5 Ways Joe Girardi Can Improve the New York Yankees in 2013
There's really only so much you can do as a manager of a baseball team to affect the outcome of a game.
In sports like basketball and football, where strategy building and play-calling is essential from play to play, the man they call Skipper has much more of a say. Baseball, however, is a sport where aside from a few hit-and-run calls, the manager can pretty much coast until about the 6th or 7th inning. So he has to make his presence felt elsewhere.
If only the unnecessary addition of the letter "y" to players' names could directly correlate to wins, then Joe Girardi would be a surefire Hall-of-Famer. Unfortunately for "Chavey," "Nuney," "Gardy," and the rest of the gang, however, this is not the case. The reality remains that most of a team's success will be determined in the front office.
With that being said, here are five things Girardi does have control over and could do to help improve the team in 2013.
Manage the Personalities
Whether you supported or opposed Joe Girardi's decision to bench Alex Rodriguez in the ALCS, you have to agree that the move made a statement.
On a team with more egos than the green room of The View, Joe Girardi showed the baseball world that he runs the show. Not the media, not the mega-contracts, not the big names like Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson.
The man wearing No. 28 is calling the shots in this club.
This is exactly the mentality that Joe needs to build on in the 2013 season. Another year older, this club of aging veteran superstars needs to understand that there is one man in charge, and that his word is final. With all the volatility at the end of last season, this team looked to be on the brink of a full personality meltdown.
It is up to Girardi to keep these guys in check and cement himself as the authority, as this team fights for a 28th ring.
Shut the Binder
Stats are a huge part of any sport, and baseball is no exception. Lefty/righty splits, batting average in clutch situations, the ability to get a run in from 3rd with less than two outs—these are all pertinent details to be examined when making a late-game decision.
However, while statistics are nice and safe, they do not account for gut feelings or how a player looks on that particular night.
Everybody remembers what happened when Joe went with his gut a few times in the playoffs this past October and pinch hit Raul Ibanez, right? No binder in the world was telling him to make that switch. Yet it worked out wonderfully.
Sometimes the right move is to go with what feels right.
Yet all throughout the regular season, we watched the YES cameras zoom in on Joe flipping through his trusty sidekick like an accountant balancing spreadsheets. I guess it's hard to argue with a division pennant, but in those one-off scenarios when the entire season could be on the line, it would be nice to see the 2013 Girardi trust his instincts a bit more often.
Ease Up on the Bullpen
It goes hand in hand with ignoring the incessant urge to check the binder every 10 seconds, but Joe Girardi's abuse of the bullpen deserves its very own slide of criticism.
Going to the lefty/lefty matchup in the 6th when Phil Hughes looks like he could give you at least one more inning is positively infuriating. It's understandable to worry about the taxing innings placed on your starters' arms, but it becomes a sense of pride for these guys to finish what they've started.
How is Ivan Nova ever going to learn how to get out of a big spot without being given the opportunity to do so?
Furthermore, there was the noticeable strain that Joe Girardi's nightly visits to the mound placed on the bullpen. It was evident as the season wore on that the young arms coming out of the pen weren't as sharp as they had looked in the earlier months of spring. Some will say that's a product of natural fatigue as the season progresses.
But Girardi needs to remember that fewer pitching changes in April and May means more big outs in September and October.
Adjust the Lineup: Jeter, 1; Ichiro, 2
Assuming the Yankees bring back Ichiro for an encore to his dazzling first season in pinstripes, the debate over where he should be in the lineup needs to be put to rest on opening day.
People will argue about the production Jeter provided out of the 2-hole during the team's late-nineties dynasty, but times have changed. While Ichiro may have spent most of his career hitting leadoff, the 1-2 punch of Jeter followed by Ichiro should be the mantra that Joe Girardi recites every night before going to bed.
Derek Jeter does lots of great things for this team, but his propensity to hit into double plays is not one of them. Throw in another year of aging legs and that's a lot of early inning rallies spoiled by a sharp two-hopper to second.
With Jeter leading off though, getting on base means an open right side of the field for Ichiro—the man who has spent his 12 illustrious years in the majors mastering the art of directional hitting.
Shake Up the Top of the Order
This idea is a bit outrageous. So radical that it seems silly to even try to conceive of it as a reality, but then again, everyone laughed at Columbus when he said the world was round. Let's pretend for one second that Jeter-1, Ichiro-2 isn't enough to solidify the top of the order, and Girardi decided to try something completely new.
It's no secret that the Yankee lineup looked dead and stale in their final four games of the season as they closed out a miserable ALCS. Because of that, it wouldn't be that ludicrous to consider tampering with some of the roster's staples.
Batting first, we would have Ichiro Suzuki—a natural leadoff hitter who has done it his entire career. The speed has diminished a bit, but he's still enough of a presence to get things moving at the top.
Behind him we would have A Rod. In the twilight of his career, A Rod has become a glorified, overpaid singles hitter. With the protection behind him, I could see that average creeping up around .290 with a solid OBP.
Derek Jeter would bat 3rd because that's where you put your best hitter. Outside of a late season torrent stretch from Robinson Cano, Jeter was undeniably the team's MVP last season. The lack of pop off Jeter's bat is a killer, and probably the reason he'll never bat lower than 2nd, but I don't see Mark Teixeira or Curtis Granderson hitting with a high enough average to justify their position here either.
Finally, batting fourth we would have Cano. With A Rod and Tex in their decline, Cano is the perfect combination of power and average to hit cleanup.
It sounds crazy, and there's probably a 99.9 percent chance of it never happening. But when you end a season like the Yankees lineup ended 2012, anything is possible.