The New York Yankees of 2013 will look very similar to the club that finished 2012 with a loss to the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, and manager Joe Girardi will need to raise the level of his game in a few areas to push the club into the World Series.
First, the cerebral manager needs to trust his instinct more than his statistics. Yes, there is a time and a place where a player's trend in a given situation does come into play, but the ability to read the flow of the game can be just as important.
Girardi played 15 seasons at the big-league level and has seen every twist and turn a game of baseball can throw at a person. He clearly understands the game and should rely more on his own experience.
In the opening game of the 2012 season against the Tampa Bay Rays, Girardi's over-analysis cost the team when, with two outs in the top of the first inning and two men on base, he instructed starting pitcher (and team ace) CC Sabathia to walk Sean Rodriguez to set up a lefty-lefty matchup with slugger Carlos Pena. The result was a grand slam and a four-run deficit to deal with coming out of the first inning.
It was over-thinking at its finest. While his statistics told him to go for the left-hander versus left-hander matchup, he knew that Pena is an all-or-nothing fastball hitter, and by loading the bases in front of him, he was putting pressure on his pitcher to make perfect pitches in the first inning of the game.
In addition, the batter prior to Rodriguez—right-handed hitter Jeff Keppinger—had just grounded out.
Second, Girardi needs to let Ichiro Suzuki play every day. The man is one of the great hitters in the game, and he still has speed (he stole 29 bases in 2012) and a great arm, regardless of his age. In 2012, Suzuki hit .284 against left-handed pitchers. There is no need to platoon him. From September 1 through the end of the regular season, the Yankees won 17 of the 25 games that Ichiro started.
In going along with the "trust your instincts" theme, the Bombers' manager needs to rely on the hot hands coming out of the bullpen. His loyalty to his relievers is noble, but it often comes at a cost.
For example, Cody Eppley was one of the stars early in the 2012 season. During the first half, his ERA was an impressive 2.70, and he held batters to a .241 average. That great start to the year led to Girardi calling on him more in the second half, in spite of the fact that his ERA was over a full run higher (3.70) and opposing hitters were batting .289 off the hurler. Clearly he struggled more in the second half, yet was relied upon more.
Finally, Joe Girardi must realize that it is OK to manufacture runs. In September of 2012, the Yankees manager reacted to a statement from hitting coach Kevin Long, who said that perhaps the team should play more small ball and bunt runners over by saying "we aren't the Bronx Bunters."
With Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and perhaps Francisco Cervelli manning the starting lineup, the team is blessed with above-average speed. It might be wise for Girardi to change his stance going into 2013 and look toward advancing baserunners in an effort to generate runs rather than waiting on the long ball to provide the team's success.
Overall, the 2012 season was successful for the New York Yankees, as they completed it with the most wins in the American League. Unfortunately, the organization and its fans have a much higher standard than just winning the most regular season games.
For 2013 to be successful in their eyes, the Yankees must reach—and win—the World Championship. Anything short of that is considered a failure. It is a tremendous amount of pressure for any manager to have on his shoulders, and Joe Girardi will be required to make some adjustments in his own style and philosophy to bring home another title.