Despite fielding a starting lineup consisting of multiple backup-caliber players for the entire season, some still considered Girardi as good as gone when his contract expired.
After keeping the Yankees in contention until the final week of season, Girardi is a better candidate for Manager of the Year than he is to be replaced by the Yankees. The job he did to keep this team in contention without its highest-paid players on the field was remarkable and there are multiple reasons the Yankees shouldn't be blaming their manager.
Stars Missing in Action
What significance does the number 165 have to the Yankees' 2013 season? That is the total games played this year by Curtis Granderson (61), Alex Rodriguez (44), Kevin Youkilis (28), Derek Jeter (17) and Mark Teixeira (15) combined. That's five players, $94.5 million in base salary and barely an entire season's worth of games played.
Looking at those numbers, it's easy to see why the Yankees struggled this season. Even without five of the most important pieces of its lineup, New York still managed to finish 16th in MLB in runs scored. That's pretty impressive considering they paid just a shade under $573,000 per game to Granderson, Rodriguez, Youkilis, Jeter and Teixeira.
Age Creeping Up on the Yankees
On a related note, the combined age of the five players listed above at the start of the season was 173, an average of 34.6 years old and a number eight higher than the amount of the games they played this season. Granderson and Teixeira are the youngest of the bunch as both were 32 on opening day, but all five of these players looked past their prime when they did play.
Some of that can be attributed to injury, especially for Granderson, who returned from a broken hand for eight games in May just to get hit by a pitch again on the same hand, causing another break and another two months missed. It's no coincidence, though, that the Yankees' stars are becoming less reliable as they reach the twilight of their careers.
Issues in the Starting Rotation
Ace CC Sabathia struggled this season, posting a career-worst 4.78 ERA. Sabathia was especially brutal in the second half, posting a 6.08 ERA over 74 innings pitched. Losing more than a mile per hour off of his fastball and changeup this season, Sabathia struggled to adjust to his new physical deficiencies. Fellow veteran Hiroki Kuroda was great in the first half (2.65 ERA) but also struggled after the All-Star break, posting a 4.25 ERA.
Ivan Nova didn't start pitching well until the end of June and while both he and Andy Pettitte picked it up late when Sabathia and Kuroda struggled, the Yankees never had more than two starters throwing well for an extended period of time. None of the Yankees' fifth starters options panned out as Phil Hughes punched his ticket out of town and David Phelps wasn't much better. Michael Pineda never even made it out of the minors.
Lack of Bullpen Depth
Outside of all-time great stopper Mariano Rivera and closer-in-waiting David Robertson, the Yankee bullpen was also inconsistent throughout the season. Like Hughes, former highly regarded prospect Joba Chamberlain is likely on his way out of New York after posting a 4.93 ERA and 38:26 K:BB ratio in 42 innings of a contract year.
Both Shawn Kelley (57 appearances) and Preston Claiborne (44 appearances) had ERAs over 4.00 while being relied upon heavily. As a whole, the Yankees' bullpen ranked 20th in MLB in ERA. Combined with their issues in the starting rotation, it's a wonder they were able to hang on as long as they did in the wild- card race.
Girardi Kept the Yankees Afloat
Most wild-card contenders have at least one strength to hang their hat on as a team. With an average lineup, a wildly inconsistent pitching staff and a run-differential of negative-21, the Yankees didn't. For a team that wasn't particularly good at anything this season, it's a testament to Girardi that he led New York to an 85-77 record.
Sure, having Mariano Rivera helped the Yankees win some close games but even he blew 7 saves this season, the most he's blown since 2003 when he failed to close out 6 games. The return of Rodriguez and Granderson in the second half and the trade for Alfonso Soriano gave the Yankees' lineup a spark, but that was short-lived over just a few weeks as the Yankees pulled themselves back into the wild-card race before sputtering in September.
In the end, it was Girardi's steady head that helped guide New York through its most trying season in recent memory. It's a rare moment when you can say a Yankees team overachieved, but that's just what this aging, injury-ravaged bunch did. The credit for that goes to Girardi, a legitimate Manager of the Year candidate who the Yankees should work hard to keep away from the Chicago Cubs and the FOX broadcasting booth this offseason.
Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has followed the Yankees since the early 1990s when players like Kevin Maas and Melido Perez were relevant in the Bronx. He contributes to multiple online outlets along with Yahoo, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101.
Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.
- Sports & Recreation
- Joe Girardi