Girardi Manages By the Book, Needs to Read the Game

Cerebral managing choices fall flat against the Rays

There's been a lot of talk this season about Joe Girardi being a better manager because he's let down his guard and gotten closer to his players. His work over the weekend, however, makes it hard to buy into that theory. There were decisions in each of the games played over the weekend which served to make Girardi seem like he was managing at a deep remove from the players actually on his roster and the game on the field.

The first was Saturday's decision to intentionally walk Evan Longoria in the ninth inning so Mariano Rivera could pitch to B.J. Upton. Girardi defended the decision by pointing out Rivera's history against each hitter. Normally, that's a fine way to approach matchups, especially when Rivera was struggling on the mound, but Saturday had special circumstances that made the move a head-scratcher.

Longoria was pinch-hitting because he's missed almost a week with a hamstring injury. He wouldn't have been able to run out a ground ball and hadn't seen game action in days, wheras Upton has been showing signs of life after a weak first two months of the season. The "book" said pitch to Upton, not Longoria, but the book doesn't cover the actual situation only the hypothetical.

That's also the case with a decision in the fifth inning of Sunday's win. With Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera on first and second with no one out, Derek Jeter was asked to bunt. Girardi's explanation of the move sounded like a computer explaining why it had moved its knight in a chess match.

"[Rays pitcher Matt Garza] is a guy that gets a lot of ground balls. We wanted to give Johnny (Damon) and (Mark Teixeira) a chance to drive in the runs, two guys that have swung the bat very well in RBI situations. And so has Derek. But Garza is a guy who gets a lot of double play balls and we wanted to make sure that we had a chance to take the lead that inning."

It was the fifth inning of a 1-1 game, not late enough to start worrying about playing for one run when you've got one of your best hitters at the plate. If you're itching to make some kind of strategic move and worried about Garza's penchant for getting ground balls, why not get the runners moving and put pressure on the Rays defense? In a vacuum, Girardi's choice may have had a sound rationale. In the fifth inning of a game on June 7, 2009, though, it was the move of an automaton.  

The common thread with both of these moves is that you didn't need to see them fail before you knew Girardi was managing without much feel for the game in front of him. They could have worked out, and the moves still would have been overly mechanical. Each move simply fails the test of common sense, which sometimes runs counter to playing it as safe as Girardi did this weekend.

Managing with your gut is often ridiculed, usually for sound reason, but there needs to be some connection to the game at hand and not just slavish devotion to spreadsheets when making decisions.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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