Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Joe Girardi for the Yankees Not Reaching the 2015 American League Division Series

In the tradition of ESPN, I'm looking at...

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... Joe Girardi for the Yankees Not Reaching the 2015 American League Division Series

You've seen the season. You've read this blog, and others. You've seen the case for the prosecution. Essentially, it's this: The Yankees didn't reach the ALDS not because they lost the Wild Card play-in game, but because Girardi made so many mistakes with the pitching staff, more than enough to make up for the 6-game difference between the Wild Card-"winning" Yankees and the AL Eastern Division Champion Toronto Blue Jays.

In its Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... broadcasts, ESPN's Brian Kenny would present the case for the prosecution, a.k.a. the conventional wisdom as to why something awful or evil happened, such as a team losing a game it shouldn't have, or an athlete in an individual sport losing when s/he shouldn't have, or a team being moved, or a popular player being traded, etc.

Then, Kenny would say, "Things aren't always what they seem," or something like that, and he'd present the case for the defense. First, a couple of reasons that didn't make the cut: "We call them 'The Best of the Rest.'" Then they'd break for a commercial. Kenny would present Reason Number 5. At its conclusion, he'd say, "Did that reason grab you? If not, here's Reason Number 4." That reason would be shown, they'd break for a commercial, and he'd show Reason Number 3. Then he'd say, "Have we begun to change your mind yet? If so here's more food for thought: Reason Number 2." After that, he'd break for another commercial.

When they came back, Kenny would recap the previous reasons, and then present Reason Number 1. Usually, this would be something that should have been obvious, that everyone should have known immediately after it happened that, "Of course, because of this, we never should have blamed (the person or team in question)!"

Occasionally, Reason Number 1 wouldn't be obvious, or even be something widely known at the time, i.e. you couldn't blame Ralph Branca for the 1951 Dodgers losing the National League Pennant because the Giants cheated; and you couldn't blame Bruce McNall, owner of the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, for trading Wayne Gretzky because Gretzky agreed to the deal.

Kenny would finish by saying, "Maybe we changed your mind, maybe we didn't. But, hopefully, we made you see things in a different light." And as the closing credits rolled, ESPN would show what the major players in the story were doing now, or were doing up until they died.

What they never did was have a verdict. It was a half-hour show. They should have made it a full hour, and have a "jury" of experts, including people involved in sports at the time but not directly involved in the events in question, discussing the evidence, and deciding whether, "No, you can't blame them," or, "Yes, in spite of the evidence that other factors were at work, the person in question is still more responsible for what happened than anyone else."

That's what I do when I do one of these "Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... " pieces. So, now, I present to you, the case for the defense in The Fans of the New York Yankees Baseball Club vs. 
Joseph Elliott Girardi.

The Best of the Rest

They Actually Exceeded Expectations. Most observers expected the Yankees to struggle to even reach .500 this season. Most expected the AL East to be won by the Baltimore Orioles, the defending Champions, especially after so many of these observers picked the Blue Jays last year and the Jays flopped. Most expected the Jays to contend for the Wild Card, but not win the Division.

The Yankees won 87 games and made the Playoffs. Who guessed that would happen? Show of hands? You? Yer lyin'.

On an individual basis, you heard a lot about Rob Refsnyder, but not much about Greg Bird. You probably didn't expect Didi Gregorius to do such a good job of succeeding Derek Jeter at shortstop, especially after he got off to such a weak start. Yet, he got very good with the glove, and improved noticeably with the bat. Did you see Nathan Eovaldi coming? Did you expect Luis Severino to be so good in the major leagues at age 21? Did you expect Chris Young to have a career renaissance?

Did you expect Mark Teixeira to make such a good comeback, with 31 home runs and 79 RBIs before he got hurt? For all the flak he took, did you expect Carlos Beltran to hit 19 homers with 67 RBIs? And for all your hopes that Alex Rodriguez would contribute something this season, did you really think he would hit 33 home runs or drive in 86 runs? No, you didn't. (I don't think even his biggest fan, Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers, expected that much production from him, at age 40, after a year and a half's unwilling layoff.)

Face it, the Yankees weren't supposed to make the Playoffs at all. As Lisa put it, that Wild Card game was "gravy." Or, as my Brooklyn Dodger fan Grandma would have put it, the Yankees were "playing with the house's money."

