What makes a great manager? Is it a keen mind that grasps and applies strategy well? A foundation of organization and planning that allows the manager to rarely be caught off guard? A sense of the moment and the ability to improvise and go with his gut? The ability to handle the egos on his roster and survive in the media? All of the above?
Luckily, this is a question that the Manager of the Year voters never feel the need to address. Instead, they determine which team was the most surprising or had the most key injuries, and the manager of that club is dubbed Manager of the Year. Because defining good managing is difficult and quantifying all managerial decisions and actions is near impossible, voters take a shortcut and essentially award the “Manager Of The Most Surprising Or Resilient Team Of The Year” Award. Now, while the Yankees almost never qualify for that accolade, their performance this year, as well as Joe Girardi‘s actual observed performance, makes him just as good a choice as any for a postseason award.
While many predicted that the Yankees would make the postseason, few had them winning the division or finishing with the best record in the AL. Here at TYA, 9 of our 10 writers picked Boston to win the division, and all 45 of ESPN’s baseball experts took the Sox as well. A number of them had the Yankees missing the postseason entirely. Additionally, most pundits assumed that the Yankees would make a midseason deal to fortify their threadbare rotation, something that never came to fruition and likely would have lowered expectations if known before the season. As such, Girardi’s Yankees definitely qualify in the “exceeds expectations” department.
As for dealing with adversity, here are some issues that Joe Girardi had to handle this season:
- His presumed #2 starter, Phil Hughes, was terrible from the get-go and did not get significantly better as the season progressed.
- His #3 starter, A.J. Burnett, started the season reasonably well, but melted down in the 2nd half. Girardi handled the Burnett situation with aplomb, and something that could have created discord in the clubhouse instead remained an issue between player and manager.
- Rafael Soriano had a terrible start to the season and seemed to be becoming a clubhouse and media issue before his injury. However, once he returned from the DL, Girardi showed faith in him by plugging him back into an important role, and Soriano looks to be a key bullpen cog heading into October.
- Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano, expected to be important bullpen members, were both lost for the season. Girardi simply shuffled his relievers until he uncovered some solid options, and the Yankees once again have one of the best bullpens in baseball.
- Derek Jeter started the season incredibly poorly, and many (myself included) were calling for him to play less and be dropped in the order. Joe showed incredible faith in the Yankee captain, and Jeter has responded by having an amazing resurgence. I have to imagine that he appreciates the trust that Joe exhibited.
- Conversely, Jorge Posada was clearly nearing the end of the road, and outside of one blip, Joe has managed the move from regular catcher to part time DH to bench bat with aplomb. He recently allowed Jorge a few more innings at catcher and some frames at 2nd base, and gave him a chance to drive in the winning runs in the division clincher.
- Players like Russell Martin, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher went through extended slumps that spanned months, yet Girardi had faith in their talent and stuck with them. All three players snapped out of their funks and provided great value to the ballclub.
- Alex Rodriguez has been injured for much of the 2nd half, yet Joe utilized his bench to cover that hole, and the offense did not miss a beat. Furthermore, Mark Teixeira has had a disappointing season, meaning the Yankees have gotten less than stellar production from their presumed #3 and #4 hitters.
Am I overstating Girardi’s impact on some of these events? Almost certainly. However, you could do the same for any of the other contenders for the award, and I doubt any comes out looking much better than Girardi. As we stand here at the end of the season, Girardi has navigated a tough second half schedule with one truly dependable starter, a number of key injuries in the bullpen, and some struggles from the middle of the order. Despite all that, the Yankees have won the division handily, will likely finish with the best record in the AL, and are reasonably healthy heading into October. Based on the way the honor has been awarded in the past, Joe Girardi is deserving of the Manager of the Year award.
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