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June 1, 2011

The BP Broadside

Those Who Refuse to Learn From the Past are Condemned to Become Joe Girardi

by Steven Goldman

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Forgive me if this rant seems ill-timed; the Yankees won their game last night by a score of 10-3, so the tactic I’m about to rail against didn’t have any effect on the outcome of the game. Yet, whenever a manager demonstrates a complete inability to learn, I get immensely frustrated. Whitey Herzog didn’t ask Vince Coleman to swing for the fences. Miller Huggins didn’t beg Babe Ruth to poke the ball to the opposite field. Sparky Anderson never told Big Daddy Cecil Fielder to steal a base.

A manager’s job is to know his players, and by extension his team, well enough that he only calls on them to do those things that they are capable of doing. If you need a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, don’t pinch-hit with Tom Lawless. If you need to retire Miguel Cabrera in a tight spot, don’t call Buddy Groom in from the bullpen.  Yet, there are managers who go through whole seasons without learning what they have and what they don’t. Like a football coach who preaches a run-first offense when he has a strong-armed quarterback, two good wide receivers, a halfback with no legs, and a fullback that thinks he’s a chicken, the deaf-blind manager just keeps pushing his ideas regardless of the outcome.

Did you know that in the postwar years there have been nine teams that attempted over 100 stolen bases, yet only broken even—or worse?
 

Team

Year

SB

CS

Pct.

Manager

Indians

1967

53

65

45

Joe Adcock

Tigers

1947

52

60

46

Steve O'Neill

Indians

1973

60

68

47

Ken Aspromonte

Brewers

1984

52

57

48

Rene Lachemann

Indians

1972

49

53

48

Ken Aspromonte

Blue Jays

1980

67

72

48

Bobby Mattick

Indians

1977

87

87

50

Frank Robinson and Jeff Torborg

Cubs

1976

74

74

50

Jim Marshall

Expos

1969

52

52

50

Gene Mauch


Perhaps if you were an Indians manager in the 1970s you felt so desperate that forcing things was all you could do. The 1972 Indians hit .234/.293/.330, and it was just as bad as it sounds, even then. Thus the stolen base roulette is almost understandable—once. That Apsromonte came back the next year and did it again is harder to countenance. Buddy Bell, a good hitter but a slow right-hander who retired with the 16th-most GDPs in history, was allowed to make 11 steal attempts as a rookie in 1972. Lesson learned, right? Wrong. In 1973 he was allowed to make 22 attempts. He was thrown on 15 of them. He was thrown out by Bill Freehan, thrown out by Carlton Fisk… He was even thrown out by Fran Healy. By 1974, Aspromonte had made a little progress with Bell—he had Buddy down to just four attempts—but the rest of the team kept running, stealing only 79 bases in 147 attempts. Parenthetically, Ozzie Guillen is trying hard to join this list: his White Sox have stolen 25 bases in 50 attempts so far this year.

At least these teams had relatively few attempts. Special opprobrium should be reserved for Vern Rapp, the infamous manager of the 1977 Cardinals, who allowed his team to attempt 246 steals despite a success rate of just 54 percent. In the last 65 years there have been 201 teams to attempt over 200 steals. Just three of them had success rates under 60 percent. The Cardinals were the worst. Ted Simmons went 2-6; Garry Templeton was 28-24; Lou Brock was 35-24; Jerry Mumphrey was 22-15. It must have been exciting to watch all the sliding.  

Today, managers seem to have learned a bit more about stealing (except for Ozzie), but counterproductive bunting still remains a popular pastime. Through Tuesday’s games, non-pitchers had attempted 542 bunts this year and had successfully dropped one down 81 percent of the time. The Yankees had tried 20 and gotten away with it 11 times, or 55 percent of their attempts. However, it is important to note that if you remove Brett Gardner from the equation, they are actually 6-for-9. Gardner had been asked to make 11 attempts and actually moved his man over just five times. Four main points here:

1.  Gardner is a little fast guy who you would think would be able to bunt, but can’t. Between 2010 and 1011 he is only 10-for-23 in sacrifice attempts, or 43 percent—about half what the average position player does when asked to drop one down. Girardi refuses to catch on.

2. Although Gardner hits a lot of ground balls, he doesn’t hit into many double plays. If Girardi is bunting to avoid the DP, he’s off the mark. If he’s bunting to increase his chances of scoring, he’s still off target, because he’s shrinking his chances of scoring, not increasing them. You could look it up.

3. The Yankees have problems on offense, like their used-up DH Jorge Posada, who looks like he just wandered out of the Plants vs. Zombies game, but they are still leading the league in runs per game and home runs by a healthy margin. All the small-ball stuff is completely unnecessary.

4. That 6-for-9 from the rest of the Yankees ain’t good either. Derek Jeter is dragging down the average by going 0-for-3. Here’s the thing about the old Captain: although he’s always been overeager to bunt, his career success rate is only 63 percent.

