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August 30, 2012

On the Beat

New Cup of Joe a Winner

by John Perrotto

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Joe Girardi understands the numbers. That humongous binder that sits beside the manager in the Yankees' dugout isn't a collection of the great volume of copy turned out by the scribes that cover the Bronx Bombers on a daily basis.

Girardi studies the statistics and is as prepared as any manager. That is part of the reason why the Yankees have kept on winning since Girardi replaced Joe Torre, owner of four World Series rings, four years ago.

It helps that one other number works in Girardi's favor—the Yankees' payroll is annually among the highest in the game. Yet, Girardi also knows that winning goes beyond numbers and high-priced players, especially as the season heads into the final month.

"I don't think you can put a number on the value of experience," Girardi said. "When you have guys who have been playing for a long time, guys who are battle-tested in pressure situations, it does make a difference when you're in a pennant race and in October. I don't think anyone would deny that."

Thus, Girardi is not concerned that the Yankees have had what was a once a 10-game lead in the American League East on July 18 reduced to 3 1/2 games over the Orioles. The Yankees are 22-21 since then, but Girardi knows the numbers are still in his favor.

The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report gave the Yankees a 95.1 percent chance of winning the division and a 99.3 chance of making the postseason going into Wednesday's games. What gives Girardi greater comfort is that he has a roster filled with players who have been here before, from Derek Jeter to Robinson Cano to CC Sabathia.

"The biggest difference in having a team that has been through it is that there is no panic," Girardi said. "Nobody starts having doubts if you don't play well for a week or so. They don't let anything outside the clubhouse cause them to question themselves. Our guys know how to stay focused every day. If somebody beats us, it's not going to be because we were distracted by something, it's going to be because somebody was better than us on that particular day."

Because they always have the game's biggest payroll, the Yankees often appear indestructible. They always seem to have another big-dollar replacement at their disposable or the financial wherewithal to go get one when needed. However, the Yankees have been able to weather quite a bit of adversity this season, including losing their top offseason acquisition, right-hander Michael Pineda, to shoulder surgery in spring training; having baseball's all-times saves leader, Mariano Rivera, suffer a season-ending knee injury while shagging fly balls in early May; and having underrated left fielder Brett Gardner being limited to 34 plate appearances before undergoing elbow surgery. Furthermore, left-hander Andy Pettitte and third baseman Alex Rodriguez are on the disabled list, and first baseman Mark Teixeira hasn't been completely healthy all year.

Rafael Soriano has stepped in as the closer, two years after leading the AL in saves while with the Rays, and has 34 saves in 37 opportunities with a 2.48 FIP in 53 2/3 innings. Yankees co-chairman Hal and Hank Steinbrenner went against general manager Brian Cashman's wishes and signed Soriano to a three-year, $35-million contract during the 2010-11 offseason, and the move has paid dividends.

The Yankees also traded with the Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki to replace Gardner in left field. Though the 38-yar-old icon has played below replacement level for the Yankees— -0.3 WARP in 34 games since the trade—Girardi still believes "he can make a difference." The Yankees have also acquired some lesser lights, like lefty-mashing first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce from the Astros. They plugged him into the lineup in the cleanup spot and then beat the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

Girardi was the National League Manager of the Year in 2006, his rookie season as a major-league skipper and had a lone season in South Florida because of a rift with owner Jeffrey Loria. Yet he will likely never get many plaudits while managing the Yankees because of the franchise's financial wherewithal.

"Joe does a great job," said a front-office type from another AL East organization. "It's not easy managing in New York because the expectations are higher for this franchise than anywhere else, but he does a great job of managing those expectations. They've had some really key injuries this season but have gotten through it. A lot of it comes from them having a veteran group of players, but a lot of it also comes from Joe. He's done a great job of managing through adversity. Everyone says the Yankees win every year because they have money. But look at the Red Sox and how they've just blown their team up. Joe does a great job managing his team and getting the most out of it. They haven't played great ball lately, but they still have a firm hold on first place."

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A few minutes with Brewers manager Ron Roenicke

On why he thinks reliever Francisco Rodriguez and starter Shaun Marcum would be good acquisition for teams in contention: "AlI know is if I were a contender and I wanted a guy who was a big-game pitcher out of the bullpen, I'd want a guy like Frankie. I have confidence in him, tons of confidence in him, even was he was going bad earlier in the season. I think the way he's throwing now, someone should grab him. And Shaun Marcum? You've got to be kidding. He could help any team. Every time he is able to step on the field and pitch, he is beneficial. As much I want to win every game we can, I'd never begrudge someone a chance to be part of a pennant race. Hopefully, if we do trade them, we'll get something good back to help us for the future and everyone would benefit."

On being out of contention this season after winning the NL last year: "It's difficult and quite different, but it's one of those things you go through in baseball. We're in the process of looking at younger players and seeing what we have for next season. The positives are that we're still playing hard and we're seeing the young players we need to see. But it's hard to be in this position, especially having the type of season we had last year and having very high hopes coming out of spring training."

On left fielder Ryan Braun having more home runs than during last year's NL MVP season despite not having Prince Fielder hitting behind him: "He has a good mind for what he needs to do to produce and help his team win. Really, it just comes down to the fact that he's that good. He's just that good. You watch him do stuff and (the media) asks if I'm amazed. Well, after managing him for nearly two seasons, I'm not amazed by anything he does anymore. He truly is capable of doing anything."

