor league free agent that would fit the bill, but I haven't seen that list yet. This would have to be yet another possible trade target for this winter. Random guess: Mike Morse of the Mariners?

3: DANGEROUS TERRITORY
What do you make of Nate Silver's fairly radical prescription for the Yanks, i.e.,

(1) Don't re-sign Rivera
(2) Don't exercise the Abreu option
(3) Sign Bonds to a 2-year deal

Does this way lie madness?
-JP

Before I answer, keep in mind that Nate Silver is my friend and colleague and if I gainsay his suggestions he could retaliate by asking me to co-author the Baseball Prospectus Guide to Competitive Knitting. Keeping that in mind, here goes:

(1) He's wrong about Rivera. I've said this before. The issue is not so much that closers are as super-valuable as we think they are, but that he's the only reliable reliever the Yankees have, and maybe that's worth overpaying for. The bullpen was a disaster this year, and pulling out the one useful piece and rebuilding it from scratch seems like a tall order. Nate suggests tolerating Kyle Farnsworth as closer for a year. I wouldn't tolerate Kyle Farnsworth handing me a burger at a drive-through window. Nate's fallback is Edwar Ramirez. I dig Edwar and his crazy strikeout rates and still think he has potential. That said, he fives up a scary number of home runs, and unless the incoming pitching coach can help him curb that tendency, he's going to be ill-suited for middle relief work let alone close games.

(2) He's right about Abreu in the sense that he's started to slide at the plate and he's not a great defensive outfielder. That said, I'd like to know who the alternative is. Nate's suggestion is...

(3) Sign Barry Bonds and create a six-man rotation of Bonds, Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui, and Jason Giambi for five positions (three outfield spots, first base, and designated hitter), with one or two of the outfielders getting time at first base. I like this in that it's the Casey Stengel-approved mix-'n'-match solution, and the offense would be maximized, but I suspect (a) that Joe Girardi won't want to think that much; (b) Joe Girardi will not want to deal with at least one player hating his guts on a daily basis, depending on who isn't playing; (c) that the rotation would eventually freeze based on injuries and perceptions of defense, with something like Bonds locked in at DH, Giambi physically incapable of playing first, and no one capable of playing a league-average defensive right field.

Bonds would be a great fit for the Yankees provided they have some way to dispose of the last year of Jason Giambi's contract. He's been great the last couple of years, the greatest 41- and 42-year-old hitter in baseball history. I get nervous, though, that the Yankees would find themselves in a Roger Clemens situation, where they pay for the Hall of Famer and they get the guy who finally plays up to his age. There is a real danger of that. It only seems like Bonds can go on forever.

Nate Silver is a terrifically smart guy, and his analysis is always thought-provoking (I recommend the rest of his series, which covers all teams, not just the Yankees). I suspect that was the effect he was going for here. He's also trying to optimize a team with no ready position player prospects entering a shallow free agent market. If these conditions didn't obtain, he would have been more conservative. His suggestions could very well work if executed perfectly, but they could also result in a revival of the 1980s Yankees, where you have lots of talent on the roster but no good way of fitting it all together.

PS: Nate, if you read this, please don't make me edit Bocce Prospectus 2008... I'll see if Nate will pop by here in the next couple of days and expand on his thoughts.

BACK LATER...
...With reaction from the Girardi PC and more reader mail.

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MONDAY, October 29: Posted at 6:08 p.m. ET

THE MARCH OF TIME
The last 24 hours have been packed:

• The Red Sox won their second championship since 2004, which gives them more of a dynastic look than the Yankees currently have. Boston's repeat success underscores several truths: the current ownership has run the team very well; the various ownership configurations that managed the team from Harry Frazee on-mostly Bob Quinn, Tom Yawkey, and Yawkey's foundation-were even more clueless than had previously been understood. Boston's unopposed triumph also attests to the weakness of the National League field in recent years. Sure, the Cardinals won the World Series a year ago, but that was a gift from Detroit rather than any expression of superiority.

• A-Rod/Scott Boras-maybe we should fuse them into one highly annoying creature called A-Ras-chose Sunday to opt out. Boras has said that he merely filed the paperwork and didn't expect the story to get out until Monday. Right. Even if you believe Boras, he has terrifically embarrassed his client. Perhaps Rodriguez did not sign off on the specific timing of the opt out so he should be given a slight break here, but the way things timed out it appeared that Rodriguez's ego is so out of control that he needed to be bigger than the World Series. That Rodriguez has never played in a World Series himself, that his fingers are unadorned by any rings save the ones that he has purchased himself, raised the record for unearned arrogance to a new level.

A-Ras has done the Yankees and their fans a favor in a way, because yesterday's gesture makes it so easy to say good-bye. At the same time, the Yankees can't just say "Good riddance to bad rubbish" and go on their merry way. They have to replace a great deal of offense and defense, more than 150 runs worth of production. They can try to spread that production over more than one position, but no matter how they go about trying to do so it won't be easy.

• Last, but not finally (or vice-versa) the Yankees have reportedly offered Joe Girardi the opportunity to become the 43rd manager in the history of the New York Yankees (it's fewer if you don't count various Houk, Martin, Lemon, and Piniella sequels. We'll discuss Girardi's managerial profile in more detail after he accepts the position (he sort of has to if he ever wants to be taken seriously-if you turn down the Orioles, that's understandable. If you turn down the Yankees and the Orioles, you're baseball's biggest tease). Obviously the job of managing the Yankees will be very different from taking on the entry level Marlins, but the experience should serve Girardi well. The Marlins gave Girardi the experience that almost certainly separated him from Don Mattingly. This came not from the job itself, which is something you could overlook if Mattingly seemed able, but from the composition of the club itself. The Marlins' 2006 starting rotation averaged about 23 years of age, and the staff as a whole worked through 14 pitchers who were younger than 25. If the Young Elephants and Brian Cashman are serious about rebuilding the pitching staff from within rather than making the likes of Carlos Silva a multi-millionaire, then the team needs a skipper who knows something about the care and feeding of tyro hurlers more than it needs the sop to the fans that Don Mattingly would have been. Girardi is also popular, so throw in his greater qualifications and there was really no area in which Mattingly could have rated the edge.

As for Girardi's supposed burnout of the Marlins' staff, there isn't a whole lot of evidence for that. He gave Dontrelle Willis a somewhat hard ride, but not one that was excessive by today's standards. Willis was the only pitcher on the staff to exceed 120 pitches in any game, or to average over 100 pitches per start. That some of these pitchers broke down was almost certainly inevitable given their ages. The only real question is about Girardi's decision to haul Josh Johnson back into a game after a long rain delay, a pointless and self-defeating gesture. That moment is more troubling than anything else in Girardi's entire managerial and career record, because it suggests a personality that would rather make some kind of point than be smart.

More to come...

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Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Blog appears daily on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel, and "Mind Game," the story of the Red Sox' 2004 championship, and "Baseball Between the Numbers," from the authors of Baseball Prospectus, are now available at Amazon.com. More Steve is available on YESNetwork.com in the Pinstriped Bible, and the Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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