I find it hard to talk about managers. Twenty years ago, the GM handed a manager an active roster, and from there on, everything that happened on the field was under the manager’s purview. Now, the manager is one member of a steering committee — the individual level of autonomy a manager has varies by organization, but if you think Kevin Cash made the call to take Blake Snell out of the World Series all by himself, you’re kidding yourself.
Still, the manager is by far the most visible part of that steering committee, and the one that catches the most heat for underperformance. There’s also a tremendous amount of information asymmetry, given that the things Aaron Boone was hired for aren’t really things we get a lot of insight into.
Buster Olney and Aaron Judge have both gone to great lengths since the Yankees were eliminated to stress how well-liked Boone is, by both the players he manages and the baseball word at large. Now, Judge isn’t going to throw his manager under the bus, so his comments have to be taken with a grain of salt, but we can at least be confident that there’s no clubhouse revolt against Boone. This despite the fact that Boone hasn’t been able to take an extremely talented roster any further than Joe Girardi could back in 2017.
Additionally, I think Boone has become better at game-level strategic decisions as the season’s gone on — there was very quick recognition that Clay Holmes was the best reliever not named Jonathan Loáisiga in the bullpen, and giving Holmes more and more important spots fairly soon after being acquired:
The blue shows the leverage at the beginning of the inning, and the orange the leverage when Boone went to Holmes. You can see how often an inning got worse - the blue line is below the orange, meaning something bad happened and Boone put Holmes in to settle things down. On September 4th, for example, Jordan Montgomery loaded the bases in a one-run game against the Orioles, a situation about three times as high leverage, or as “important”, as the average moment in a baseball game. Holmes is the first guy out of the pen - and in that inning, gets out of trouble with no runs scored.
So for Boone to realize, quickly, that Holmes was so good, and give him high-leverage assignments in critical games, is a real plus in his column! He understood who his best arms were and put them in positions to succeed. But here’s the catch, as it exists with all evaluations of Boone: did Boone himself recognize Holmes’ potential as a high-leverage arm, or did someone else on the steering committee - Michael Fishman, Mike Harkey, Matt Blake - say “Hey Skip, this kid’s your best relief weapon, use him in the biggest spots” and Boone simply agreed? It’s good he didn’t fight the information he was given, like some post game analysts certainly would, but agreeing with someone else’s good idea isn’t the same as coming up with your own.
And really, I think this serves as a perfect example of the issues with evaluating the manager in the modern age. What calls are they making on their own, vs. what calls are they one part of a committee on? DJ LeMahieu was in the leadoff spot in the lineup as long as he was healthy, despite his incredibly disappointing season. Supposedly, Boone gets final say on the lineup, but who’s handing him the projections that say DJ’s the right choice, or is it completely his gut reaction? We just don’t know.
Boone’s contract is up. He wouldn’t be fired by this club, merely allowed to pursue other opportunities. The bottom line is, he took over a team that was a game away from the World Series, and hasn’t been able to replicate that, much less improve on it. The team’s gotten worse in the last two seasons.
I think Boone’s strength lies in behind the scenes roles — he can get players invested, whatever their contract status, in the overall success of the team. We’ve seen that in the 2019 #NextManUp run, and this year the Yankees lost more games to the COVID-IL than any other team, and both times the club was still able to put together a competitive season. Some of that credit has to go to the manager.
But at the very least, he hasn’t been able to match the expectations of this roster over the past three years. He is not so invaluable that it’s sacrilege to replace him. However, I would caution the folks that have been calling for his head for years that his replacement is not likely to be any different. The next Yankee manager is going to be one voice on the steering committee, and a guy unhappy with that arrangement is a guy that won’t get the job. For all we know, the Yankees really like what Boone brings to the table, and are going to keep him around.