On why he believes there is such a thing as a clutch hitter and how third baseman Aramis Ramirez exemplifies it: "It's personality. It's something in your makeup that allows you to come through in the clutch. I played with a lot of really good hitters but when it was on the line they weren't as good hitters. Rami is just one of those guys who wants to be up there with the game on the line. Prince was certainly that way. It's like basketball. You here about guys who want to take that last shot but there aren't a lot of them. It's the same way with RBI guys in baseball. There aren't a lot of guy who truly want to be at-bat in big situations and relish being in those situations."

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Scouts' views

Red Sox closer Alfredo Aceves: "It's fairly safe to assume he won't be in Boston next year, huh?"

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro: "I think the Cubs got a helluva deal at seven years and $60 million for him. I know people like to knock him for making mistakes, but he's 22 years old and already an established star in the big leagues at a difficult position to find star players. You're talking about someone who, when he is at his best in a few years, could be one of the top five to seven players in the game."

Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood: "It's all about command with him. When he's locating his fastball, it's good enough to get anybody out. It's just a matter of him gaining experience and continuing to learn and I'll think he'll be a fine big-league pitcher."

Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto: "What makes him so tough is that all his pitches come out of the same arm slot. You really don't know what's coming. He doesn't tip his pitch even in the slightest."

Pirates infielder Josh Harrison: "It's easy to write him off as nothing more than a bench guy because he's small and doesn't have any plate discipline. But there's something there. I really think if he works at it and keeps developing that he could be an everyday player."

Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma: "He's been quite the bargain at one year and $1 million. The Mariners took a shot when everyone else was scared off because they thought he was hurt, and the gamble has paid off."

Braves right-hander Kris Medlen: "This guy has a Cy Young in his future"

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina: "Maybe this is just an outlier season for him, we'll see, but I've been impressed with his power this season. He's really learned to turn on some pitches."

Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss: "He's quietly been one of the real surprise stories in baseball. I figured we'd never see him again in the big leagues, and he's bounced back to play a role on a contending team. Good for him battling back from Triple-A."

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas: "He's still inconsistent, which can be expected from a young player, but you can see the talent is there. He has a lot of raw power for a guy who isn't all that big, and I believe it will manifest itself in time."

Rangers right-hander Roy Oswalt: "With so many teams needing starting pitching, I'd be surprised if someone doesn't trade for him. The Rangers aren't asking much for him from everything I'm hearing."

Astros outfielder Jimmy Paredes: "The Astros made the right move by getting him out of the infield and he really thrived in Triple-A this year. I could see him and Jose Altuve forming a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the order in Houston for a long time."

Angels first baseman Albert Pujols: "He needs to have a big September. I know he's turned it around after a bad start, but the Angels paid huge money for him and he's got to earn it and get them into the postseason. If the Angels don't get to the postseason, then the season has to be considered a failure, and Albert has to take some of the blame."

Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus: "Getting away from Tony La Russa was supposed to solve all his problems. Well, it seems to me, Colby Rasmus' problem is Colby Rasmus. He has the talent, but he doesn't know how to unlock it."

Marlins center fielder Justin Ruggiano: "I've always liked him but I was afraid he had been forever lumped in that "4-A" category. He can really hit, and he'll pop some balls out of the ballpark."

Rays right-hander James Shields: "He's back to being Big Game James again. If the Rays get to the playoffs, he's got to be my Game One starter."

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman: "He's still a young pitcher, even though it seems like he's been around forever. The Orioles have been patient with him, and it's starting to pay off. He hasn't completely turned the corner yet, but he's getting there, and I think he's going to end up being a good one."

Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander: "I'll qualify it by saying it would be darned near impossible to repeat what he did last year, but he hasn't looked the same this year. He hasn't been as sharp, and his pitches haven't been as crisp."

Dodgers left fielder Shane Victorino: "He doesn't look like he's completely settled in with the Dodgers. He especially looks tentative in left field. It's easy to say that he should be a good left fielder because he was a good center fielder, but they are two different positions."

Phillies right-hander Vance Worley: "For me, he's starting to look like a reliever. He doesn't have the type of stamina you need to be a starting pitcher. He starts to fade by the second time through the order, sometimes before that."

Padres left-hander Andrew Werner: "This is why you scout players at every level of the game. He was in the Frontier League two years ago and now he's in the major leagues and getting guys out consistently. You just never know, which is why you look everywhere for players."

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Front-office types' views

Diamondbacks: "They're probably not going to make the playoffs this year, but they're really well set for the future with all that young pitching. The Dodgers and Giants are going to be tough to beat in the NL West over the next few years, but I wouldn't count these guys out with those young arms."

Giants: "Bruce Bochy really sets the tone with that club. They lost Melky Cabrera to a drug suspension, and that would have devastated some clubs. But Bochy just stays on that even keel, his players follow suit, and it's been business as usual."

Indians: "I just hope Manny Acta gets a chance to manage a good club at some point. He's a really good manager, a really good strategist, and is always prepared. If he takes the fall for what's happened in Cleveland this year, it would be a shame. Very little of it is his fault."

Mets: "Their lack of depth finally caught up with them, but I can still see them finding a second wind up and finishing up strong. Terry Collins won't let that team mail it in in September."

Nationals: "I wouldn't worry one bit about the shouting match Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson had in Philadelphia last weekend. Those guys are on the same page, and the whole organization is on the same page because Rizzo is so passionate and people love working for him."

Twins: "I'm really curious to see what they'll do this winter. They're going to have to shake up, make a big trade, or do something. This is a bad team, and status quo isn't going to cut it."

White Sox: "I love their team. They don't wow you with many style points but they have a lot of grinders who get after it every day. They give the type of effort day-in and day-out that you really appreciate, especially over a long, 162-game season."

---

In this week's Must Read, Adam Felder and Seth Amitin of TheAtlantic.com explain how baseball broadcasters favor American players over foreign players in a subtle way.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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