Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Is This Guy Not AL Manager of the Year?

I get it, Mike Scioscia is a good manager, maybe the best in baseball.  But hasn't everybody already been singing that song for the last 2-3 years?  What did he do this year that was so great and so different from what he's been doing that it garnered him winning AL Manager of the Year over Joe Girardi?  He took one of the most talented lineups in baseball (which he has consistently had since he began his tenure as Angels manager), and led it to another 90+-win season that ended without a World Series title.  What's so special about that?

In that city where the fans need extra props to produce crowd noise, in that division where the pennat race is over sometime between May and June 1st, Scioscia and his team did exactly what they always do, except they had a player die early on in the year.  Call me crazy, but I can't imagine Nick Adenhart is strumming his harp with a little extra happiness because his former team got trounced in the ALCS and his manager won Coach of the Year.  So is Scioscia being given the award for "keeping his team together" and "leading them through an unimaginable tragedy"?

Please; what keeps those players together and keeps them trying to win is their paychecks and the thought of being able to hold up that big trophy and then videotape the parade 2 days later with their families on top of a float, and the bottom line is Mike Scioscia did not do enough this season to make that thought a reality and Joe Girardi did.  There's no doubt that Joe Girardi was the best manager in the American League this season.  Case in point:

**Hampered by injuries and innings limits, Girardi found a way to get respectable value out of the 4- and 5-spots in his starting rotation for more than half the season and not only did it without sacrificing wins, but in doing it guided his team to the best record in baseball.  You can't try to tell me that at the beginning of the year Girardi was counting on getting wins in the summer and early fall when, there was still a hint of a pennat race, from the likes of Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin.  And yet he did it.  He started who he had to start, got the most out of what he had to work with, and kept winning.

**Despite having these issues that sapped innings from the back end of his staff, Girardi expertly managed his bullpen from Day 1, using his whole complement of pitchers available in a way that gave him the opportunity to win and think situationally day-to-day while still not relying on any 1 or 2 guys so much that their arms became tired and they had to go on the DL or were shot once the playoffs rolled around.

Torre was criticized for years for his tendency to fall in love with Mo and whoever was the setup guy at the time and burn them out by August.  Girardi got big innings from Mo, Hughes, Aceves, Robertson, and Coke all year and still left them all with plenty of gas in the tank come postseason time.  The only Yankee reliever in the top 30 in the AL in relief innings pitched was Aceves, and as the lone guy in the pen who was used as a long reliever, you don't mind that.

**Joe didn't tinker with the lineup, trying to play matchups or get guys out of slumps just for the sake of doing it throughout the year.  He based his players' off-days almost solely on who he thought needed rest to keep them fresh for the long haul.  People questioned his sitting Matsui for the entire interleague schedule outside of pinch hitting duty and that worked like a charm as Matsui was a beast for the rest of the year after interleague was over.  Instead of worrying about a bad game or two, Joe looked at the big picture and kept his guys rested just enough to keep them fresh but not so much that they became cold heading into the postseason.  Once the playoffs hit, everybody on the everyday roster was relatively healthy and ready to go, something that most teams can't usually say after 162 regular season games.

**Joe also didn't tinker with the new vibe and attitude around the team this year with the addition of the new faces.  In fact, he almost seemed to rein back his tough exterior and include himself into the new feeling around the clubhouse.  He let guys like Nick Swisher and A.J. be who they were instead of forcing them to follow the strict "Yankee way" and him and the team ended up being better off because of it.

**Most importantly, Joe did an excellent job managing the workload of his big 3 starters down the stretch of the regular season to keep them rested enough for the grind of the 3-man rotation he used in the playoffs.  It became obvious pretty quickly that Joe had his mind set on the 3-man playoff rotation for some time, and while some people questioned it, he stuck to his guns and it ended up being the best call he made all year.

You can argue with a lot of the decisions he did make in the playoffs, but the one you can't argue with is the 3-man rotation; it's what gave the Yankees the best chance to win and it's what eventually won the series for them as they could count on one of their big 3 every game and not worry about what they were going to get from a cold, possibly not up to the challenge 4th starter.  After being worked to the bone last season, CC showed what a little rest can do for him, and there's no way Andy comes back to win Game 6 in the World Series without a little extra rest at the end of the regular season.

Joe knew what he wanted to do in the playoffs, both with his everyday lineup and his pitching staff, and he managed accordingly down the home stretch.  His strategy allowed him to stick with that plan all the way through the playoffs and it allowed his team to win the World Series.  Did he have the most talented lineup in baseball?  Absolutely he did.  But Girardi also managed to get more out of the most talented lineup than Torre did in his last few years, and did it in a high-pressure situation in a big market for the most famous organization in professional sports a year after his first year at the helm resulted in the team missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

Mike Scioscia did a good job this year, don't get me wrong.  But Joe Girardi did a great job, and it's a crime that he isn't being recognized as the best manager in his league.