By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
For starters, to all the Yankees fans who mourned the firing of Joe Girardi, I feel their pain. He had successfully elevated New York’s most elite prospects such as Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez to become bonafide stars in MLB. Most importantly, he expedited the franchise’s rebuild. At the start of the 2017 season, nobody expected the “Baby Bombers” to make the playoffs, let alone come from within a single game of a trip to the World Series.
As a thirty something year old Red Sox fan, the firing of Terry Francona was probably the worst day of my “sports life.” But to be brutally honest, Girardi’s firing was more brutal. Could you imagine if the Red Sox fired Francona after getting that close to a World Series? Especially having already won two?
Unlike the Red Sox, who seemed to have locked in on Alex Cora weeks or months before the season ended, the Yankees’ process was drawn and carried out for several weeks following Girardi’s firing. After a long list of interviews, they settled on Aaron Boone, who will forever haunt Red Sox Nation due to his extra innings walk off against Tim Wakefield in Game seven of the 2003 ALCS, at the old Yankee Stadium.
Many fans and experts asked: “Why someone with no experience whatsoever?” The reason is because like many MLB front offices, the Yankees are transitioning to more of an “analytics” mindset. It’s a growing trend where managers receive instructions from a group of analytics people before and during the games, and then simply delegate those instructions and assignments to the players.
My personal steadfast preference is to allow the manager dictate the flow of the game in the traditional sense, and make decisions based on his own intuition. Statistics don’t tell the full story of a player. Throughout their careers they will adapt and evolve in several different ways. Take Edwin Encarnacion for example, the first half of his career was very average. The second half of his career he has put up some hall of fame caliber numbers. How about David Ortiz? Had the Red Sox been one of those hardcore analytic clubs back in the early 2000’s, he might never have became the legend he ultimately did. Fortunately the reigns during games completely were held by Francona.
The 2017 World Series was a classic match up between Old School (Hinch) vs. Analytics (Roberts). I probably leaned slightly more towards the Dodgers, but neither team was a clear favorite. Both had deep young cores of talent, and were each armed with an ace bound for Cooperstown, Kershaw and Verlander.
The first major mistake was made by the Dodgers. Rich Hill was absolutely DEALING in game two through four innings with seven strikeouts. The Dodgers had decided that Hill should not face the third turn of the Astros line up, and removed from the game before the start of the fifth inning, after throwing only 60 pitches. The game was tied 1-1, and Hill had only given up three hits. It was a real head scratcher since the Astros had struggled all season long against left handed pitching.
The next major mistake, which proved ultimately fatal, was when the Dodgers elected to start Yu Darvish with the World Championship hanging in the balance for game seven. Many were surprised by the decision since Darvish gave up four runs during game three, and never made it out of the second inning. Game seven proved even worse for the Japanese star. He gave up five runs before again being pulled from the game in the second inning. The Astros never scored another run, but it was good enough to win the game 5-1, and ultimately the World Series.
Alex Wood had been the most consistent starting pitcher for the Dodgers all season long. He posted a 16-3 record over the course of 27 starts with a 2.72 ERA. His lone start of the World Series was in game five, when he took a no hitter all the way through two outs into the sixth inning. Wood was perhaps the best candidate to start game seven on relatively short rest with Kershaw waiting in the wings, as was the case all along. But for whatever reason, Los Angeles shot themselves in the foot, and it cost them the championship. Astros manager A.J. Hinch had a shaky bullpen, and was forced to make decisions on the fly, but they were the right ones. His team did not get defeated by charts and computer printouts as the team in the opposite ball club did.
As a Dave Dombrowski critic more than I am a supporter, the one aspect of his leadership I am at peace with, is the fact he allows his managers to make all of the on-field decisions. It was agonizing to see John Farrell completely misuse Brad Ziegler in 2016. I thought to myself, “surely this wasn’t what Dombrowski had in mind when he made the trade?” And then in game two of the 2017 ALCS, “Manager John” benched his left handed breakout superstar Rafael Devers, even though a lefty (Keuchel) would be on the mound, and the young Dominican native was hitting over .400 against lefties. Clearly Dombrowski was not behind that particular decision either.
Alex Cora will completely have the reigns in 2018 for Boston. During his introductory press conference, he made it very clear he has no intention to lean heavily on analytics. Unlike his predecessor, the new Red Sox skipper will likely connect better with his younger players, which should improve the confidence they have in themselves to elevate their performance, much like they did when Lovullo managed the team the final two months of 2015.
As for Aaron Boone? He will run the Yankees exactly as his analytics department orders him to, whether he likes it or not. If things don’t go so well, half the Yankees fan base will have no clue as to the fact he’s not making the decisions. The other half will still be furious Girardi is not the manager in the dugout. It will be complete pandemonium. Not to mention the circus the media will naturally create.
The firing of Girardi is one of the most brutal betrayals in the history of sports. He painstakingly developed this team to the cusp of a World Series. HE should be the one to lead that team to glory following all of that hard work. However, since he did not agree to comply with the new analytics trend, they fired him. In turn, Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman hired himself a “yes-man” who will go along with the program. A fake manager.
It’s natural for Red Sox fans such as ourselves to despise the Yankees and root for their failure. The Girardi firing is now the primary reason I want them to fail, and I hope it haunts their franchise forever.
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