The Yankees were eighth in the American League in team ERA in 2013, 10th in runs scored, first in payroll, high in expectations and low in results. They lost their shortstop, Derek Jeter, for almost all of the season and prized acquisition Michael Pineda for all of a second straight season. And they spent four months waiting for Alex Rodriguez’s hip to heal even as his ego apparently swelled and MLB tried to suspend him for the rest of 2013 and all of 2014.
Somehow, Joe Girardi managed a sub-.500 team through the back-page crucible to 85 wins, and kept them in the race for a wild-card berth until mid-September. That might not have been good enough for the late George Steinbrenner (and maybe, having mellowed, it would have been), who was rarely pleased by managers, but it was for his son, who signed Girardi up for the next four years.
Girardi won’t win the AL Manager of the Year to be announced Tuesday. He isn’t even a finalist. John Farrell probably will, and it’s not a bad choice, but it’s not the best choice. The Red Sox improved by 27 games from 2012, but did they do so more because Farrell managed better than Bobby Valentine, or because he had better players to manage? Manager of the Year should not be awarded to the manager who had the best team, as it often is, but the one who managed the best.
Girardi spent a good part of 2013 with Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez on the left side of his infield in place of Jeter and Rodriguez, Chris Stewart at catcher in place of Russell Martin, who left as a free agent and was never replaced, Vernon Wells hitting 10 home runs in the season’s first six weeks and just one in the next four and a half months, Lyle Overbay at first base and Travis Hafner at designated hitter, which should have been renamed designated out-maker.
Of the nine Yankees regulars in the lineup, seven had an OPS of less than .700. That’s not the 51-win Astros, but it’s only a step better, and a baby step at that.
The Yankees’ pitching wasn’t much better. CC Sabathia’s 4.78 ERA was his worst ever, and his first of more than 4.00 since 2005; Phil Hughes’ 5.19 ERA earned him a limo ride out of town and Joba Chamberlain’s pitching was more insufferable than he is.
Somehow, Girardi pieced together Robinson Cano’s MVP caliber season with late-season acquisition Alfonso Soriano and Rodriguez’s stormy third of a season, rode the good work of Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova’s return from injury, added the celebrated farewell season of Mariano Rivera and eighth-inning mate David Robertson and produced a contending team.
Girardi is an easy target, and has taken criticism from this corner. He deserves praise for 2013 and an award he won’t get. Somehow, the Yankees scored 21 less runs than their opponents and won eight more games.
The National League won’t have any injustices. The Pirates’ Clint Hurdle is a finalist, and he deserves to be. More than that, he deserves the award, and he’ll likely win it.
The Pirates have improved each of the three seasons Hurdle has managed them, and this year by 15 games. That’s probably more than their talent says they should; any team that had to give Gaby Sanchez nearly 200 plate appearances vs. right-handed pitchers shouldn’t win 94 games.
The Pirates did, more than all but two other teams in the NL. The Pirates were fifth in the NL in run differential but had the third-best record. Their margin was 130 runs worse than the first-place Cardinals, yet they finished just three games behind them (and pushed them to a fifth game in their division series, though that doesn’t count in the voting).
Hurdle’s competition, such as it is, is Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves were a mess entering the postseason, and played like it, and Don Mattingly, who was almost the first manager fired before his Dodgers reversed course (Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies fired him, didn’t do badly, considering the team given to him. The Phils were last in the NL in run differential, but won more games than two teams and one less than three others).
Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates’ best player and a probable award-winner himself this week, says the Pirates “are only going to get better.” After 94 wins, that’s not easily done. Of course, neither is 94 wins when a team has gone a generation without a winning season.