New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi operates in a city that overrates athletes, coaches and executives on a routine basis. Yet, despite succeeding at a high level in the media capital of the world, the 49-year-old skipper doesn't get enough credit for just how valuable he is to the Yankees success.
This season marks Girardi's seventh in New York. Heading into play on June 7, the Yankees had posted a .577 winning percentage under his watch, captured three American League East division crowns and won a World Series title.
When factoring in the 2006 National League Manager of the Year awarded to Girardi for his work with the 2006 Florida Marlins, the start of a special career has unfolded for the former major league catcher.
In fact, Girardi's .564 career winning percentage ranks 18th in the history of the game, per Baseball-Reference. Some of the names below him on that list include Davey Johnson, Bobby Cox, Billy Martin, Sparky Anderson and Joe Torre.
To be fair, another decade or two of full seasons could bring down Girardi's gaudy totals. Plus, it wouldn't be just to not mention New York's payroll advantage and yearly pursuit of talent for the successful manager to work with in the Bronx.
Yet, in 2014—much like in 2013 and several other years during Girardi's tenure—his roster is littered with more name value than tangible ability. Due to a combination of age, injuries and natural decline, perception has overtaken reality when it comes to many of the rosters that Girardi has been tasked with guiding to major success.
Through the first two-plus months of the 2014 season, New York is staying afloat despite losing 60 percent of its Opening Day rotation (Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda), receiving less-than-expected production from highly paid imports like Brian McCann (.663 OPS) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.757 OPS) and watching injuries zap consistency from Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira.
Over the first third of the season, Girardi has had three star-caliber players—Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances and Yangervis Solarte—to lean on. Considering that the latter two weren't locks to make the team out of spring training, New York's team isn't exactly the best 25-man roster money can buy.
If the Yankees were sitting below .500, few would blame Girardi. As the team continues to battle for position in a crowded sea of parity, one of baseball's best managers deserves recognition for not allowing his team to sink.
On a day-to-day basis, it's easy to watch Girardi work and observe his baseball acumen. After a 15-year career as a catcher, Girardi's style is akin to the type of preparation a catcher must put in to excel at a difficult craft. In-game moves are meticulously planned, older players are given planned rests and relievers are rarely overworked or asked to pitch in more then two consecutive games.
Hey, look, Joe Girardi is bringing his best reliever in for a high-leverage situation against the oppositon’s best hitter.— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) May 16, 2014
Furthermore, Girardi's personality—while fiery at times—is unusually calm and rooted in deep thinking, rarely allowing for panic in the face of adversity, per Jorge Ortiz of USA Today.
"We do have some injuries, but you can't make excuses," Girardi said. "You still need to find a way to get it done."
Thus far, the Yankees have gotten it done and stayed in the race by over-performing expected win-loss totals—eerily similar to what the franchise achieved last year on the path to 85 wins and season-long contention in the AL East.
Despite owning a negative run differential (minus-26), the Yankees boast a winning record (31-29) and sit in second place in the competitive AL East. After completing a similar trick last year, general manager Brian Cashman was critical of his roster building while praising Girardi's work, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.
“Our team over-performed last year,” Cashman said. “It’s a credit to everybody involved in that process. But the record didn’t reflect the talent."
Over the years, that's become a theme for teams led by Girardi. During his managerial tenure, Girardi's rosters have consistently won more games than the numbers suggest. Based on runs scored and runs allowed, an expected win total emerges at the end of each 162-game season. Take a look at how often the Yankees have overachieved since 2008:
|Year/Team||Expected Record||Actual Record||Girardi Impact|
In less than eight years, Girardi has overseen a 14-win improvement from raw Pythagorean totals, adding roughly two wins per season.
Yet, when factoring in day-to-day and year-to-year decision-making, it's clear that the Yankees manager adds even more than that. While it's fun to attempt to quantify managers in numbers and win totals, some of Girardi's best and most difficult decisions can't be measured.
Upon taking over for the legendary Joe Torre in 2008, Girardi's personality was brash and abrasive. By early in 2009, he mellowed and became more open in the clubhouse. Later that season, the Yankees captured a World Series title.
Does Joe Girardi get enough credit for success in New York?
With an aging roster of past stars, Girardi has been tasked with overseeing farewell tours for Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera while attempting to ease former stars like Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte out of the spotlight.
Along with handling a bullpen brilliantly—most recently with the ascension of Betances to a major role—Girardi has shown the ability to navigate through troubled waters with players, including the never-ending plight of Alex Rodriguez.
Through the first 10 weeks of the 2014 season, Girardi is proving to be what he's been since the day he made the jump from player to manager: an excellent tactician, smart baseball man and leader with the ability to exert the most from every roster.