WS Coverage: Girardi Screws Up The Line-Up

Someone warn PETA – a dead horse is about to get kicked again. That horse, of course, is Joe Girardi and his never ending ability to put a less than ideal Yankee team on the field in critical situations.

If you haven’t heard, tonight’s Yankee line-up features both Jerry Hairston Jr playing right field in lieu of Nick Swisher and Jose Molina catching instead of Jorge Posada. Now, ordinarily, this would just be a bad move, an overreaction to last night’s poor offensive showing against a great pitcher. But, given the match-ups, this is borderline malpractice.

The Phillies are sending Pedro Martinez to the hill tonight. Pedro, as you probably know, is right-handed. Also right-handed? Hairston and Molina. You know who has the ability to hit from the left hand side? Posada and Swisher. If you’re going to put Hairston in for Swisher, you essentially have to do it against an LHP, where the disparity in talent is minimized. If only a LHP like Cole Hamels was starting game three on Saturday. Oh, wait, he is.

Against a lefty, at least the two sub-par reserves have the platoon advantage. Putting Hairston in for Swisher against a right-hander is just nutty.

The Molina thing perhaps shouldn’t be as surprising, since A.J. Burnett takes the hill for New York tonight. Girardi has tied those two together due to an irresponsible reliance on catcher ERA – if ever there was a stat that showed the misdiagnoses of correlation and causation, this is it – even as Burnett got bombed with Molina behind the plate in the first inning of his last start. However, Joe thinks that the comfort of his starting pitcher is more important than having a good hitter in the line-up.

The problem, however, is that the Yankees took Francisco Cervelli off the playoff roster before the World Series began. Now, New York is only carrying two catchers, taking away the safety net that allowed Girardi to pinch hit Posada early in previous games that Molina began. If he does that again tonight, he’s essentially gambling that Posada will not get hurt after he enters the game, because with Molina already out of the game, there’s no viable replacement for Posada at that point.

Regradless of whether he takes that risk or not, the cost of starting Molina is higher without Cervelli on the roster. Girardi had to know he was going to do this in game two, so then swapping out Cervelli for Brian Bruney doesn’t really make much sense. Of course, that just makes this fit in with the rest of Girardi’s postseason maneuvers.

The Yankees are still likely to win tonight. But man, their manager seems intent on tying their hands behind their back. You don’t get points for degree of difficulty, Joe – just put your best team on the field and get out of the way.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


66 Responses to “WS Coverage: Girardi Screws Up The Line-Up”

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  1. d says:

    but Hairston hit well against Pedro – in 2004! can’t you see the logic? :) said in jest

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  2. neuter_your_dogma says:

    If the Yankees blow Pedro up in the first few innings, who steps in? Happ? Blanton?

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  3. Steve says:

    Agree that the Molina experiment should end, though I do think Girardi will still put Posada into the game.

    However, I have to ask, at what point is it ok to bench Swisher? I realize the playoffs are by definition a small sample, but he’s been so bad that it might make sense to try someone else.

    He’s hitting .114/.205/.143.

    Now, the Yankees still have 2 LHed OFers in Hinske and Gardner available, so I would have tailored the criticism more towards the selection of Hairston than towards not playing Swisher. He’s been a black hole, and that’s putting it nicely.

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    • Bill says:

      Well, Teixeira is hitting .186/.250/.279 and he isn’t getting benched… Your number 8 hitter struggling is a lot easier to take than the number 3 hitting struggling.

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  4. Ryan S. says:

    Brett Gardner should be the one playing tonight, in lieu of Hairston and Swisher.

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    • Wally says:

      Well, I’d say Gardner’s probably a better bet to start instead of Hairston and Melky. Swisher is good, he’ll come around eventually.

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  5. Miles says:

    This isnt nearly as bone-headed as leading off with a guy with a .296 OBP.

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    • lincolndude says:

      Huh? At most, Rollins takes one PA away from some other player in the lineup by batting leadoff. Hairston, who has a wOBA 40 points lower than Swisher, is taking 3-4 PAs from him.

      Having Rollins bat leadoff instead of 6/7/8 has a tiny, tiny effect on one game. Taking out a good hitter and putting in a poor one AND giving up the platoon advantage has a much larger effect.

