Did Doug Mientkiewicz get Joe Torre fired?

In what was the second least convincing lie told yesteday (the first being the Indians use of Josh Beckett’s ex-girlfriend to sing the National Anthem before Game 5 of the ALCS being… ready?… an “incredible coincidence!”), the Yankees attempted to make it look like they wanted Joe Torre to stick around.  It’s just that they offered him a one year deal with a 33% paycut and, just to make sure that he got the message, there was a second option year that would only have vested had Torre and the Yankees made it to the World Series.
I have to be honest here.  I hate the New York Yankees.  The two greatest days of the year in baseball (and by extension, the year in general) are Opening Day and the Day The Yankees Are Eliminated.  It’s nothing against the individual players.  It’s the principle of the thing.  I shouldn’t speak ill of evil empires, since my wife was born in Moscow, but well, maybe this will convince you.  Despite my general dislike for anyone wearing a Yankees cap who wasn’t born within the New York metropolitan area (oh, hi LeBron), I felt insulted for Joe Torre.
I’m assuming that since Joe wasn’t fired after any of the previous dozen seasons, he must have committed his unforgivable error sometime in the last 12 months.  I suppose that in Yankee-land, not winning the World Series this year (or for the past… gasp!… 7 years) is unforgiveable enough.  Especially since the World Series trophy actually belongs to the Yankees and is just leased to the rest of baseball whenever the Bronx Bombers are feeling generous.  Well, let’s try to find this egregious mis-step.
A manager has three jobs.  He is the team’s spokesman to the media, and by extension, the public.  He’s in charge of keeping the players happy, in essence being the psychologist-in-chief.  He makes the in-game strategic decisions.  On the first matter, dealing with the New York media is an impossible job.  New Yorkers are convinced that they are the most important people in the world.  They’re like Americans on steroids.  (Was that perhaps the wrong way to phrase that?)  I’m amazed that after 12 years of that part of the job alone, Torre didn’t quit.  As to keeping the players happy, we’ll never know.  We don’t know what went on in the locker room.  I suppose if the team was running off the rails in that direction, it would be OK to fire Torre, but I haven’t heard any indications that it had.
So, the in-game decisions.  Let’s first point out some of the things that the manager does not do.  He does not assemble the roster, for the most part.  I have to believe that the manager gets some say in player-personnel decisions, particularly those in-season moves like whether to send Player X down to AAA and whom to bring up when Player Y gets hurt.  But those are usually minor moves involving the 22nd through 25th spots on the roster.  The big-ticket items are usually provided to him by the general manager.  While the manager does set the starting rotation in the spring, the rotation generally runs itself.  He also doesn’t hit, pitch, or run in the game.
There are a few correct decisions that Torre made for which he gets absolutely no credit, nor does he deserve any.  One job of the manager is to apportion playing time.  Torre, every day, was faced with a key decision.  Whom should he start at third base?  Looking over his options (A-Rod, Miguel Cairo, Wilson Betemit), he picked A-Rod on a consistent basis.  Not exactly rocket science.  In fact, among the Yankee regulars, Posada, Cano, Jeter, A-Rod, and Abreu were all in the top 10 at their respective positions in VORP leaguewide.  (Hideki Matsui was the 11th best LF. )
In this area, the only place where Torre had to make a decision was figuring out who would play first base (options, Doug Mientkiewicz, Josh Pehlps,  a hobbled Jason Giambi, Andy Phillips, or hilariously enough, Miguel Cairo).  The job was split between Phillips (who functioned at replacement level and was a slightly below average fielder)  and Doug M. (who functioned slightly above replacement level and was a slightly above average fielder).   Phillips and Cairo got most of their reps because Mientkiewicz was hurt for part of the year.  In other words, Torre was dealt a bad hand at first base.  Then, there was the matter of moving Melky Cabrera to center field and Johnny Damon to left.  RZR shows that Damon was actually the better left fielder and the better center fielder last year (both players logged a good amount of time at both positions), despite the general perception that Cabrera is the better fielder.  Hideki Matsui was actually a better left fielder than both of them, but was injured toward the end of the year. 
So, Joe Torre’s biggest mistake this year was giving too much playing time to Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo, when their would-be replacement, Doug M. wasn’t all that terrific either.  (And not believing in the fielding prowess of Johnny Damon.)  Torre’s fascination with Mientkiewicz is well-known and completely inexplicable.  Why they kept him around as “the answer” at first base baffles me.  It’s not like the Yankees were trying to keep costs low.  I have to wonder if Torre didn’t say something to keep the Yankees from pushing harder for Mark Teixeira (or somebody… anybody… who could play a more-than-replacement level first base!) mid-year because of his “belief” in Doug M.
The manager also takes care of bullpen management.  Ideally, the best relievers should pitch to the most hitters, right?  Looking at Yankee relievers who logged at least 100 batters faced in relief, we get the following list, ranked by batters faced.

