We all know that the Yankees have another solid team heading into the 2011 baseball season. However, there is a reason why they are not the favorites this season and it is much bigger than failing to get Cliff Lee and barely attempting to get now new Boston Red Sox, Carl Crawford.
The Yankees still have a powerful lineup especially when clicking all at once. They have a much improved bullpen as they signed Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano. They are finally heading into a spring training where they will give Jesus Montero and Austin Romine a big chance to make the Major League squad. Of course as we all know only one can make it.
They have Damaso Marte coming back from injury to give them a viable second left handed reliever to bring out of the bullpen along with Feliciano. Though they did lose Andy Pettitte to retirement, they have two front line starters in C.C Sabathia and Phil Hughes along A.J Burnett who believe it or not will rebound in 2011 to have his usual 14 or 15 win season.
Now, of course Burnett will have games where he makes you want to throw and break something. But, on the positive side, he will also have those spectacular outings that will make you wonder, why with a curveball like he possesses is he not one of the greatest pitchers in the game?
That's the good side of the Yankees as a whole. The bad side—well we all know what it is. They have mediocre pitching at the 4th and 5th starting rotation spots. Their bench is okay at best and some might say that Derek Jeter's defense is another issue. But frankly that is ridiculous. When Jeter is hitting well the media says he is playing great defense and when he is batting .260 like he was last season his defense is a "liability".
It is to be expected that this team will not look the same when we get into the dog days of August and September because of the two glaring holes on the bench and in the starting rotation. That is the beauty of of having rich bosses who will undoubtedly invest money in a starter and some bench help by the July 31st trade deadline.
With that said, the biggest concern with this Yankee team is Joe Girardi. The truth is that though they are not the favorite to win it all this season the Yankees have a really good shot. It is up to Girardi to not mess it up and to help this team overcome all the flaws that they have this season. That is what good managers do.
Thankfully this writer is willing to help.
Now, it is well known that managing from your living room couch when you are not in the public eye, and criticizing from the outside looking in is much easier than being one of only 30 major league managers. Not to mention that a Yankee manager works for an organization that has no patience for not winning it all.
But eh! I decided to do it anyway.
Here is how the 2011 Yankees should be managed from starting pitching, to the lineup, the bullpen, the bench and defense.
Okay, so there will be games where Girardi won't have to do much of anything except of course raise his right arm to signal Mariano Rivera into the game to close it out. The easiest decision in baseball.
But what about the nights when the starting pitching is just not up to par. One of the biggest and most important attributes a great manager manager has is knowing when to take out your starter so that the team still has a legitimate chance at winning the game.
Of course it's easy to take out Sabathia, Hughes, Burnett or any other Yankee starter when they have been pounded for five or six runs. But, where Girardi must improve this season especially with questionable starting pitching at the back end of the rotation is taking out a starter at the right time before it's too late. We all know that all it takes is one big hit in the late innings to put a game out of reach.
Certainly the decision to take out a starting pitcher is one based on feel and depends on how much a manager thinks a pitcher has got left in the tank. Along with, of course, how the pitcher is performing on that given day.
Still one of the most irritating things a manager can do is wait and be hesitant to even warm somebody up in the bullpen when a pitcher is in a huge jam in the middle to late innings of a game.
So this what Girardi should do.
When the game is in the middle to late innings and the starter is in trouble, warm somebody up so that when a big at bat occurs that could cost you the game, you have a reliever that you can put in the game. Furthermore, If the starter has not had the kind of performance up to that point that would warrant him the opportunity to face the hitter in that possible game deciding at bat, take him out of the game.
Seems like the obvious thing to do right but how many times have Yankee fans seen Girardi leave the starter in the game just a little bit too long.
Now, the good thing is that Sabathia on most nights will be spectacular and that the Yankees will eventually aquire better pitching to fill the 4th and 5th starting rotation spots than Nova, Mitre, Garcia and Colon. Nevertheless, if Girardi leaves the starters in the game too long he could cost the Yankees wins in the regular season and in the playoffs.
Sometimes it takes multiple lineup changes in order to find the one that fits your team the best. The lineup would be—
4 A- Rod
Though this will be the most seen lineup shown by the Yankees this season at least at the early stages of the year, that does not mean that Girardi can't change it. Meaning—more than just the obvious when he flip flops Granderson and Swisher in the lineup. Or when Cervelli starts and he moves Gardner up to the 8th hole.
In April, Mark Teixiera notoriously always gets off to a horrible start so why not move him down in the lineup if he does it again? Let Robinson Cano bat 3rd and have Teixiera bat 5th in front of Swisher. Now, the issue becomes, well why have Teixiera's protection in the lineup go from A- Rod to Nick Swisher. Isn't that a huge downgrade?
Well yes it is, but Swisher usually gets off to hot starts with the Yankees before he starts to cool down in the summer. In terms of the leadoff spot, it is time to have Derek Jeter for the most part, bat second again. Having Jeter lead off was a brilliant move in 2009 because if he got on Johnny Damon, who barely struck out, hit for contact and had some pop and was the perfect compliment to him in the lineup.
