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Joe Girardi Was A Good Manager. In 2017, That’s Not Enough.

After he brought the team to the brink of the World Series, manager Joe Girardi was let go by the Yankees on Thursday. Girardi’s tenure included a championship and 10 years in which the team was usually a playoff contender, but it wasn’t enough to save him from Yankees’ management and their exacting standards. In a postseason full of questionable firings, Girardi’s release will go down as one of the strangest.

MLB’s 2017 class of departing managers is unusually good
YEAR MANAGERS LET GO AVG. MANAGER POINTS THAT YEAR
1 1971 6 2.6
2 2017 6 2.0
3 2013 6 1.7
4 1973 11 1.6
5 2006 7 1.6
6 2011 11 1.5
7 1978 11 1.3
8 1997 6 1.2
9 2000 6 1.2
10 1998 7 1.1

Source: Baseball Gauge

This year has featured an unusual level of managerial turnover. Nationals skipper Dusty Baker and Red Sox head John Farrell were also fired despite leading their teams to the playoffs. Using manager points, a Baseball Gauge metric that sums up record and playoff benchmarks, this group of managers qualifies as the second most accomplished set of unemployed skippers since 1969.1 And according to Elias Sports, this is the first time three playoff teams switched managers in the same offseason — which is remarkable considering the offseason still hasn’t officially begun.

Of the three unemployed skippers, Girardi might have been the best. He didn’t have the pitcher-destroying reputation of Dusty Baker or the tactical problems of John Farrell. Over 10 years as the Yankees’ manager, Girardi racked up 910 wins, earning a winning record each season. He was helped by massive budgets, but he also presided over multiple failed free agent contracts that landed the team in a cycle of rebuilding. This year, the Yankees seemed to be on their way to championship contention, and Girardi took them deep into the ALCS before losing to the Houston Astros.

Girardi had his weaknesses. He inexplicably benched star catcher Gary Sanchez toward the end of the season. He made the unwise decision not to review a call in a pivotal game of this year’s ALDS, and it could have cost the Yankees dearly. But overall, Girardi was a good tactician: From his bullpen management to taking advantage of platoon splits, he often put his team in the best position to win.

The other knock on Girardi was that he failed to develop young players. This season ought to have disproved that, however: With the emergence of Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Luis Severino, the Yankees have one of the best up-and-coming cores in baseball. By wins above replacement, the Yankees’ age-27-and-under hitters were the fourth most productive in baseball, and their young pitchers were second in the league.

As strange as it may seem considering his win percentage, Joe Girardi was actually given a long leash by the standards of the Yankees brass. Six managers in Yankees history maintained their positions for 10 or more years,2 and all but Girardi won multiple championships in that time. (The Baseball Gauge credits Billy Martin with winning a World Series with the Yankees in 1978 even though he left the team midseason. He did manage the majority of that team’s games.)

Yankee skippers have lofty standards

How the 10 longest-tenured New York managers compare

TITLES
MANAGER TENURE WIN % AL WS TOTAL MANAGER PTS
Joe McCarthy 1931-46 (16 yrs.) .627 8 7 107.3
Casey Stengel 1949-60 (12) .623 10 7 106.1
Joe Torre 1996-2007 (12) .605 6 4 94.1
Miller Huggins 1918-29 (12) .597 6 3 70.3
Ralph Houk 1961-73 (11)* .539 3 2 42.0
Joe Girardi 2008-17 (10) .562 1 1 39.0
Billy Martin 1975-88 (8)* .591 3 2 35.8
Clark Griffith 1903-08 (6) .531 0 0 9.3
Bob Lemon 1978-82 (4)* .576 2 1 8.6
Buck Showalter 1992-95 (4) .539 0 0 8.3

*Includes more than one stint as manager.

Source: Baseball Gauge

On the flip side, there have been 22 Yankee managers since 1903 that lasted fewer than four seasons — some across multiple tenures. And it’s not like these were all losers: Of those 22, 13 managers posted records of .500 or better. Girardi ranked only sixth in manager points among Yankee skippers — behind everyone else who managed 10+ years — but was poised to add to his total considering the franchise’s position.

The future looks bright for New York. Between the emerging youngsters, a promising farm system and the capacity to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, the Yankees are on track to contend for years to come. It’s hard to say how much of their success in the past decade belongs to Girardi, but all the available metrics suggest he was an above-average skipper. Now the Yankees will need to find someone else to preside over their bright future, and it may not be as easy as management thinks.

Neil Paine contributed research.

CLARIFICATION (Oct. 26, 2017, 4:30 p.m.): The source of our data for managers’ postseason success, The Baseball Gauge, credits managers with a World Series win even if they managed only part of the season in question. The story has been updated to clarify Billy Martin’s relationship with the 1978 Yankees, who won the World Series that year.

CORRECTION (Oct. 27, 2017, 4:20 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly said Joe Girardi chose to not review a pivotal call in the ALCS. The play in question occurred in the ALDS.

Footnotes

  1. These numbers do not prorate regular season performance or postseason accomplishment for managers fired midseason.

  2. Ralph Houk did it across two different stints.

Rob Arthur is FiveThirtyEight’s baseball columnist and also writes about crime.

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