  1. Luis Vizcaino (334)
  2. Mariano Rivera (295)
  3. Kyle Farnsworth (266)
  4. Scott Proctor (245)
  5. Brian Bruney (228)
  6. Sean Henn/Ron Villone/Mike Myers (175-181 each)
  7. Edwar Ramirez (103)

How could Joe not have Mariano face the most hitters, since he is the clearly the best of the bunch?  Well, maybe Joe’s not as dumb as you think.  (Now do you understand why Joba Chamberlain went to the bullpen, instead of the rotation?)  Take a look at the average leverage that each pitcher faced in each of his plate appearances.  Mariano checks in at 1.76.  Vizcaino has an average of 1.00.  An average situation has a leverage of 1.00.  That means that the average situation that Vizcaino faced was exactly average compared to all other possible situations.  Rivera, on the other hand, faced situatons that were, on average, one and three-quarters times as important as the average plate appearance.  Let’s multiply each pitcher’s batters faced by his average leverage index and see what happens to that list.

  1. Mariano Rivera (519.2)
  2. Luis Vizcaino (334)
  3. Kyle Farnsworth (282.0)
  4. Scott Proctor (264.6)
  5. Henn/Villone/Myers (106.8, 68.6, 87.5)

Looks like Joe got that right.  Rivera faced situations that were, all told, as important as 519 average plate appearances.  He pitched the more difficult situations.  Anyone can pitch garbage time.  You want the good guy in there when it’s crunch time.
The manager also does things like give the steal sign.  70% is considered break-even, and the Yankees stole 123 bases and were caught 40 times for a success rate north of 75%.  The manager also puts in pinch hitters, although Joe didn’t really pinch hit that much this past year.  Damon, Posada, and Giambi all pinch hit more than ten times each, and all had an average leverage at insertion of more than 1.3.  The bit players who pinch hit, usually did so in low-leverage situations.  Those were probably blow-out garbage time pinch hits.  The only weird exception was Dougie M.  He pinch hit 7 times in an average leverage of 1.79.  Why, I have no idea.
The one thing that Joe obviously did wrong this year was not win the ALDS against Cleveland.  He was criticized for his handling of the pitching (hard to handle a staff when you have only two men in the bullpen whom you can trust), although he put his two best starters out for Games 1 and 2 and they just outright got beat.  Bringing back Chien-Ming Wang on three days rest was stupid, but in some ways defensible.  The other criticism he took was not using Jason Giambi at first, but instead sticking with… Doug Mientkiewicz.  All of Torre’s foibles seem to go back to that one man.
But what else did Joe Torre do wrong?  Did he give the “take” sign too often?  Did he call for too many pitchouts?  What was it?  And how exactly would another manager have done things differently?
Joe Torre is being blamed for 7 years of no championships in Yankee Stadium and that’s not fair.  I could go back into previous years and calculate the same sort of numbers, but look at what Baseball Prospectus said about the Yankees’ odds of winning the World Series this year.  About 10%.  They weren’t even favored to win the Division Series.  The playoffs really are a crapshoot.  Even if a team is so good that the would win 60% of their playoff games if playoff series were a million games long, there’s still a 1 in 3 chance of losing a best-of-five series, and the Yankees haven’t been that good in a long time.  The Yankees have no divine right to the World Series trophy, and there’s not a whole lot that the manager can do on the field to affect his team’s chances of winning that Joe Torre wasn’t already doing.
About the only thing of which Joe Torre is guilty is having too high an opinion of Doug Mientkiewicz.  Maybe that’s what got him fired.

