>> Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tim Marhcman has an excellent piece noting that the superficially numbers-savvy Joe Girardi is actually a much worse percentage manager than the folksy-seeming Charlie Manuel:

The quintessential Girardi ploy came last Friday, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees were down one run with two outs in the top of the ninth inning when the Angels walked Alex Rodriguez.


This is no nitpick or isolated incident. Throughout the playoffs, Girardi has been allowing moderately decent starter A.J. Burnett to pitch to his own personal catcher—exiling starter Jorge Posada—because of the "rhythm" that Burnett enjoys with scrub Jose Molina. (Burnett walked five and hit two in his first start. Some rhythm!)

The curious thing about these inane moves is that they don't—at all—match up with Girardi's reputation as a forward thinker steeped in statistical nuance. There's nothing more old school than pinch running on a hunch or citing the chemistry between a pitcher and catcher as a reason to bench one of your best hitters. The Yankee manager's overarching philosophy, then, seems to have less to do with statistics than with the notion that a manager needs to make slick maneuvers to win ballgames.


Manuel's general understanding that baseball is about players throwing and hitting and catching a ball is in perfect accord with the most sophisticated study of the sport. So is his simple insistence that players should be judged by more information rather than less. The Yankees have the better team, and would probably win the World Series if they were managed by a bag of sunflower seeds. The bag of seeds, at least, wouldn't pinch run for Alex Rodriguez, bench Jorge Posada, or swap relievers because of some minute difference that doesn't really matter. Girardi isn't wholly useless—he's refreshingly willing to use his closer outside of ninth-inning save chances, and he's dismissed calls to tinker with his batting order to aid slumping Nick Swisher. Still, if the World Series comes down to who has the smarter manager, the Phillies will win a second straight championship.

Admittedly, it's important not to exaggerate the importance of this stuff -- as Bill James pointed out in his book on the subject, many great managers have indulged in suboptimal percentage moves to give them more control over the action, and if you do the big things well it doesn't matter that much. But, still, I'm pretty happy to see that Girardi has a utility infielder with good tiny-sample-size numbers against Pedro and Jose Molina in the lineup for Game 2. Although I'm not terribly optimistic about him with his current stuff against this particular lineup, every dead spot Pedro gets helps. Hopefully Petey has another seven good innings in him...


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