The Yankees, a fourth place team, hovering around .500 with seemingly little upside in July, sold off the two best relievers in the game, put a couple of famous veterans out to pasture and called up a bunch of rookies. By all rights they should’ve tanked from then on.
Except they didn’t. They remained in fourth place, but they improved that record to a few more games above .500 and were in the thick of the Wild Card race until this weekend. Some of this is because of the better-than-expected performance of those rookies. Some of it was chance. Some of it was just plugging holes and balancing bullpen roles and not having half the roster check out mentally to go fishing once they had a totally plausible excuse to do so in the form of the trade deadline selloff.
In most cases that sort of performance (i.e. doing better than expected given limited resources) is considered to be the work of the manager and the manager is normally praised. In this case that manager is Joe Girardi, however, and he doesn’t get that kind of benefit of the doubt, I guess. After getting swept by Boston — the hottest team in baseball, in case you haven’t been paying attention — he’s catching hell. Why? “The Binder.” From Kevin Kernan in the New York Post:
Bad, bad Binder.
For those who thought Joe Girardi could not have had a worse performance as manager this series, he saved his worst night for the series finale.
Goodbye Yankees . . . The manager is so reliant on numbers. He rarely manages by feel. He rarely reads the situation as it is happening in the present but goes by what happened in the past . . . The Yankees’ season is done and these decisions will haunt Girardi over the winter. The Binder has more much information to compute.
For those who don’t recall, “the Binder” is a reference to a book full of matchups, game situations and strategies Girardi used at one time several years ago. The media caught wind that he used “the binder” to help him out in certain situations and mocked him mercilessly for it. Never mind that managers have, for almost all of baseball history, used some form of help in dealing with the nearly endless possibilities that could come up in a game. Whether it was note cards or pre-game prep work or a crusty old bench coach with a photographic memory, no manager is out there making every decision based on his gut. They prepare and they study. That Girardi talked about his form of strategy aid once or twice may have been unusual for a Yankees manager, but it was not out of the ordinary. That he was mocked for it was a function of a bored, anti-intellectual press corps looking for a “blame the nerds” narrative. I don’t know if Girardi still uses a binder, but today’s column certainly shows he’ll always be mocked for it.
What the column doesn’t mention, however, is that the Yankees are 24-11 in one run games this year, which is pretty dang good and suggests that, perhaps, the binder — or the manager — is doing a pretty OK job.
What the column doesn’t mention is that the Red Sox are the hottest team in baseball with the most offensive weapons, by far, in the game.
What the column doesn’t mention is that, for several years now, Giradi has gotten far more out of his Yankees teams than anyone expected. No, the Yankees have not won their division for a while, nor have they gotten deep in the playoffs, but they’ve done far better than their talent level should’ve allowed them to do. Girardi has been better than most in managing his bullpen and has kept controversy and drama to a shocking minimum for a place like New York. He doesn’t get the credit for being one of the game’s best managers, but he has done a really good job given everything a Yankees manager has to deal with and given everything he’s had to work with. With “what he’s had to work with” being far, far less in terms of talent than what the Yankees have paid for.
Finally, what the column doesn’t mention or give credit for is the fact that, no matter what the binder says, Girardi hasn’t had very few great options out of the pen since Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman left town. Maybe a better manager makes this or that pitching change beforehand and maybe he pitches around a red hot Hanley Ramirez if he can, but every manager makes some mistakes, with our without binders. Most managers, however, are given at least some credit for where they are and some acknowledgment for the overall job they’re doing the day after a bad loss.
Girardi gets the most basic form of Monday morning quarterbacking imaginable, built on a lazy and ignorant narrative about “binders” some guys who know better about how managers do their jobs should know better than pushing. Ultimately, that says way more about them than it says about Joe Girardi.