The idea is that Granderson or Swisher could do this in the second hole. Sadly, it's just not true. Swisher, though he walks a lot and hits his share of home runs, does not typically hit for a high average and having him near the top of the lineup day in and day out will make the Yankee lineup seem very top heavy. It is very essential that the Yankees have some pop in the lower half of their lineup with Swisher and Jorge Posada.
Curtis Granderson, on the other hand, strikes out way too much and typically has his average in the .260 to .270 area and that is not good enough to compliment Jeter at the top of the Yankee lineup. Therefore, the reason for moving Jeter to the second hole is not because he can't hit leadoff anymore. It has more to do with the fact no one the Yankees can reasonably put in behind him compliments Jeter and the lineup as a whole.
The solution to this is quite simple. Let Gardner bat leadoff simply because he is the fastest guy you have. He has many different ways of getting on base. Then Jeter, if Gardner is on base, can move him along to third assuming Gardner steals second. If he doesn't steal second, Jeter, with his great ability to make contact, can set up a 1st and 3rd situation with the big hitters coming up.
If Gardner were not to get on base then you have Jeter coming up who has batted leadoff the last two years along with the early parts of his career. The only down side to that is that there will be one out in the inning but with the hitters the Yankees have they are always a danger to score at least one run.
This should be the Yankee lineup during the season barring injuries and/or trades
4. A- Rod
5. Cano (should move up to third if Teixiera struggles)
7. Swisher (7th because he always cools down and is always taken out for defense late)
The Yankees have the potential to be the best bullpen in all of baseball led by of course the greatest closer of all time. But, managing a bullpen is never easy because relievers who ordinarily do not pitch every day can be upset by not being used enough or just by their performance when they do get to pitch.
Patience for relievers is certainly thinner than for other players because their only job for the most part is to get a couple of hitters out.
The manager has to figure out what relievers will succeed in what situations. This will in turn help Girardi define the roles for the pitchers in the bullpen.
Obviously the closer but with his increasing age he should not go for more than an inning a night unless it is a game against the Boston Red Sox or any other meaningful game that will help decide the American League East.
The 8th inning guy who if he earns the trust of the coaching staff should pitch from time to time in the 9th and even pitch an inning and a third or so from the 7th inning to get the ball to Mariano. The purpose of having him pitch in the 7th and 8th inning on some nights is to end opposing teams rallies. Let your best weapons decide the game.
Joba to start off could take over the 7th inning role but if he gets back to his 2007 form, he will be the 8th inning option surpassing Rafael Soriano. When all the talk about Joba possibly being a starter is done he is and will always be a reliever as long as he stays on the Yankees. So no excuses its time for him to step up as use that fastball and devastating slider to improve his role in that Yankee bullpen.
A pitcher who will not have a particular inning assigned to him but still a pitcher with a really good curveball who can come in the game into a jam and pick up a huge strikeout. If need be, he can pitch a clean inning from time to time. But certainly not a pitcher, at least at this point of his career, that you give that much responsibility to. Robertson is best reserved for coming in the middle of an inning and getting a big hitter out to get the Yankees out of a jam.
The two lefties who will both be used to get out hitters like David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Adrian Gonzalez Carl Crawford and similar players. Though this will be the main role of these two talented relievers, Girardi must understand that both of these pitchers can pitch to left-handed and right-handed hitters and have a recent history of doing so. Feliciano, while with the new York Mets, was one of the few bright spots on the team. Marte, in 2005 and 2009 with White Sox and Yankee teams respectively, was a huge part of why they won World Series titles.
The rest of the relievers not mentioned should be used in situations where the game is out of reach or if they perform well enough that there role can improve. Similar to Alfredo Aceves in 2009.
These are often the most over looked parts of a baseball team. But they are a very important. Many experts say that in order to be a really good team the team must have two of the following—pitching, hitting or defense. Well what happens then if a team possesses all three?
Well then that team is as close to unbeatable as a team can be aren't they?
Oh and what about off the bench. Theoretically, you would like to have a good defensive back up catcher, a speed guy, a guy with home run power and a utility player. Well the Yankees don't really have that on the bench at least not to start out the 2011 season. But fear not Yankee fans because the Yankees did not start out the 2009 season with a Jerry Hairston Jr or Eric Hinske on the team which leads you to believe that trades are coming.
So for now, all the Yankees and Joe Girardi can do is wing it until help arrives. Nevertheless, let's see what Girardi can do until the help does arrive.
The Yankees have one of the best defensive infields in all of baseball with four of the starting infielders having won Gold Glove honors in the past. But on the days that Girardi elects to give Jeter or Rodriguez a day off or just put them as DH, Jorge Posada should be the catcher on that day. And no, it does not matter if Burnett is the scheduled starter. With the way that Burnett pitched last year he has no right to a personal catcher.
With Jeter being the DH, Ramiro Pena should be the SS and on days where A Rod is the DH either Russell Martin can play 3rd base which he did from time to time in Los Angeles or again let Pena play third.defender.
If Montero or Romine do end up becoming the Yankees starting catcher, Martin can spell A Rod at third.
In the outfield, the defensive substitution that will be made most often is Nick Swisher being taken out and replaced by Greg Golson who can cover more ground.
Yankee options off the bench are limited and the defensive changes that can be made are in turn, very easy to make and obvious. Girardi and the Yankee coaching staff should be patient with the young players they have and wait for the veteran help the Yankee front office will surely supply them with.