15 Responses to Did Doug Mientkiewicz get Joe Torre fired?

  1. Ian says:

    “New Yorkers are convinced that they are the most important people in the world.”
    What an egregious, wrong-headed statement. I’m sorry the Yankees are covered more in the media than your favorite baseball team, but maybe you should consider the over-saturation has less to do with New Yorkers and more to do with members of the media.
    The Yankees being discussed in the national media does not equate to some perceived entitlement by the people that happen to live in their home state. And if you’re basing your opinion on something other than media coverage, it’s your own personal bias and reveals something about you.
    Aside from these oddball stereotypes, the article is actually very good, though you’ve made me hate to admit it.

  2. David Hannes says:

    Great article…I was stunned to hear of the Yankees’ half-hearted offer to Torre, but then realized that is par for George & Co. (I, too, hate the Yankees–mostly because of Steinbrenner–but love Torre and feel a whole lot of pity for Brian Cashman). Of course, I think they had to realize that a paycut would have the same result as a pink slip (Torre not returning), so they took the easy way out to save face.
    Mientkiewicz was the biggest problem with the line-up, but their starting pitching was the real problem–Mussina had a 5.15 ERA, Clemens didn’t join the club until June, Wang missed a few starts due to an injury, and Kei Igawa was a complete bust. Outside of Pettite, Wang, Mussina, and Clemens, Torre had to go to 10 other pitchers for 54 starts–exactly 1/3 of the games. Those 10 tertiary starters went 19-19, but had a 5.75 ERA overall, with 0 CG and 0 shutouts…frankly, when you consider Mussina got another 1/6 of the starts, I’m surprised they even won the Wildcard.

  3. Terry McLoughlin says:

    “New Yorkers are convinced that they are the most important people in the world.”
    Way to generalize, my man.

  4. BJ says:

    Nice article man. I think the reason Damon was moved was because he was batting horribly and it was to shake it up. Also Damon has no arm and its an investment in the future with Melky out there. Also part of the reason fans have a problem with Torre is that “trust” issue you talked about, a someone has a bad outing and he gets put in the doghouse and just rides the bench… this does not just cause guys to not be able to show what they can do, it also results in Torre’s “guy’s” to be broken down by the end of the year and very often forcing them into surrgery. Also, the Doug issue is just part of a larger problem of torre having his favorites that are usually the older, veteran guys and never giving guys in the minors a chance to break through. You can say it is loyalty, which plays into Joe’s ability to manage egos, but it should be more of a compromise and not a blind allegiance.

  5. Lourdes says:

    Oh, please aren’t you full of yourself.

  6. robny77 says:

    I rather be a confident & cocky New Yorker then a mediocre,average Joe from Cleveland,Boston,or Chicago that is known for losing each year and expects disappointments! Just look at ESPN and every other major sporting network! There is an american league pennant going on and the Yankees are still DOMINATING headlines! If I were a fan of another team I’d be envious & full of hate too! Sorry,but that’s just the way it is,suck it up! Sports would be nothing without the Yankees! Whether they win or lose they are always the #1 topic in sports! It’s the #1 media outlet in the world and Yankee fans expect there team to win year in and year out! Sorry if Cleveland hasn’t won anything since the television was invented! I rather be a consistent team “in it to win it” every single year then a one year wonder! I wouldn’t trade 12 straight playoff appearences for 1 championship if it meant NOT making the postseason at all for the next 5-7 years! Consistencyyyyyyy boys and girls! Eventually every team will have there day in the sun,but I much rather be with a team that is always winning and always in contention! I don’t care if Mother Goose is managing the Yankees next year,you can bet your house that come Oct 1st…they’re in the playoffs…win or lose! Now go try and beat Boston before you start writing such a ridiculous article,which by the way….NO ONE LOOKS AT! I just happen to come across it bc the title was so ludicrous!