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  6. Kevin S. says:

    Fire Joe Girardi. Right now. Before the lineup card for tonight is finalized.

    It’s funny, I tell people to calm down and not overreact to losses that look bad (like last night, or Game Five of the LCS), but I’m just so sick of the incessant sub-optimal strategy. Then again, perhaps bad process should bother me more than bad results.

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  7. Logan says:

    Splendid analysis Dave. You should really do this for a living. ;-)

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  8. Piehole of David Wells says:

    I don’t get the “start Posada because if he gets injured after he gets substituted for other catcher, we’ll really be fucked.” Posada can get injured at any time doing anything. I don’t know why it’s stupid to reserve him because he might get injured in a game he didn’t start. The logic eludes me.

    If it gets to the point that you have to put in a replacement for catcher, my guess is that it will be for a few innings and the cumulative effect of those few innings will not be that much. And by the start of the next game you’ll have your backup catcher ready to go.

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    • Matt L says:

      Cameron is saying that you can’t pull Molina’s crappy bat early without taking on a lot of risk.

      So

      a) leave the crappy bat in the lineup until the late innings to minimize risk,

      or

      b) pull the crappy bat the 2nd time through the lineup and have high risk

      Either way, this isn’t a good situation to put your team in.

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    • lincolndude says:

      Because they don’t have a third catcher. That’s what the article stated.

      If they pinch hit Posada in, say, the 6th, then they are playing the rest of the game without a backup. If they start him, Molina’s the backup and there’s no problem.

      The point was that the lack of a third catcher compounds the badness of this decision because it makes it less desirable to use Posada as a pinch hitter early.

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  9. Kevin S. says:

    Not only is Hairston starting this game, but he’s the one player Girardi’s committed to the entire game, because he’s the only player who can back up the infield spots beyond first base. Anytime you can guarantee a full game of plate appearances to your two worst hitters, you’ve got to do it.

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    • lincolndude says:

      Absolutely ridiculous that he’s carrying 12 pitchers and only one extra IF and C, and still making these moves.

      Maybe Hinske can still play a little third though.

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  10. dsss says:

    Forgetting whether I like Girardi or not, or whether he is a good or not so good manager, the lineup changes make absolutely no sense.
    In spite of AJ’s personal catcher, he didn’t do so good last outing; 3 out of 6 good innings is a losing strategy. Posada’s numbers in his previous 23 WS games were horrible- .208/.337/.338. Still, Posada was one of the few to get on base last night. Is inserting an almost sure out in place of someone who at least has the potential to hit really the answer? Besides with Cervelli out, it leaves no back up.
    As far Hariston for Swisher, I think it is past time that Nick was either removed or at most, platooned. At the plate he looks like he doesn’t have a clue. I. am in favor of using Hariston, but not starting in place of Swisher; Gardner should be starting.
    As far as the rest of the lineup, there are a few others who look clueless, and have for some time. Did anyone think Bruney was suddenly going to look like a star. Hughes has left the building and cannot be relied on in a high pressure situation; hell, he couldn’t even be relied on last night in a losing one. Has anyone looked more clueless than Matsui on the basepath than he did last night?
    And by the way, do you think that using CC for too many innings his last 2 outings on short rest, was responsible for his lost edge? I don’t think you can blame it on not pitching for a couple extra days; Lee had off even longer, By the way, that’s the same Lee that Cashman passed on at the trading deadline back in the summer.
    Not that Girardi was horrible, but in the previous 2 playoff series, he was more lucky than good. His luck and the talent around him may not be good enough to bail him out this time. I still think the Yankees can win this, but they don’t need their manager handcuffing them.

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    • Xavier says:

      I know the final score was a little lopsided and Lee was brilliant, but jeez, how much better could you reasonably have expected C.C. to pitch?

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  11. WY says:

    You don’t think Swisher’s recent struggles are anything to be alarmed about? I’m not a Yankee fan, but isn’t there some point at which a player who is consistently flailing and struggling should get a night off?

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Tell me how to figure out when Swisher will emerge from his slump. If you can’t, then logically, you’re sitting him for the rest of the playoffs. Does it make sense to bench a guy with a .373 wOBA because of ten bad games for the remainder of the year?

