Yankees' Joe Girardi Has Distinct Managerial Style

MINNEAPOLIS — Last month, Joe Girardi sent Francisco Cervelli to the plate with orders to lay down a sacrifice bunt. But after three pitches out of the strike zone, Cervelli found himself ahead in the count, 3-0.

American League hitters with 3-0 counts this season hit .309 with a whopping on-base percentage of .756. And through the magic of an advantageous count, Girardi knew that even a weak-hitting backup catcher like Cervelli had essentially been transformed into Babe Ruth.

Yet when Cervelli checked for the sign before the fourth pitch of his at-bat, it hadn’t changed.
Girardi signaled for a  sacrifice bunt.

In that moment, Girardi exposed his managerial DNA. On one strand are the genes of a light-hitting catcher who scratched out a 16-year major-league career by being prepared. On the other are the genes of a lifelong numbers-cruncher who was fascinated by a probabilities course during his junior year at Northwestern.

The strands intertwined have shaped Girardi as a manager, the binder-toting World Series champion who remains a frequent target of scrutiny as he guides a Yankees into another postseason — a team that now more than ever bears his fingerprints.

“I think numbers are important because I think they always tell a story. But the numbers don’t always tell about a person here,” said Girardi, pointing at his heart. “About how they’re feeling about themselves at the time, and the numbers don’t always necessarily tell how difficult it is to do certain things in the game. And I try to draw on my past experiences, things that I’ve heard players talk about. I never want to forget how difficult the game is.’’

Girardi has carved out a niche as one of the game’s more progressive managers, equally comfortable in delving in two vastly different worlds.

He speaks often of players’ intangibles. He trusts what his eyes see. Yet he also finds comfort in hard data and advanced metrics. That blend, general manager Brian Cashman said, is one of the reasons the Yankees hired Girardi.

“He’s got Joe Torre’s heart and he’s got a deep work ethic and preparation side to him,” Cashman said. “He knows the game. His philosophies are not too dissimilar to mine. That’s why we gravitated to him.”


At its core, Girardi’s managerial philosophy is rooted in a mix of data and a feel for the game.

He believes in the concept of defensive metrics, even though they remain controversial in baseball circles. Most of the time, he prefers his players don’t bunt, partly because he’s reviewed win expectancy charts, which have shown that giving up an out with a bunt often costs a team the chance to score more runs.

“I love numbers. I’ve always loved numbers,” Girardi said. “I would take any math class over any other class in school. I preferred to be in math class.”

At least once before every series, Girardi talks to Michael Fishman, the Yankees’ resident sabermetric analyst. Fishman produces statistical analysis for the Yankees front office and Girardi regards him as a valuable resource.

“There’s some good stuff in there that we use,” said Girardi, declining to go into specifics. “We use his stuff.”

To Girardi, the big binder he carries into the dugout is more than just scouting reports,
information on matchups, or a compilation of hard numbers. It is a security blanket, a piece of physical evidence that he has prepared himself to win.

“He’s a very prepared person,” said Yankees advance scout and video coordinator Charlie Wonsowicz, one of the behind-the-scenes operators Girardi has come to lean on. “It’s always been his personality, even when he played here.

“When he was a catcher, he was detail-oriented and always looked into everything. He didn’t want to feel like he was cheating the pitcher. His job was to catch and be prepared, and know the hitters. He hasn’t changed.”

One of the lessons Girardi learned as a player was how middle relievers respond to their workloads. That is why, despite conventional wisdom that dictates lesser arms are disposable commodities, Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland devised a system for managing relievers.

Those who throw on back-to-back days or a certain number of pitches automatically are given time off. Their system contributed to a conservative approach down the stretch with the bullpen, which drew some fire as the AL East title and home-field advantage fell by the wayside.

But for all the second-guessing, the Yankees start the postseason with an injury-free bullpen, one that could carry a heavy load if the team’s starting pitchers continue to struggle.


There is such a thing as being overloaded with information, which on occasion has created moments of indecision for Girardi. He changed his mind on the way to making a pitching change earlier this season in Anaheim, Calif. Already on the way out of the dugout, Girardi retreated, and watched his decision blow up in his face when Kendry Morales drilled a homer that helped cost the Yankees the game.

“That was a situation I look back on and I probably would have done it a little different,” Girardi said. “But you’re going to have those. Very seldom do I second-guess myself because of preparation. But that was one time where maybe it didn’t work.”

But for the most part, for Girardi, it works.

And it’s why he has been steadfast in his dedication to Derek Jeter as a top-of-the-order hitter, even as the Yankees captain endured his worst season in pinstripes and Brett Gardner had the superior on-base percentage.

And why he refused to bump down Mark Teixeira in the order when Teixeira’s annual early season swoon lingered deep into the summer. And why he sweats every pitching change, looking also at how pitchers match up with particular hitters, wary that head-to-head numbers might distort reality because of their small sample sizes.

He always has viewed the game as a task to be completed. He has found solace in baseball by doing whatever it took to achieve the feeling that he had all the information he could possibly have before making a decision.

It’s why he carries the binder.

“For me, comfort as a player was being prepared, and then you let things happen,” Girardi said. “When I felt I was prepared, I was allowed to let my instincts take over. As opposed to when I wasn’t prepared, I had to think too much.

“As a player, as soon as you start thinking a lot out there, you can become paralyzed. I feel like that’s the same way as a manager.”

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