In 1977, Billy Martin managed the Yankees to their 21st world championship during his second year at the helm. Midway through the next season, he resigned in order to avoid being fired, after making disparaging remarks to reporters about World Series hero Reggie Jackson and owner George Steinbrenner. Martin was replaced by the team’s mild-mannered former pitching coach, Bob Lemon, whose personality was the polar opposite. Lemon guided the club to the exact same result with a virtually identical roster.
This taught me that some talented teams win no matter who resides in the manager’s office. I have also seen managers win with talent-starved rosters, and still others fail to maximize the potential of the players at their disposal. Aaron Boone’s first-year performance places him squarely in the latter group.
Boone inherited a team that won 91 games (100 Pythagorean) during the regular season and finished one win shy of the World Series. Although he guided the Bombers to their first 100-win season since 2009, the team’s Pythagorean was only 99 wins. They also won five fewer postseason games than last year, so the Yankees actually regressed under Boone. This came despite the infusion of talent before and during the season.
I’m not going to go through a list of in-game moves to nitpick over. Just like everyone else, I screamed at the TV for Boone to remove CC Sabathia earlier in Game Four of the Division Series. When Boone finally made the move in the fourth inning, Zach Britton coughed up a home run to the first batter he faced. It was a not-so-gentle reminder that baseball is humbling, for fans and players alike. Sometimes the moves we wish for just don’t work out.
That being said, Boone did tend to leave starters in games too long. It happened all season, but the tendency took center stage during the ALDS. I have other issues with Boone’s management as well.
Everyone on the planet seemed to know that Luis Severino was tipping his pitches. Red Sox players were seen openly discussing it during his ALDS start. GM Brian Cashman recently revealed that the organization had been aware of the issue for some time. If that’s the case, then why wasn’t Boone and his coaching staff able to solve the problem?
Giancarlo Stanton compiled 7.6 Wins Above replacement en route to winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award last season, but regressed to 4.0 WAR after donning the pinstripes. This even though he went from being the lineup centerpiece in Miami to joining a batting order in New York which provided significant protection. We also witnessed the complete implosions of Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Sonny Gray — three talented players who were expected to be key contributors this season. Boone and his coaches were unable to solve the problems with any of these players.
On the positive side, Boone did a great job integrating the rookies into the team. Despite concerns surrounding Miguel Andujar’s defense, Boone kept starting him at third base. It was the right call, as Andujar contributed mightily with his bat all year. To his credit, Boone also stayed with Gleyber Torres throughout his late-season slump.
Some managers just don’t have the patience to keep playing rookies when they have more experienced players to fall back on. Boone stuck with both Andujar and Torres, and we were treated to a pair of fine rookie campaigns — which hopefully, both players can build on.
Boone also did a great job making sure his players got proper rest. I’ve seen managers recklessly pitch relievers three and four days in a row, early in the year. Boone resisted the temptation to do this, even when it might have helped the club win a game. He also erred to the side of caution with the rotation, opting to take advantage of scheduled days off and spot starts to give his top starters extra rest. Some managers do the opposite in a pennant race, by skipping the fifth starter and pitching their top arms on short rest. I prefer skippers like Boone, who protect the health of their players.
Finally, Boone showed courage and flexibility in managing the lineup. I’ve seen far too many managers continue hitting players in premium lineup spots when they are well past their primes or suffering through prolonged slumps. Boone had no qualms about moving Brett Gardner down to ninth in the order when he was no longer demonstrating the consistent on-base skills expected from a leadoff hitter. Likewise, Boone showed a willingness to disregard the binder and play the hot hand, like when he batted Luke Voit third.
Cashman recently said he gives Boone “A’s across the board” for his inaugural campaign, but I can’t be as generous with my appraisal. A great manager maximizes the productivity of the talent available to him. I don’t think Boone accomplished that this year.
The Yankees were once the gold standard in professional sports, and to achieve that level again, they need their manager to rise to the occasion and lift the team up with him. The organization already announced that Boone and the entire coaching staff will be retained for next season. I sincerely hope that at this time next year, I will be able to call Boone baseball’s “most improved” manager.