Joe Girardi deserved better than fifth in Manager of Year voting

Terry Francona picked up his second career Manager of the Year Award on Tuesday, a reward for a tumultuous, adversity-filled season that resulted in the Indians’ American League Central title.

Texas’ Jeff Bannister and Baltimore’s Buck Showalter — the past two winners — finished second and third, both equally deserving of such a high finish.

Joe Girardi finished fifth in the voting, earning only one second-place vote and two third-place votes. That’s way too low.

Like almost every manager out there, Girardi has his share of detractors. He’s made some head-scratching moves, left pitchers in the games for too long and gave others an inexplicably quick hook, moves I criticized often throughout the Yankees’ 84-78 season.

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But even the managers considered the sport’s gold standard have had similar moments. Showalter didn’t use Zach Britton in the wild card game, watching the Orioles’ season come to an end with their best pitcher sitting idly in the bullpen. Joe Maddon guided the Cubs to their first championship in 108 years, but his moves in Game 7 — and throughout the postseason — were widely panned and viewed as panicky. And he won!

So while it’s easy to look at the Yankees’ fourth-place finish and dismiss the job Girardi did — most notably during their crushing four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox in mid-September — that would be foolish.

The mere fact that those games meant anything at all is the reason Girardi should have received more consideration.

Terry Francona took home his second career Manager of the Year award.

Terry Francona took home his second career Manager of the Year award.

(Phil Long/AP)

Given that more than half of the rotation was mediocre at best for most of the season and that Carlos Beltran and Didi Gregorius were the only competent hitters for the first four months, it was hardly surprising that the Yankees had gotten off to a dreadful 9-17 start and spent the next few months trying to climb out of that hole.

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But when Brian Cashman traded Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller before the trade deadline, the white flag had been raised. Unlike at Wrigley Field, that wasn’t a good thing.

Then came Mark Teixeira’s retirement announcement and the Alex Rodriguez farewell circus, which deflected some of the fire-sale talk for a few days, but it felt like the scene in “The Godfather” where all family business was settled. Out with the old, in with the new. If that meant forfeiting the rest of 2016, so be it.

Only Girardi wasn’t willing to do that. He repeated time and time again that the Yankees remained focused on the postseason, drawing eye rolls and mockery from much of the fan base — particularly the vocal minority on social media.

Yet on September 10, the Yankees sat only three games out of first place in the AL East and one game out of a wild card spot.

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Showalter’s team led the AL in home runs by a wide margin, while John Farrell’s Red Sox scored 100 more runs than any other AL team. John Gibbons’ Blue Jays and Francona’s Indians were the only teams with a sub-4.00 ERA.

Joe Girardi was forced to rely on his bullpen with starters struggling to pitch deep into games.

Joe Girardi was forced to rely on his bullpen with starters struggling to pitch deep into games.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Bannister’s Rangers rolled to 95 wins despite a pedestrian plus-8 run differential and key injuries to Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish among others, which is why he would have received my first-place vote. (I didn’t have a vote in this category; I voted for AL MVP, which we’ll get to later this week.)

Girardi? He had an offense that ranked 12th in the AL in runs scored, 11th in home runs and 13th in OPS. The pitching staff ranked seventh with a 4.16 ERA, 10th in terms of starting rotation ERA (4.44) and innings from its rotation.

Yes, the bullpen was superb for the first four months (though remember, Chapman didn’t make his debut until the second week of May), but how much can you ask of a bullpen when the starters are going four or five innings on a regular basis?

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The Yankees had a minus-22 run differential, yet they finished six games over .500. No other team in baseball that gave up more runs than it scored posted a winning record this season.

Since 2010, only two other teams have finished above .500 with a run differential of minus-20 or worse: Girardi’s 2014 Yankees, who were minus-31 and also finished 84-78, and his 2013 Yankees, who went 85-77 despite a minus-21 run differential.

In other words, Girardi has guided the Yankees to some respectable seasons and kept them in the race with rosters that didn’t deserve to be in the same zip codes as the postseason.

Francona was a fine choice for this year’s top managerial award. But Girardi did another solid job with a less-than-ideal roster, something many managers would not have done. He may not have deserved an award for that, but he deserves some credit nonetheless.

Tags:
mlb
new york yankees
joe girardi
terry francona
cleveland indians
buck showalter
baltimore orioles
jeff bannister
texas rangers

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