Yankees: Joe Girardi's Smartest Moves of the 2013 Season

Stephen SkinnerContributor IIAugust 13, 2013

In the most difficult of seasons Joe Girardi has done perhaps his best job as manager
In the most difficult of seasons Joe Girardi has done perhaps his best job as managerElsa/Getty Images

While many New York Yankees fans lament the team's current fourth place standing in the AL East, the fact that they remain in the hunt for a playoff berth in spite of numerous injuries to key players is overlooked.

Manager Joe Girardi has had perhaps his finest season in keeping the Bombers above water, while facing challenges that would have destroyed other teams.

Failures or setbacks at nearly every position have handcuffed the Yankees all season long, and their offense is averaging over a run less per game than they did in 2012.  Yet, after a series opening 2 — 1 win over the Los Angeles Angels they are within seven games of a wild card spot.

Among Girardi's best moves is the call-up of Iván Nova and then keeping him in the rotation.

As reported by ESPN, after opening the season as the team's fifth starter, Nova struggled to a 6.48 ERA in April before suffering inflammation in his right triceps and going on the disabled list.

It wouldn't be until June 23 that the 26-year-old hurler would get another shot at starting. 

Girardi needed a sixth starter and called up his inconsistent right-handed pitcher.  Nova pitched well enough to warrant another start and hasn't given them a reason to remove him from the rotation since.

Beginning with that June start, Nova has gone 3 — 3 with a 2.04 ERA.  His WHIP over that span is 1.06.  To say he has made the most of an opportunity would be the understatement of the century.

Credit Girardi with believing in a pitcher who in the past has wavered between brilliant and bumbling.

But that's not the only move the Yankees manager has made that's paid off. Getting center fielder Brett Gardner in the lead-off position of the lineup was another.

In previous seasons, Gardner was the speed at the bottom of the order.  Team captain Derek Jeter was mainly used at the top. Jeter's injuries (and subsequent setbacks) gave "Gardy" the chance to show just what he can provide when heading up the order.

Of players with at least 100 games played, Gardner ranks third in MLB in On-Base Percentage (.340) when batting in the lead-off spot.

Those that understand baseball know that the player hitting first in the order rarely leads off an inning other than the first.  As the game progresses the lead-off hitter often finds themselves stepping to the plate with runners on, or at least attempting to extend an inning.

With runners in scoring position Gardner trails only Robinson Cano on the team, hitting .324 in that situation.  In the recent three game series with the Detroit Tigers, the center fielder had two walk-off hits.

In addition, his speed on the base paths remains a constant annoyance to opposing batteries.  Gardner has stolen 20 bases in 27 attempts.

His performance as the lead-off hitter has been so valuable to the team that even when Jeter did make it back to the lineup, he hit second in the order, behind the center fielder.

Girardi's decision to move Gardner to center (he had played the majority of the past three seasons in left field) has paid off handsomely as well.  Currently he ranks third in fielding percentage among all AL center fielders with at least 100 games played.

The team would have already been looking to next season if not for Gardner's contributions. 

Finally, the Yankees manager made the right move in making Eduardo Núñez the everyday shortstop in the wake of Derek Jeter's absence.

Even though the 26-year-old infielder continues to experience trouble in the field (he ranks 32nd among those that have played shortstop in the AL), he has shown improvement.  In 2011, his fielding percentage was .913 at short, in 2012 it rose to .931 and this season it is .967.  The more he plays, the better he is getting.

At the plate, Núñez has improved each month.  In May, he hit .250, in July his average was .273 and in August he is hitting .317  (he missed most of June with injury).  Last year the backup infielder batted .292. 

Girardi's patience with the probable Jeter successor is starting to pay dividends and by the time "Jetes" retires, Núñez will be ready to assume the starting shortstop role in the Bronx.

Even though the Yankees have lost their starting first baseman (Mark Teixeira) for the season, their shortstop (and captain - Jeter) for the majority of the season, and the man who was supposed to occupy third base until Alex Rodriguez's return (Kevin Youkilis) for most of the year, the team has somehow managed to remain in the discussion for a wild card spot.

Their starting pitching has been inconsistent at best (they rank 11th in the AL) and even the great Mariano Rivera has experienced one of the worst stretches of his career in blowing three straight save opportunities. 

Yet, they remain three games above .500 at the time of publication.

Often a manager is the first person to be the object of finger pointing when parts of a team fail, and certainly in New York City that scrutiny is magnified ten-fold. 

Joe Girardi hasn't been perfect (no manager is) and would be the first to admit that he has made mistakes this year, but he continues to keep his team in contention with decisions such as those mentioned above.

All unreferenced statistics courtesy of MLB.Com