Managing in the playoffs can be a pretty thankless job. Making a bold call, like having Madison Bumgarner pitch virtually every game in the World Series, often leads to the player receiving more credit than the manager, while making a poor call means the manager absorbs all the blame. As the saying goes, victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan.
Enter Aaron Boone. Despite leading his team to a 100 win season last year, most of the collective memory Yankee fans have of his first season is some questionable decisions made in the ALDS against Boston. A good chunk of the blame for the ALDS loss needs to be saddled on the players themselves - the Yankees were outscored 27-14 in four games for goodness’ sake - but they weren’t helped by decisions made by their manager.
The most egregious example came in the crucial third game, in the Bronx, with the series tied 1-1. Thinking about the Lance Lynn decision makes me sad, so I’m just going to quote from Tom’s recap directly:
Severino exited with a terrible line: three innings, seven hits, six runs, two walks, and two strikeouts. In the Yankees’ biggest game of the year, Severino choked. Lance Lynn was no better. He forced in a run by walking Betts, making it 4-0. Benintendi followed up with a bases-clearing double, to make it an unlucky seven-run deficit for the Yankees.
By the time the Yankees got the first out of the inning (to J.D. Martinez, of all people), 18 minutes had passed, four runs had scored, and it was 7-0 Red Sox.
This was not 2019, downballot Cy Young votegetter Lance Lynn. This was 5.14-ERA-in-2019-with-the-Yankees Lance Lynn. Boone made the decision to bring in a fastball-focused righthander to face Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and JD Martinez. Come on.
The MLB postseason allows teams to be more aggressive than ever. There are more off days than in the regular season, and even if you overwork a pitcher, it doesn’t really matter as long as you win. Joe Maddon rode Aroldis Chapman into the ground in 2016, but it didn’t matter because they won the World Series. Andrew Miller was a workhorse for Cleveland that same year, and probably the biggest reason they even made it to game seven of the Series.
Aaron Boone, in his very brief postseason career, has shown to be more conservative than I’d like a manager to be. In that ALDS, he didn’t just go to Lance Lynn hoping for length rather than immediately staunching the bleeding, he relied on Luis Severino and CC Sabathia, who were getting hammered, for just one more out, or one more inning, that never came.
I hope that he’s learned to be more aggressive. You have a bullpen built for October, with five guys that throw 97 with wicked secondary offerings. Use them liberally. I don’t care how Tommy Kahnle performs in 2020 if he can do for the Yankees what Miller did for Cleveland in 2016. Don’t bring your depth pieces in mid-inning to face the best hitters in a lineup.
If there is one criticism of the analytics-based approach to baseball, it’s that things rely on a larger sample size to bear out. Saving your best relievers from coming in during the fifth can help you over 162 games, but when you only have at most seven, you need to be more agile and less dogmatic. A particular strategy or process may work out in your favor the majority of the time over 1000 simulations, but you don’t have 1000 simulations when you’re facing the Astros in the ALCS.
For Boone, it’s simple. Be more aggressive, take more chances, and don’t leave things up to sample size stabilization. The path to the World Series goes right through two powerful lineups in Minnesota and Houston, and the best way to beat them is leaning on the power arms you’ve brought together for this exact scenario.