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      • antone says:

        Hairston has a good history against Pedro. I think it’s worth taking a shot and letting Swisher sit considering how awful he’s been. Plus, you could always pinch hit Swisher in a high leverage situation late in the game. If Hairston stinks then Swisher will be right back in there. I don’t think anyone is saying Swisher is going to be benched for the rest of the series.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Hairston has a thirty-one plate appearance sample against Pedro, and the OPS is fueled by a 10-for-21 performance on balls in play. If you think there’s something about Pedro that raises Hairston’s BABip two hundred points, I’m all ears, but until then, I’m going with the likely conclusion that it was a fluke.

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      • antone says:

        It’s worth a shot because Swisher has been awful….sometimes you just see a pitcher well and that’s something you can’t measure with a statistic…but other than that basically all I’m saying is it gives Girardi an “excuse” to start Hairston.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        And I’m not particularly disputing the benching of Swisher, though I disagree with it – it’s the choice of Hairston over Gardner or Hinske that raises my bile.

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      • Wally says:

        Yes, the Gardner/Swisher trade off really isn’t *that* big considering defense.

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  12. antone says:

    If FanGraphs was around in 1996, the same thing would have bee said about Charlie Hayes, Daryl Strawberry, and Cecil Fielder subbing for Boggs, O’Neil, and Tino…..and that turned out alright.

    I think Hairston comes through tonight. Swisher has been awful, so I don’t have a problem with him getting benched.

    If AJ really does feel better with Molina catching I have no problem with that either. Besides have you seen Posada catch lately? He drops catchable balls way too often. I think he might be towards the point of his career where he should be DH’ing.

    With Jeter, Damon, Teixeira, A-Rod, Matsui, and Cano in the lineup there’s no reason why the Yankees shouldn’t be able to score runs and Hairston could do just as good as Swisher right now. The only really minus to me is having Molina in there over Posada and I can live with that.

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    • if you were there at this house party i went to in 2004, you would’ve probably told me that driving home drunk was a bad idea. well i made it home in one piece, so who’s the smart guy now?

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    • Deelron says:

      It has nothing to do with the end result. Hariston may very well come through, he is a major league player after all. It has everything to do with the process, and Swisher has shown over an entire season (and some) he’s a better player, particularly against RHP. Girardi has no way of knowing who will actually preform better, so he either has to make a decision off of information, or gut. He went with gut, and it may very well work out. The whole point is that “gut”, over the long term, has been shown to work less reliably then statistical analysis and therefore Girardi’s process is flawed.

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  13. robinson says:

    why make a decision based on 6741 PAs (Swisher and Hairston’s careers) when you can make a decision based on 71 PAs (Swisher playoff and Hairston vs Pedro)???? clearly Girardi knows whats up.

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  14. Realist says:

    Maybe Swish and Jorge are hungover. Just a thought.

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  15. Mike says:

    Brett. Gardner.

    Brett. Gardner.

    He is about equal to Swisher anyway, and there is a righty on the mound. But you KNOW Girardi won’t start him since he “needs” Gardner as that late inning PR for Matsui or somebody.

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  16. Benne says:

    Either Girardi really is this clueless, or he has money down on the Phillies.

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  17. Tom Au says:

    If Girardi wanted to make these moves, he should have done so in Game 1 against Lee. Doing so in Game 2 is “fighting the last war.”

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  18. Wes says:

    You only get 25 roster spots. To expend one on a third catcher you are extremely unlikely to ever put in a game is just a waste. And Burnett seems to vastly prefer Molina as his caddy to Posada. I know there’s no real data to support a catcher influencing his pitcher’s performance, but I’ve never seen data that thoroughly discredited it, either. Isn’t the possibility of a better, more comfortable Burnett worth more than 2-3 AB’s from Posada?

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      • WY says:

        I don’t think you can unequivocally say anything about the difference between 2, maybe three at bats for Posada over Molina versus the possible improved performance of Burnett pitching to Molina rather than Posada. They’re may not be a definitive way to demonstrate the difference based on small sample sizes, but to pretend to unequivocally know the answer — that is a little over the top.

        In any case, Burnett pitched a great game, Hairston had an important hit, and Posada was able to pinch hit and come up with an important hit of his own.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Actually, Burnett has stated repeatedly that he doesn’t care who he throws to.

