It’s become routine to perform analyses and eulogies on teams when their seasons are over, and it’s easier to pick on the teams that had high hopes back in the spring. Easier and more interesting. (Would you even be reading this article if our headline mentioned the Astros or Rockies?). Lately, you might think that the one and only reason the Yankees under-performed in 2013 was their many injuries. True, those broken bones played a part, but they were not the only reason. As a matter of fact, I ranked the injuries as only the 4th most important factor in the Yanks’ slide. Read on to see the more accurate reasons.
1. Joe Girardi’s mis-management of his pitching staff.
On September 28, Andy Pettitte threw a complete-game gem. It was the first time all year that Joe Girardi left him in the game late, and, boy oh boy, did he reward his manager. It makes one think, what if Girardi would have managed this way all year. What if Girardi had left his pitchers in the game when they were doing well, instead of turning wins into losses via suspect bullpen members such as Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Andy Warren, and the gang?
Girardi obviously brought in the bullpen pitchers because he didn’t think guys like Pettitte could throw complete games. Ooops! On the penultimate game of the year, the facts spoke for themselves. Girardi was clearly wrong. How many games did Girardi cost the Yankees because he benched effective pitchers? Clearly, it was enough times that the Yanks would have made the playoffs. A few more wins here and there…a bit of a momentum/confidence boost…it all would have added up.
But Girardi and his overuse of “the book” and his charts and his meaningless pitch counts trumped common sense. When a pitcher is doing well, you leave him in the game. Period. Period. It’s not rocket science, as Pettitte proved during the one and only chance he got to prove it.
2. Joe Girardi’s mis-management of his batters.
Before the Girardi defenders start whining about the injuries the Yankees faced this year and about the injured players Girardi could not use, let’s look at the non-injured players Girardi could have used. At the beginning of the season, Girardi thought that Ben Francisco was a better player than Ichiro Suzuki, and consistently put Francisco in right field. At the end of the season, Girardi thought that Vernon Wells was a better player than Suzuki and played him in right field. (see below also, because Ichiro’s mis-management deserves a category of its own.) In between, Brennan Boesch came aboard and hit a respectable .275, and Zoilo Almonte came up and sent Yankee nation afire with one of the fastest starts of any Yankee in history. Girardi lost interest in Almonte after an injury, and he thought that Brent “.119” Lillibirdge was a better option than Boesch. We mention these players just to point out the fact that injuries had nothing to do with Girardi’s insane belief that Francisco was a better batter than Suzuki.
3. Joe Girardi’s mis-management of Ichiro Suzuki.
Yeah, this one gets a category of its own. For over a decade, there were several managers of the Seattle Mariners, and the one thing they had in common was this bit of common sense: Lead off with Ichiro. From Lou Piniella to Bob Melvin, they all let Ichiro lead off, and he became a feared hitter with a .320+ average.
Seattle left him in the top spot for ten years and never tinkered with that notion. He is a model of consistency, and he likes things a certain way. Allow him his quirks, and let him bat.
Girardi decided to “improve” things. Apparently clueless to the notion of “Don’t tamper with success,” Girardi decided to have Ichiro bat 7th one day. Then 8th the next. Then benched him in favor of Ben Francisco. Then bat him 2nd. Then bench him again. Then bat him 6th. You get the idea. All season long.
A player who feeds off of routine was kept out of his routine by a manager who just didn’t get it. Ichiro is still a hitting machine. Once he plays for a manager who lets him prove it, you’ll see the difference.
4. The injuries
Yes, we will finally acknowledge that injuries played a big part in the Yankees’ failure this season. Mark Teixeira was probably the toughest blow to absorb, with his switch-hitting, power, and gold gloves. Derek Jeter was next. Even if he didn’t hit .300 this year (or ever again), he is still a consistent presence on that field that brings everyone else up. Alex Rodriquez and Curtis Granderson were sorely missed too. The signings of guys like Travis Haefner to be a DH (we wonder if Girardi was involved in the decision that Raul Ibanez and his 29 homers weren’t needed in NY anymore) and Kevin Youklis to play third were experiments at best, so we don’t see those injuries as crucial losses.
5. The A-Rod Distractions
We’ve never laced up the cleats and stepped onto a field, so we cannot say how much of a distraction something really is. When you’re positioning yourself under a routine pop-up, do you suddenly think of A-Rod’s signature being on a drug purchase receipt and this distracts you and makes you drop the ball? Seriously, we can acknowledge that some of the newer Yankees didn’t know how to deal with A-Rod, but it was their lack of skill — more than the A-Rod aura — that made them fall apart as the summer went on.