  7. Eric Haskell says:

    2007 AVG/OBP/SLG
    Mientkiewicz .277/.349/.440
    Giambi .236/.356/.433
    And Mientkiewicz is a far superior defender, so playing him in the ALDS was not a mistake.

  8. Eric Haskell says:

    Can you check the filter for me, Pizza Cutter?

  9. tbone says:

    I’m a New Yorker and I’m in the media. We do think we’re the most important people in the world and calling us “Americans on steroids” is hilarious. If you disagree, you need to get out of NYC every now and then. And I don’t mean Jersey.
    That said, I feel bad for even discussing this because it does a disservice to the author to spend time on this when he made so many great points (I hate the Yankees too and he made me come around a bit). Great article.

  10. TimberLee says:

    I think that robny77 sort of shows what you meant by your comment about New Yorkers’ self-image, which makes his/her post pretty funny. Your article was very good .

  11. Mark says:

    I definitely agree with robny77. I would much rather be in the running year after year than be some “one hit wonder.” Also, are you kidding me by saying Mientkiewicz is a “slightly above average” fielder. He is on of the best, if not the best, defensive firstbase in the league. How does that translate to slightly above average? I’d like to know who you think is well above average.

  12. Pizza Cutter says:

    Mark, Doug M saved approximately rated as 1 run above average according to Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average stat.

  13. Mark says:

    well would you say Andy Philips is a better fielder than Doug M.? Do you think many people would argue that? I feel like most people would argue that, as would I. But according to Baseball Prospectus, Andy Phillips is rated as 4 run above average. Does that mean Andy Phillips is that much better than Doug M?

  14. MGL says:

    Doug did not play many games at first this year, so to use his 07 fielding stats as a gauge of anything is not going to be very fruitful, not to mention that the BP fielding runs are not very good in the first place.
    Sine 2003 (per 150 games):
    03 +14
    04 +11
    05 +24
    06 +9
    07 -3
    Total
    420 games, +13
    That is a VERY good fielder. And that does not include any ability he might have at saving bad throws or turning the DP.
    I think there is little doubt that he is one of the best defensive 1B in baseball.
    He is not that bad of a hitter, in fact, (a little) above average, for all players, around a win less than an average first baseman (NOT replacement level as Pizza Cutter says for some reason). His projected defense brings his overall value up to around 1/2 win below an average first baseman at worst. These are PROJECTIONS.
    He certainly should have a full time job (or at least a full-time platoon job) on SOME team, and should earn over 5 mil a year as a FA.
    It is a decent article at least as far as one thing is concerned. It begins to set the stage for how a manager MIGHT be evaluated, although that os porbably one of the hardest things for an analyst (and nearly impossible for anyone else) to do in baseball, and PC has only scratched the surface.
    The typical way that most people “evaluate” managers is how the team does, w/l wise, whether they make the post-season, and how they do in same, and how the team does relative to some vague (and often inaccurate) expectation. These are RIDICULOUS (fruitless) ways to evaluate a manager even if we concede that a manager has SOME influence on them.

  15. [...] Did Doug Mientkiewicz get Joe Torre fired?Baseball – Those 10 tertiary starters went 19-19, but had a 5.75 ERA overall, with 0 CG and 0 shutouts…frankly, when you consider Mussina got another 1/6 of the starts, I’m surprised they even won the Wildcard. Terry McLoughlin says: October 19th, 2007 [...]

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