COMMENTARY | The New York Yankees were finally eliminated from postseason contention in Game 158 against the rival Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 25.
Right up to the end, Yankees manager Joe Girardi stuck with "experienced" veterans when he had the ability to work in some younger players in plenty of situations. In my opinion, his inexperienced options could not have fared any worse than his loyal selections. It's even possible he could have found a surprise along the way, potentially advancing the season further.
Girardi deserves some credit for managing a team decimated by injuries and keeping the Yankees in the race as long as he did. However, there were some obvious choices made by Girardi throughout the season that showed his aversion to risk and his affinity for the status quo.
First was Girardi's infatuation with reliever Joba Chamberlain, which I detailed recently. This season has been a train wreck (4.97 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 41.2 IP) for the long-ago promising prospect. The Yankees, through no fault of Girardi's, ruined Chamberlain years ago with the "Joba Rules" and the incessant back and forth between the rotation and bullpen.
Girardi's loyalty and consequent decision to stick with Chamberlain for as long as he did in the middle of the season when guys like Preston Claiborne outperformed Joba daily was a glaring mistake. What was more puzzling was Girardi bringing Chamberlain into close games at crucial times as the season got into "must win" mode. It's easy to go back and see that Chamberlain had his hand in a bunch of Yankees losses, some of which could have gone the other way had Girardi kept Joba cemented to the bullpen bench.
Next, the decision to "go defense" at the catcher position cost the Yankees dearly. We may never know how much input Girardi had in allowing Russell Martin (.706 OPS, 15 HRs, 55 RBIs and just 4 passed balls) to leave for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but there is no doubt that the catcher position suffered for it. Girardi made it worse by refusing to play Austin Romine over Chris Stewart as the season rolled along.
Romine did not exactly put up stellar overall numbers (.207/.255/.296 in 148 plate appearances), but he was certainly every bit as good as Stewart (.207/.291/.261 in 336 PA) and with no ready successor in the farm system, why not let Romine get a bulk of the days behind the plate? Romine, by default, is likely the catcher for 2014, and he received no growth benefit from Girardi in terms of playing time this season.
Despite Romine's progression with the bat in July and August (.316 combined batting average), Girardi kept penciling in Stewart for starts. Stewart eventually began to show significant wear behind the plate and his defense began to suffer (12 passed balls), which complemented his consistently poor bat. Stewart was a career backup up until this season for a reason.
Romine suffered a concussion in early September, and the Yankees had JR Murphy up from the minors. Murphy performed well in Double and Triple-A this season (.269/.347/.426 with 29 doubles and 12 homers in 470 combined PA). Other managers look to younger players to provide a spark; Girardi has them handing out Gatorade and sunflower seeds to the veterans. Will Girardi let Murphy finish out the season as the regular catcher now that there is nothing to play for? Even if he does, what difference will four games make when it could have been 12-15? Again, would Murphy have been worse than Stewart? I doubt it.
Lastly, Girardi felt it necessary to continually trot Phil Hughes (4-14, 5.19 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in 145.2 IP) out start after start. Over the last several Hughes' appearances, Girardi had a remarkably quick hook. A couple of times, Hughes was victimized by a poor defensive play or a bad call by an umpire and Girardi pulled him anyway. If his leash was that short, why not give the ball to one of the younger pitchers?
Understand, I'm not suggesting the Yankees had a phenom waiting in the wings (they didn't), but once the writing was on the wall concerning Hughes' lack of production, Girardi could have taken different measures. I recognize the players existing in the system are not Girardi's fault; that is an entirely different story for another article (ahem Mr. Cashman). But would it have hurt to stray from the norm?
Girardi may have been wise to insert any number of players for a start here and there (and I do not mean David Huff) when he knew he was not going to give Hughes a true chance unless he was perfect. Since flawlessness was likely never to be the case with Hughes, why not use any of the guys from the minors or even Adam Warren who pitched well enough in long relief (3.63 ERA in 72 innings) for the Yankees this season?
Instead of testing the water in any of these situations, Girardi stuck with what he knew and what he was comfortable with. Maybe he truly thought the veterans would turn things around? But, in a season flipped on its ear, was there ever be a better chance to take a risk every so often with someone he was unfamiliar with? He may have been surprised in one, two or maybe even all three areas had he taken a shot. I guess we'll never know.
Chris Carelli is a freelance baseball writer/editor. He is a New York Yankees contributor published on Yahoo Sports and has previously written and edited content for several online publications. Chris is also the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. For more baseball commentary you can follow Chris on Twitter.
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