Joe Girardi is known as a meticulous taskmaster as the New York Yankees’ manager, one who can organize detailed spring training workouts or map out bullpen usage with aplomb.
So perhaps it would come as little surprise that Girardi has given careful consideration to how the World Baseball Classic is organized. He has, in fact, devised a plan that he thinks would make the event a more compelling and competitive tournament — and less risky.
Some managers around baseball would like to do away with the event altogether. They do not like having their players leave camp to join their national teams, and they dread injuries.
Girardi was the Yankees’ manager in 2013 when Mark Teixeira injured his wrist while preparing for the WBC, and Teixeira played only 15 games that season. But Girardi recognizes the increasing popularity of the tournament — the event set a record with 621,851 fans attending the pool stage, a 34 percent increase over the previous high, set in 2013.
“Obviously, there’s value to the WBC,” Girardi said, adding, “So can we make it work? There would be a lot of value to it in the summer.”
That is his basic idea: Make it a summertime event. Move the first two rounds of the WBC later by a week in March, so that the players — especially the fragile pitchers — are stronger and more prepared to play competitively. Then the semifinals and the final would be held during an extended weeklong All-Star Break in July.
For those concerned about the length of the season, Girardi suggested either playing three fewer games in the years when the WBC is held — sacrilege to some — or starting the season three days sooner.
Under Girardi’s plan, the semifinals of the WBC would be held on Tuesday, and the final on Wednesday. The workout for the All-Star Game would be held on Thursday, and the game itself on Friday. Saturday and Sunday would be off, and the regular season would resume on Monday.
It could be staged in the same town, with the entire baseball world focused there, or in a different city with available stadiums.
One benefit of that system would be that pitchers could throw more pitches without the restrictive pitch counts that they currently play under at the WBC. For now, pitchers are limited to 65 pitches in the first round, and 80 and 95 pitches in subsequent rounds. Relief pitchers cannot throw on three consecutive days, regardless of pitch counts, and anyone who throws at least 50 pitches in a game must rest for four days. If a pitcher throws 30 pitches, he must rest a day.
The WBC began on March 6 this year for some teams. Girardi thinks the first round should begin a week later, allowing pitchers more time in spring training to build up arm strength. An extra week, he thinks, could translate into an additional five to 10 pitches and could spare managers from having to go to their bullpens too early, which in turn places strain on the relief pitchers.
He also noted that there are more elbow injuries that require Tommy John surgery in April than any other month, suggesting that those injuries are caused more often by arm strength problems early in the year than by fatigue at the end of it.
“I think they have a better chance of being hurt in March than they do in July,” he said, “when they’re really built up.”
Such issues intrigue Girardi, who is also well versed on the affects of scheduling regulations and game rules. He is always ready to share a few pointed thoughts on baseball’s rules updates, like those governing instant replay that were introduced earlier this spring.
This year, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances is pitching for the Dominican Republic, and its manager, Tony Pena, is also the Yankees’ first-base coach. Girardi lauded the communication between the WBC managers, like Pena, who maintain contact with the players’ clubs during the tournament. He said he has spoken to Pena about Betances and has texted back and forth with Hensley Meulens, who is managing another Yankee, Didi Gregorius, for the Netherlands.
Girardi is not as worried about the position players, despite the injuries to Teixeira in 2013 or this year to Salvador Perez, the catcher for the Kansas City Royals who suffered a swollen left knee in Venezuela’s game against Italy last week. But when a pitcher like Betances takes the mound, there is concern, especially early in the year.
“You hold your breath a little bit,” Girardi said.
But for all of Girardi’s ruminations on the subject, he said he has never made a formal presentation to Major League Baseball, the godfather of the WBC, about his plan. He also said he would not want to prevent a player from participating. But when someone declines, like Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees pitcher from Japan, that is OK, too, he said.
“You want to give your players the opportunity,” he said. “But you don’t have a problem when they say no.”