The Yankees led 3-1in the fourth inning at Oakland on Tuesday. Nick Swisher singled with one out, and Andruw Jones followed with another single, chasing him to third. Gardner came to the plate. Suddenly, the squeeze signal went out, like the Bat Signal, only with clenched buttocks. This was strange on so many levels: the Yankees had the lead, Brett Anderson appeared to have nothing and would shortly prove to have nothing, Gardner has hit well in May (.313/.385/.388), and if Girardi didn’t believe that Gardner could hit Anderson, why have him in the game in the first place? Finally, as we have already established, Gardner cannot do this.

If you saw the game, you know what happened next. Gardner bunted and missed, Swisher got caught in a rundown. The Yankees eventually scored anyway as Gardner was subsequently hit by a pitch, and Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson followed with singles. However, what irks is the unnecessary act of managerial ostentation, this utterly unnecessary tactical fillip that had the dual distinction of being of dubious benefit and unlikely to succeed.

There is something compulsive about the need of some managers to make themselves felt even when neither the need nor the tools are present. Every team has a finite number of sacrifice opportunities. In this age, no manager is compulsive enough to bunt on even ten percent of them, though Guillen and Jim Leyland come close. At the other end of the spectrum are Terry Francona and Charlie Manuel, who largely don’t bother their position players with such trivialities. The Yankees are bunting about six percent of the time, which actually makes them a little above-average in bunt frequency, too high for a team with their offensive capabilities.

I like Girardi. He’s an intelligent man whose level of preparation and desire to win are both abundantly clear. And yet, I am frequently frustrated by his compulsivity—the manic bullpen moves in the postseason, the bunting, the reserving of the closer for those extra-inning leads he’ll never get to protect (in this last he is like every other manager). As I said at the outset, his little adventure last night didn’t hurt the Yankees in any important way, but it’s just a matter of time before his inability to keep his hands to himself damages the team in an important spot.

One suspects that what he is really expressing, in addition to his own desperate need to try to control the action by inserting himself into it, is a lack of faith in Gardner. On the surface, that seems unlikely, because Girardi has always publicly advocated for Gardner. Yet, actions speak louder than words. Perhaps it is the case that when a man is working at cross-purposes to his own secret desires, he does uncharacteristically unintelligent things. Girardi is the one writing out the lineup card, but somewhere inside he is second-guessing his decisions, then compounding theoretical errors with actual misjudgments.
 

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Brett Gardner,  Managers Of The Year

33 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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bulldogcakes
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

what he is really expressing, in addition to his own desperate need to try to control the action by inserting himself into it, is a lack of faith in Gardner.

After failing to once look at the opposition defensively, never addressing that having a reputation for bunting can pay dividends later and personally attacking the manager for his motivations, Steven finally stumbles upon the correct answer.

Jun 01, 2011 05:29 AM
rating: -5
 
Matt Kory

What's with all this vitriol in the comments section? If you have an issue with Mr. Goldman's work, it isn't too much trouble to ask it to be expressed with kind sentiment.

Also, saying "that's correct" or "that's wrong" isn't helpful or interesting. I'd be interested to hear why you think Mr. Goldman is correct or incorrect.

Jun 01, 2011 14:48 PM
rating: 3
 
Behemoth

Given that the Yankees are bunting less successfully than average, I doubt they are doing it strategically when the opposition defend in such a way that it could be the right move.

Jun 01, 2011 05:40 AM
rating: 2
 
graignettles

Does having a reputation for any bunting pay dividends? Or just good bunting? Let poor bunters bunt away, I say. Interesting article of "game within a game"

Jun 01, 2011 06:09 AM
rating: 1
 
iddscoper

it’s just a matter of time before his inability to keep his hands to himself damages the team in an important spot.

Hasn't this already happened? What bothers me about Girardi even more than the bunting or bullpen management is his love of giving games away via the intentional walk. Just about every time he decides a batter is far to dangerous to pitch to, the game ends up going from winnable to a blowout in the space of a few at bats. This happened a few times in last year's ALCS, where Girardi issued 8 IBBs in six games, five to Josh Hamilton alone.

Jun 01, 2011 06:56 AM
rating: 5
 
Shaun P.
(676)

You took the words right out of my keyboard, iddscoper. Not even Girardi's manic bunting habit with Gardner can trump his inane use of the intentional walk. You want to talk about actions speaking louder than words, and a lack of faith? Everytime he orders an IBB, that's the message he sends to the pitcher on the mound: I have no confidence in your ability to get this guy out. I don't get it.

Jun 01, 2011 07:30 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

I have an idea for how to deal with intentional walks that I'm going to try out in a subsequent column. I didn't want to cram that in here.

Jun 01, 2011 12:02 PM
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I am looking forward to it already!!

Jun 02, 2011 06:28 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Maybe you can "tease" us by writing half the article and forcing us to download the rest from iTunes,like a certain SI columnist just did

Jun 02, 2011 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Tarakas

But Tom Lawless hit the most exciting home run I have ever seen in person at a game! Of course, that it was Tom Lawless was part of what made it so incredible.

