I really want to get excited about Joe Girardi. He's a local guy and a former Cub. His speech on Darryl Kile moved us all. He's a big name in a city that loves their celebrity managers. He's been a successful manager for the most storied franchise in baseball. He led an undermanned Florida team to 78 wins in 2006. The Marlins "overachieved" that season, people said.
Maybe. Their Pythagorean record was actually 80-82, so they won about as many games as they should have given player performances. But the priority for the Cubs hire is reportedly the development of their up and coming prospects, many of whom will be at the upper levels this year. The assumption is that he gets credit for developing some young players and spurring on those great performances.
But should he? And if so, how much? I don't think the answer is that easy.
The Marlins had the lowest payroll in baseball but they had some of the best young talent as well: Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Johnson, and others. Would they have succeeded anyway? It's difficult to say.
The Marlins received an influx of young talent that year. Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez were acquired in the Josh Beckett deal. Ricky Nolasco was acquired from the Cubs in the Juan Pierre deal. Dan Uggla was acquired via a Rule 5 pick.
They also picked up young players like C Miguel Olivo and 1B Mike Jacobs.
What about the players that were already there?
Miguel Cabrera had similar numbers the years before and after Girardi came. His wOBA was .399 before Girardi came, .415 the next year -- pretty much his career average and not enough difference from his career numbers to make you think that it wasn't just statistical fluctuation. His jump in WAR was largely because of improved defense, but we've seen the defense of Luis Valbuena, Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, and Anthony Rizzo improve under Sveum. Good for Girardi if he helped Cabrera improved on defense, but I wouldn't call that an edge he had over Sveum.
Dontrelle Willis was a 22 game winner before Girardi came, posting a 6 WAR season. The next year he won 12 and posted a 2.7 WAR. I'm not saying Girardi ruined him but, as it turns out, the 2.7 WAR was really more reflective of the kind of pitcher he was.
Jason Vargas showed some promise in 2005, going 4-4 with a 4.03 ERA and a 1.6 WAR season. The next year he went 1-2 with a 7.33 ERA and was below replacement level. It's not like he wasn't talented, he's gone on to be a solid starter with the Mariners.
Players like Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen had successful years under Girardi, but they were good prospects who did show signs in a very small sample the previous year. Did they succeed because of Girardi or because they were talented pitchers who just got their chance on a team filled with job openings? And it's worth noting that Olsen wasn't able to carry his success into the following seasons. Did he really develop or did he just have a career year?
There are success stories, Hanley Ramirez had a solid rookie year, as did Ricky Nolasco and Josh Willingham. Ramirez, however, was even better after Girardi was gone. That's not to say he got better coaching -- just that he was one of the top prospects in all of baseball and get got better because he's mega talented. Should we assume he never would have had those big years if it wasn't for that one year of Girardi? What about all those years in the Red Sox development system? What about all the years afterward when he continued to develop and improve?
There are also less successful stories. Prospects like Jeremy Hermida, Cody Ross, and Joe Borchard struggled under Girardi. We could say, well two of those guys weren't very talented.
But that's my point. Girardi isn't a miracle worker. He can work well with good talent, but so do a lot of managers.
The Marlins were a team in a special circumstance. There wasn't anyone else to play. Girardi had no choice but to play young players and the top players rose to the top. And you can afford to be patient in a smaller market. So is Girardi a guy who has a knack for developing talent or was he just in the right place at the right time? I don't think there is an easy answer. Especially when you are looking at a one year sample in Florida.
We have a larger sample in New York, where Girardi has managed since 2008.
The Yankees top prospects in 2008 per BA were:
- Joba Chamberlain
- Austin Jackson
- Jose Tabata
- Ian Kennedy
- Alan Horne
- Jesus Montero
- Jeff Marquez
- Brett Gardner
- Ross Ohlendorf
- Andrew Brackman
The best player in that group for the Yankees has been Brett Gardner. Chamberlain has been a disappointment. The best player on that list overall is Austin Jackson, while Jose Tabata and Ian Kennedy have also had some success -- but of course, that success has happened with other teams. It makes you wonder, if the Yankees were the Marlins and had to play rookies, would he have been given the credit for Austin Jackson's success too? What about the early success of Ian Kennedy?
Moreover the Yankees under Girardi haven't developed any of their top 10 prospects from 2009-2011 into everyday starters or even solid role players at the MLB level. Is it lack of talent? Lack of opportunity on a veteran, win-now team? Both probably play a factor here but again, doesn't that show that the Marlins were a unique blend of top tier talent and opportunity with Girardi being there at the right time?
And why haven't the Yankees been able to add a significant player or two from their system from year to year? Other successful, win now teams have done that, most notably the rival big market Red Sox.
Frankly, I don't see Girardi as special when it comes to player development, which should be the #1 priority at this point, according to Epstein himself,
"Soon, our organization will transition from a phase in which we have been primarily acquiring young talent to a phase in which we will promote many of our best prospects and actually field a very young, very talented club at the major league level. The losing has been hard on all of us, but we now have one of the top farm systems in baseball, some of the very best prospects in the game, and a clear path forward. In order for us to win with this group – and win consistently – we must have the best possible environment for young players to learn develop and thrive at the major league level. We must have clear and cohesive communication with our players about the most important parts of the game. And – even while the organization takes a patient, long view – we must somehow establish and maintain a galvanized, winning culture around the major league club....we will prioritize managerial or other on-field experience and we will prioritize expertise developing young talent.
I, for one, won't be heartbroken if Joe Girardi returns to the Yankees and I'm not planning a welcome party if he does come. That's not to say I don't think he can be a good manager here. I'm just not sure he's worthy of all the attention he is getting in the media.
I think if the Cubs #1 priority is development, then why is Joe Girardi head and shoulders in the lead above a guy heavily experienced in player development like A.J. Hinch? Why is Sandy Alomar, Jr, who is reputed to be a great leader, communicator and teacher not a better potential fit? Why isn't Manny Acta, whose view on player development and statistical analysis is frighteningly similar to the front office, not being talked about more?
Why are the Cubs willing to break the bank and pay so much more for Girardi, when these other candidates may be as good or better than Girardi when it comes to handling the most valuable assets in the organization?
Don't get me wrong, I think Joe Girardi is a very good manager who has shown he can thrive in a big market, but if player development is the #1 issue, then I feel like other candidates should be more strongly considered than they are right now. And I'm not sure if one or more of those other names I mentioned might not be a better fit for what this front office wants to accomplish over the next 2-3 years.
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