Joe Girardi says Yankees’ ex-farmhand is key to successful replay challenges
Girardi won’t take the credit for the Yanks’ 71% challenge success rate and says the plaudits should go to a 37-year-old former Smith Barney man who pitched in the Yankees’ system and got out of the finance business to work back in the baseball world.
By now, most Yankee fans know the signs: A thumbs-up from bench coach Tony Pena to Joe Girardi means that Girardi should challenge an umpire’s call. When Pena crosses his arms in an “X” it means, essentially, “Forget it, Joe, and come back to the dugout.”
What happens in the brief time between the end of a close play and Pena’s signs has made the Yankees one of the best teams in baseball at challenging calls so far in this first year of baseball’s expanded replay. Girardi is tied for third among managers in success percentage, behind only Miami’s Mike Redmond and the Giants’ Bruce Bochy, according to baseball-reference.com.
Managers will be always be the ones remembered for how a challenge goes since they decide whether to challenge. But Girardi won’t take the credit for the Yanks’ 71% success rate, which is nearly 20 points higher than baseball’s average of 51.2% in challenges by managers as of Tuesday’s games.
Instead, Girardi says the plaudits should go to a 37-year-old former Smith Barney man who pitched in the Yankees’ system and got out of the finance business to work back in the baseball world.
“That’s Brett Weber, the job he’s doing,” Girardi says, trying to explain the Yanks’ success. “It’s his eye, seeing and being quick.
“And it’s not an easy job, because you have the calls that are ‘for-sures’ and then you have the ones that are pretty hard to overturn because they’re not for sure. He’s been really good about saying, ‘Hey, you’re not going to get it overturned,’ or saying, “Definitely challenge it.’ ”
Weber, who is listed as a “baseball operations coaching assistant” in the Yanks’ 2014 media guide, is the man who sits in front of monitors at every ballpark the Yanks play in, watching everything. If he sees something worth challenging, he calls the phone devoted to replay that’s in every dugout. Pena generally will answer. If Girardi or Pena thinks he sees something, either one calls him. All of this has to happen in the narrow window of time before the next pitch or play, according to baseball’s replay rules.
“Webby,” as Weber is called by most staff and players, was a 14th-round draft pick of the Yankees in 1998 out of the University of Illinois. He pitched for three seasons in the Yanks’ system, reaching Class A Tampa before needing arm surgery. If you include two years of independent ball, Weber was 23-10 with a 2.60 ERA in 178 pro games, according to baseball-reference.com.
After playing, he worked at Smith Barney for four years, but then started sending his resume out, looking for baseball jobs, and was hired by the Yankees in 2009. Before monitoring replay, Weber charted pitches from the stands and he still regularly throws batting practice.
He got this new job “because he’s a good baseball guy, played the game and knows the game,” general manager Brian Cashman says. “Joe has a great deal of trust in him.”
Weber declined to be interviewed for this story, although when he was told that Girardi had given him credit for the Yanks’ replay success, Weber grinned and said, “Small sample size.”
Cashman, however, seems perplexed by the idea that some clubs are good at challenging while others aren’t. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know why anyone would have a low percentage,” Cashman says. “To be bad at challenges would make absolutely no sense to me. It comes down to common sense, whether a call was inaccurate or accurate.”
But other clubs haven’t had the Yanks’ success. The Rays, for instance, are the worst at only 7-for-24 (29%). Seven clubs succeed less than 40% of the time, including the Mets (39%). The Marlins (86%), Giants (72%), Yankees (71%), Braves (71%) and Padres (70%) are the only clubs at 70% or above.
Perhaps teams haven’t figured out their strategy in just a few months or they’re riskier on potential replays later in games. Or, as some in baseball believe, maybe some teams are using a challenge or two to delay games while relievers warm up or starters get a breather.
Girardi says players have been helpful with challenging, which is something the manager stressed during a spring training meeting, and he considers their views valuable input. “The other thing we’ve told them is ‘Don’t be mad if we don’t challenge,’ ” Girardi said. “If it’s not conclusive, I’m not going to challenge so we can save it for when we need it.”