(They still should have shown up in the Wild Card game. I would have understood it if they got 4 runs on 10 hits, and still lost. A shutout was unacceptable.)

Baserunning. The Yankees stole 63 bases this season, and were caught 25 times. 71.6 percent is not a good stolen-base percentage. And there were a lot of runs that could have scored, but didn't: Runners on 1st only advancing to 3rd on doubles, runners on 2nd not scoring on singles, runners on 3rd too timid to tag up and test outfielders' arms. And some guys -- A-Rod, Beltran, Teix, McCann -- were just plain slow.

Now, the Top 5:

5. CC Sabathia's Drinking Problem. The Big Fella had his moments this season, and still led the Yankees in starts with 29 and innings pitched with 167 1/3rd. But he was 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA. We thought he was injured and done.

Whether his drinking explains it all, we'll have to see next season, when, presumably, he'll be healthy and sober. But he's 35. And lefthanded. Lefties age 35 and up generally don't do well, especially after knee injuries. (Although lefty relievers can pitch into their mid-40s, because teams get desperate for lefty relievers. I hope that's not CC's baseball future.)

4. Nathan Eovaldi's Injury. Not so much Mark Teixeira's, short-circuiting a fantastic comeback season for him, because Greg Bird stepped in at 1st base and kept the position hitting just as well.

But Nasty Nate was 14-3, and looking like a righthanded version of 1978 Ron Guidry before he got hurt, making his last start on September 5. His remaining starts should have been on September 11 (11-5 loss to Toronto), 16 (3-1 win over Tampa Bay), 22 (6-4 win over Toronto), 27 (6-1 win over Chicago) and October 3 (4-3 loss to Baltimore). 2-3, including a loss to Toronto, and thus a 2-game swing? That doesn't sound like much of a difference, but it could have swung the momentum back the Yankees' way, and then, who knows?

True, Luis Severino took Eovaldi's exact spot in the rotation. If Eovaldi had been available, maybe Severino could have taken Ivan Nova's spot from September 5 forward: September 6 (6-4 win over Tampa Bay), 12 (10-7 loss to Toronto), 23 (4-0 loss to Toronto), 28 (5-1 loss to Boston) and October 3 (9-2 loss to Baltimore). That's 1-4, including 2 losses to Toronto, and thus a 4-game swing.

3. The Toronto Blue Jays. They weren't a better team from April 6 through July 28. They were a better team from July 28 through October 4.

2. The Yankee Bats. They simply didn't get it done. The team batting average was .251, the on-base percentage .323, the slugging percentage .421.

Here are the OPS+ figures for Yankee players who made at least 400 plate appearances in 2015, keeping in mind that 100 means the exact MLB average:

1B Mark Teixeira 146
DH Alex Rodriguez 130
RF Carlos Beltran 121
C Brian McCann 107
CF Brett Gardner 105
3B Chase Headley 92
SS Didi Gregorius 90
LF Jacoby Ellsbury 84
2B Stephen Drew 78

The last 4 figures are atrocious. It gets worse when you consider that Teix got hurt and missed 1/3rd of the season, and that A-Rod, Ellsbury and Gardner went into major slumps in September, and that A-Rod and Beltran embarrassed us in the Wild Card game.

In 14 separate games this season, the Yankees scored 10 or more runs, including a 21, a 20, a 15, 2 14s and 4 13s. In the very next games after those 14, the Yankees were 6-8.

The Yankees scored 764 runs this season. Over 162 games, that's an average of 4.72 runs per game. Take out those 14 outliers mentioned above, and it's 628 runs. Over the remaining 148 games, that's an average of 4.24 -- almost half a run per game less.

In 49 separate games -- 30.2 percent of the schedule -- the Yankees scored 2 or fewer runs. They were 6-43 in those games.

The Yankees went 4-9 in extra-inning games. They were 0-3 in games that went longer than 11 innings. Okay, a lot of those games are blamable on Girardi's pitching mismanagement.

The Yankees were 6-13 vs. the Blue Jays this season, and finished 6 games behind them in the AL East. Take that 6-13, and make it 1 game over .500, that's 10-9, and they'd have finished 1 game ahead. That's the difference.

So is this: Of the 13 games the Yankees lost to the Jays, 5 were by 1 or 2 runs.