Jun 01, 2011 07:25 AM
rating: 1
 
jerrykenny

I don't have faith in Gardner either (despite his "hot" May his OBP has declined to the point where it's lower than Nick Swisher's and his batting only .250 which is 14 points lower than Jeter) but I still wouldn't tell him to bunt in that situation. Has Girardi ever heard of the hit and run?

Jun 01, 2011 07:47 AM
rating: 0
 
ddrezner

"The Yankees had tried [bunting] 20 and gotten away with it 11 times, or 70 percent of their attempts."

Something is wrong with that sentence.

Jun 01, 2011 08:08 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Working with two sets of stats and I conflated two numbers. Will fix.

Jun 01, 2011 11:54 AM
 
Richie

Give a man authority, he's going to find reasons for using it.

Jun 01, 2011 08:30 AM
rating: 4
 
RedsManRick

I think the vast majority of manager manage players based on the role they want them to fill as opposed to the specific player they are.

Jun 01, 2011 08:48 AM
rating: 4
 
prs130

I think this is true, and I also think it's somewhat justified in mid-May. If I have a young player with a ton of speed, I think I'm justified in giving him the bunt signal early in the season, even if he is 10/23. It's possible that (a) 23 attempts is a small sample and 10 successful bunts is not a true indicator of Gardner's skill, (b) Gardner's skill can be improved.

Jun 01, 2011 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Peter7899

Obviously Steven you're a Yankee man, but you ever think about, oh I don't know, writing one of these for some other team besides your beloved Yanks? Fans of other clubs do pay for your services as well, you know.

Jun 01, 2011 09:02 AM
rating: -3
 
prs130

the article is about bunting, not Yankees

Jun 01, 2011 09:13 AM
rating: 1
 
RaysProf

Yes, it is about bunting; however, it would be useful to analyze Joe Maddon's over use of bunting. It seems to the observer that Maddon is disproportionally successful at generating hits and not just outs. Are the Rays truly successful or is it an optical illusion? And if so, why?

Jun 01, 2011 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
buddaley

Do you have data to indicate that Maddon overuses bunting? My impression is that he tends not to use it much, at least not the sacrifice. Here is a link that discusses the issue a bit in regards to the post-season, I believe last year:

http://www.ripkenbaseball.com/cc/notebook/index.html?article_id=675

Jun 01, 2011 12:18 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Peter, if you have a moment, please go through my BP archives, either for just Broadside or overall since 2003, and count the number of Yankees-oriented articles I've written here. I usually have reserved my Yankees thoughts for www.pinstripedbible.com. This article is actually an exception made because I thought it had wider interest.

Jun 01, 2011 11:57 AM
 
Matt Kory

Maybe I've been worn down by years and years of this, but please, if you have the compunction to write, "I'm tired of reading about X team" or "Why don't you write about X team?" kindly spare us all and don't.

Jun 01, 2011 15:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Steven beat me to the punch and did it in a much nicer way. Plus one.

Jun 01, 2011 15:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Peter7899
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

How about you kindly spare us your comment and shove it ya jerk.

Jun 02, 2011 09:27 AM
rating: -7
 
hpeabody

Why would any manager squeeze with a lefty up at the plate? It is too easy to pitch out and nail the runner at 3B. If a pitcher gives a quick look at 3B during his wind up, surely the pitcher can adjust and throw a pitch out. I have never understood why managers do that.

Jun 01, 2011 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

How's a LH pitcher like Brett Anderson gonna glance over at third during hiw wind-up?

Jun 01, 2011 11:07 AM
rating: 1
 
Matt

I am sure there are audible signals he can pick up.

Jun 01, 2011 12:32 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Maybe at the last second but I don't think it's as easy or as sure a thing as it's being made out to be.

Jun 01, 2011 15:08 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Kory

I enjoyed the article, Steven. When watching Yankees games I often wonder why Girardi has to insert himself into the game so often. He must be great in the clubhouse because all the bunting and intentional walking is counter-productive and I would expect Brian Cashman to know that.

Jun 01, 2011 15:09 PM
rating: 1
 
gdragon1977

Anyone think that Lucroy's game winning squeeze being all over the highlights last week was fresh on his mind?

Jun 01, 2011 18:46 PM
rating: 0
 
fgreenagel2

Very good article. To quote Michael Lewis quoting Billy Beane, "Outs are baseballs clock. Bunts are giving outs away."

I can't understand how Girardi is so lauded. Between bunting, handling Jeter/Posada, the 2008-10 Joba fiasco, and horrific handling of the media, he is terrible.

Steve didn't write the 2nd paragraph though. It was a good article on bunting and the ossification of thought.

Jun 01, 2011 18:47 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

While bunts give away outs, 2/3s of PAs end up that way anyway. I think the context of the game has begun to change, skewing towards the pitching side of the ledger. Outs are more valuable, but PA's are less valuable, making bunts just a week bit more nebulous.
What concerns me more now are intentional walks, other than in very obvious situations (ie. late game, big hitter, 1st base open). The pitcher should be expected to be likely to retire the batter - don't give them more chances.

Jun 01, 2011 20:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Nick Carter

As a Braves fan, I can only dream of my team having attempted only 20 sacrifices.

Jun 02, 2011 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
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