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  19. Matt S. says:

    I’m actually okay with playing Molina instead of Posada, but it’s not based on anything numbers-wise. Sometimes we Fangraphs readers forget that there is a mental component to this game and A.J. Burnett is a mental midget. You can dismiss catcher ERA all you want (and for the most part, you should), but if Burnett is simply going to feel more comfortable with Molina back there vs. Posada, it’s simply unquantifiable how much that could affect this particular game. Burnett is notorious for melting down in high-pressure situations, so why add one more factor that could throw off his game? (of course I write this as he’s pitched a gem through 5 innings)

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  20. The Nicker says:

    These decisions really doesn’t hold a candle to having Jeter bunt with two outs in the seventh, in terms of idiotic. (if it was called by Girardi)

    And that decision really doesn’t hold a candle to having Jeter bunt with TWO STRIKES and two outs in the seventh (once again, if it was called by Girardi)

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Jeter frequently freelances on that. I’m going to cut Girardi slack on that one, unless something else comes out saying he actually did order the bunt.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Having Jeter bunt was the correct play until there were two strikes. I’ll expand on that tomorrow.

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    • Rob in CT says:

      Jeter is usually a smart player. But he has some sort of mental defect when it comes to bunting. I think he believes bunting to be some sort of moral good thing to do, and feels honor bound to do it. To the point of utter stupidity.

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  21. Mo Wang says:

    Yes, the Jeter bunt was the dumbest play of the world series so far. Jeter usually does those things on his own. But Girardi still should have called it off after Jeter showed bunt. I mean, Chan Ho Park was the pitcher. It’s not like the 2001 Randy Johnson was out there. Chan Ho Park! Jeter does this several times a year and it is always dumb. I still can’t believe he bunted against Chan Ho Park.

    By the way the Yankees emergency catcher is…Jerry Hairston Jr.

    I agree with the Bruney roster spot over Cervelli. I don’t think the third catcher was ever even used in the ALCS. And with the way Girardi burns through relievers at a clip of 1 per out in the later innings of the game, they will need as many bodies as possible in that bullpen, especially in the NL park. Girardi is a clueless maniac.

    Burnett bailed him out tonight. He better have Swish back in the lineup in Game 3.

    Oh and here’s a move that Girardi should have done: sub in Swisher in the 9th inning for defensive purposes over Damon. Put Swish in RF and move Melky to LF. I suppose he believes that Damon is the better defender? Swish has been great all postseason long in the field, and even if he only plays average defense, it is still better than Damon and his noodle arm.

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  22. Mo Wang says:

    Oh by the way, because Girardi has irresponsibly glued Molina to Burnett, if Burnett starts Game 5 (which is possible on short rest), the Yankee lineup will be even worse than tonight’s lineup. Especially if he plays one of the bench guys over Swisher. But Burnett was so good today that there is no way Girardi will start Posada in Burnett’s next start.

    Jeter
    Damon
    Teixeira
    Rodriguez
    Cano
    Swisher/Hairston/Hinske/Gardner
    Cabrera
    Molina
    Burnett

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  23. The Vaunted Chris says:

    Girardi might have subbed Swisher in for Damon if a tying runner was at third, but I can’t see him chancing losing Damon’s bat for Swisher if he didn’t have to. The defensive upgrade is mimimal, at best.

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  24. Mo Wang says:

    Managing in the immediate moment has been Girardi’s way all postseason long. Remember, he’s the guy who took ARod out for a pinch-runner because “I thought he had a better chance to score on a double.”

    So to me, his decision to not put the very best defensive alignment out there suggests that he doesn’t actually believe that it is indeed the best defensive alignment. In other words, he thinks Damon is a better defensive player than Swisher.

    I really don’t mind the non-move, but if Girardi really does believe that Damon is the superior defender, it doesn’t make me feel any better about Girardi.

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  25. yo-izzle says:

    Here are some quotes about Derek Jeter’s bunt:

    “Initially, the bench told Derek Jeter to bunt in the seventh, ‘but I would have done it anyway,’ he said. With two strikes, though, Jeter made the decision to attempt another bunt. ‘That was me,’ he said. ‘I was stupid.’ ”

    This is referring to Joe Girardi:

    “He also said that Jeter’s decision to bunt with two strikes was ‘on his own’ but that ‘if he feels he can get the job done, I’m not going to bark at him.’ “

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  26. MGL says:

    “Having Jeter bunt was the correct play until there were two strikes. I’ll expand on that tomorrow.”