So is this: In those 13 losses to the Jays, in 10 of them, the Yankees scored 2 or fewer runs.

So is this: Over the course of the 2015 season, not counting the Wild Card play-in game, the Yankees lost 75 games. 24 of them were by 1 run. 7 of those were 2-1, 1 of them to the Jays. There's the 6-game difference right there, and then some!

Ah, but who assembled this team? Not Girardi.

1. Brian Cashman. He became the general manager in 1998, after Gene Michael and Bob Watson built the 1996-2003 Dynasty. He's responsible for pretty much every Yankee failure from 2004 onward.

Does that mean that, like Girardi, we have to give him credit for 2009? Yes. But, with that much talent, 1 Pennant in 12 seasons is simply not good enough. Over the same stretch, here's MLB Pennants won, with ties broken by most recent:

St. Louis Cardinals 4
San Francisco Giants 3
Boston Red Sox 3
Detroit Tigers 2
Texas Rangers 2
Philadelphia Phillies 2
Kansas City Royals 1
New York Yankees 1
Tampa Bay Rays 1
Colorado Rockies 1
Chicago White Sox 1
Houston Astros 1

That's 11 teams that have won at least as many Pennants as the Yankees over that stretch, 6 who have won more.

Note also that St. Louis, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Denver are considered "small markets," while the White Sox are easily the 2nd-largest team in a 2-team market. If you count all the sports teams in a market, then the White Sox are 5th among Chicago's 6 teams, ahead of only MLS' Fire (and the Sky, if you also count the WNBA). And throwing Orlando in with Tampa Bay to make a single "Central Florida" market still doesn't make it a big market.

Who didn't make a trade for an additional starting pitcher, who would have made using Nova or, God forbid, Adam Warren as a starter unnecessary? Cashman. Who didn't make a trade fora 3rd baseman who would have made Headley surplus to requirements? Cashman. Who brought such awful pitchers as Chris Capuano, Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Chris Martin and a washed-up Andrew Bailey to the Yankees, thus giving Girardi bad options when the dreaded pitch count reared its ugly head? Cashman.

Who insisted upon keeping Drew on the major league roster as the starting 2nd baseman, and Rob Refsnyder not, Drew's Yankee stats and Refsnyder's Scranton stats defying the alleged logic of this decision, until it was far too late? Cashman.

I shudder to think of what could have been if the Refsnyder decision, alone, had been reversed. The backup 2nd baseman for most of the season was Brendan Ryan, whose OPS+ was 68. Drew's was 78. Combined, that's 146. Refsnyder may only have made 47 plate appearances, but his OPS+ of 134 was almost equal to Drew's and Ryan's combined. Drew hit 17 home runs, but had only 44 RBIs in 428 plate appearances. Ryan had 8 RBIs in 103 plate appearnces. Total: 52 RBIs in 531 plate appearances. In his 47, Refsnyder had 5 RBIs -- at a 531-PA pace, that's 56 RBIs.

*

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you've seen the evidence. Have you reached a verdict?

Let me put it this way: If this were a criminal trial, and Girardi were charged with first degree murder of the Yankee season, and I were his defense counsel, I would try to make a deal with the prosecutor. Plead to a lesser charge. Maybe accessory to murder, and then turn state's evidence on Cashman, in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Because, while Girardi might not be the person most responsible for the disastrous way the Yankees' season ended, he's guilty of criminal negligence.

The sentence; Termination of employment.

Once he is fired, whenever that is, I'll be able to move on, and remember the good he did for the Yankees as a player.

Until then...

Fire Joe Girardi. Fire his entire coaching staff. And burn that damned binder!

Fire Brian Cashman. And fire everybody loyal to him. The whole regime has got to go.

Bring Gene Michael back as general manager. In spite of his age, "Stick" is still the smartest person in the organization.

And hire Willie Randolph as field manager. He's a Yankee Legend. He knows the Yankee Way. He's even-tempered. He handles pitchers well, He won't be thrown by the experience of managing in New York, because he's done it before, with some success. He's won a postseason series as a New York manager; among living persons, the only others to have done that are Davey Johnson, Bobby Valentine, Joe Torre and... Joe Girardi. And the fact that it would piss Met fans off is a nice bonus.

Cashman out. Stick in.

Girardi out. Randolph in.

It's got to be done. Cashman and Girardi are both in a gots-to-go situation.

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