I left two grades out of my post from this morning. Here they are:
Joe Girardi, Manager
Girardi has impressed me in a number of ways this season. Starting with instantly rewarding Nick Swisher’s hot start with more playing time, Girardi has done an excellent job of rewarding performance with playing time throughout his roster. When Brett Gardner stumbled and Melky Cabrera got hot, Girardi didn’t hesitate to invert the roles of his two center fielders. Angel Berroa may have been on the roster for far too long, but Girardi barely used him, quickly recognizing Ramiro Peña’s superior skill set and rewarding the rookie with opportunities commensurate to his performance. Similarly, when catchers Kevin Cash and Francisco Cervelli were called up within three days of each other following injuries to Jorge Posada and Jose Molina, Girardi didn’t simply default to Cash as the starter because of his major league experience (which includes a .186/.248/.287 career batting line). Rather, he again favored talent over experience, making Cervelli the starter, and was rewarded for it. Girardi excelled at this in his bullpen usage last year, and has done it again this year, letting Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, and now Phil Hughes pitch their way to high-leverage duty while casting aside more experienced arms in Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez.
Of course, managers manage people and not just teams, so there have been a couple of cases in which Girardi has persisted with a player in a role beyond the point at which the media and fans thought was appropriate. Specifically, Girardi put Brian Bruney right back into his eighth-inning role after Bruney was activated from the DL for the second time and stuck with Robinson Cano batting fifth behind Alex Rodriguez through a considerable slump with runners in scoring position. In both cases, Girardi was showing some necessary faith in those players, but not so much that he didn’t eventually move Bruney into the middle innings and Cano down in the order.
Girardi also deserves credit for lightening up this season after receiving poor marks for his militaristic approach to last year’s team. Starting with a spring training team field trip to a pool hall conceived by the skipper, this year’s Yankees team has been one of the loosest and most colorful in recent memory, from Nick Swisher’s iPod, to A.J. Burnett’s cream pies, to the post-game championship belt (donated by Jerry Lawler), to the Mariano Rivera-judged kangaroo court.
Still, Girardi continues to have a blind spot when it comes to the fragility of his players. Though he seems to have discontinued his practice of lying to the media about his players’ health, he initially failed to follow the doctor’s orders to give Alex Rodriguez proper rest following the third baseman’s return from hip surgery, and has too often overextended CC Sabathia beyond the big man’s effectiveness. Fortunately, CC’s pitch counts haven’t been dangerous (he has reached 120 pitches just twice, tellingly both times in Yankee losses), and Rodriguez has responded incredibly to having some regular rest of late. Still, taking those kind of chances with the team’s top assets early in the season is more than just obstinate, it’s potentially disastrous for the organization. Given Girardi’s injury blind spot, I wonder to what degree his approach is to blame for the fact that both Cody Ransom and Brian Bruney tried to cover up injuries to the detriment of the team.
Yankee Stadium 2.0
Prior to Opening Day, my objections to the new Yankee Stadium were sentimental, political, financial, historical, and aesthetic. Then the thing opened and turned out to be a giant Homermobile. Worse, it had a significant, detrimental effect on the game being played on the field. Though it feels cavernous to fans, it plays like a bandbox and has been host to many game-changing pop-fly home runs. Just look at the pitching staff’s splits:
Home: 4.80 ERA, 1.45 HR/9, 3.86 BB/9
Road: 4.32 ERA, 1.11 HR/9, 3.57 BB/9
Compare that to last year’s splits:
Home: 4.11 ERA, 0.83 HR/9, 3.10 BB/9
Road: 4.46 ERA, 0.96 HR/9, 3.01 BB/9
That is by far the most significant aspect of the new park, but beyond the way it plays, all of my preseason objections still hold. The best seats in the house have been half empty or worse because of their exorbitant price. The massive new scoreboards are poorly organized, making it unnecessarily difficult to catch any pertinent information with a quick glance away from the action. It’s gaudy, cacophonous, somehow looks cheap despite its billion-dollar price tag, caters primarily to luxury clients, has compromised the quality of the games being played on its field, and was utterly unnecessary in the first place.