    David, unless you didn’t read my article the other day in bunting or the sac bunting chapter in The Book, one, there never is a yes/no answer to whether a bunt is correct or not, unless the bunt WE is greater than the hit away WE with the defense playing all the way in, or the hit away WE is greater than the bunt WE with the defense playing all the way back.

    And to figure out the bunt WE, you would have to know how often very possible result on a bunt attempt occurs when Jeter is batting versus Park, when the infield is playing all the way in AND all the way back, and then you would still have to know the exact WE when Jeter is hitting away, with both the infield playing back and playing in.

    On the other hand, given that Jeter is a good bunter and a fast runner, and it is clearly a potential bunt play, a good rule of thumb is that Jeter should sometimes bunt and sometimes not. As I said it is NEVER correct to always bunt or always hit away unless one yields a higher WE no matter where the defense plays. That is true even if the defense is playing too far in or too far back, unless you are not going to play against that team (or possibly any other team) ever again.

    With 2 strikes, it is never correct for a position player to bunt unless his hitting is really weak and he doesn’t foul off many bunt attempts.
    Are you prepared to do all that?

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    • Hardy says:

      > As I said it is NEVER correct to always bunt or always hit away unless one yields a higher WE no matter where the defense plays. That is true even if the defense is playing too far in or too far back, unless you are not going to play against that team (or possibly any other team) ever again.

      You said it, but you haven’t shown it. You have to provide evidence that the potential learning of the opposition is more costly than making the “wrong” decision now. Consider this example:

      The defense plays too far in, so hitting is better. Let´s say the WE_hit is 46%, the WE_bunt is 45%. Bunting will cost 1% of WE now. Now let’S also they that given a optimal defensive setur, WE_hit = WE_bunt = 45.99999999999999%.
      Now it is obviously correct to always hit, because it will neve rbe wort to sacrifice this 1% of WE today.

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  27. MGL says:

    “Are you prepared to do all that?”

    That sentence should have followed my 3rd paragraph.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      Let’s wait to see the article before bashing it.

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      • Bill says:

        I’m looking forward to it. It should be an interesting debate. I actually was thinking about MGL’s post on this issue when Manuel put on the wheel play in the seventh inning and then Cabrera swung away. Manuel positioned his defense in as if he was 100% sure Cabrera was going to bunt. Cabrera exploited this by swinging away.

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  28. Rob in CT says:

    I thought the bunt was a bad idea, before any pitches were thrown. I knew it was coming, because even if Girardi hadn’t called for it, Jeter would have done it on his own. He’s like that with bunting.

    Anyway, to me there are pros and cons to a sac bunt there. Pro is that getting even one more run, with Mo on the mound for the 9th, would be huge. Getting two runs would be massive. Con – Chan Ho Park was pitching, and I don’t think much of Chan Ho Park. He had just given up a line drive single to Posada. Jeter is a good hitter, albeit a righty (I assume Park is tougher on righties?). I felt pretty good about his chances of turning that rally into something big. Instead, he “gives himself up” and hands the Phillies an out. Worse, obviously, was his decision to bunt with 2 strikes, as he didn’t even advance the runners.

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  29. Joe R says:

    Yankees escape via talent, in the process hellbent on turning Nick Swisher into the new SSS villain of NYC.

    Look at how well “playing the hot guys” went for Torre in the NLCS, Girardi.

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  30. aj says:

    As a Tiger fan, I would like to say:

    Girardi starting Hairston for his 10-27 line is much better than Leyland starting similar players for no reason at all, other than they’re a player and therefore they can play. Leyland would’ve batted Hairston third just to show him he believes in him.

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  31. thefatkid says:

    Care to explain why, if catching doesn’t matter, almost every single Yankee pitcher has pitched better to catchers not named Posada for the duration of Posada’s career? Is this some sort of magical decade-plus aberrant coincidence?

    Bad defensive catching negatively impacts pitching. The fact that you haven’t figured out how to quantify catching doesn’t somehow make it unimportant.

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