Even though this isn’t exactly the midpoint of the season, the All Star break is a good time to take stock of the baseball landscape. The Yankees are the best team in baseball, despite a manager that, six months ago, a whole bunch of people thought had no place running an MLB clubhouse. Alex Cora, for so long considered the game’s perfect manager, finds himself heading a club with less than a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs. Charlie Montoyo, the clubhouse king who cut his teeth with the Rays, is unemployed.
Managing is a tough gig. I don’t think there’s any question that your major league coaching staff makes an impact on your team’s performance, but like hitting with RISP, year to year volatility seems too great to put too much weight on the job. In the AL East, we see this perfectly.
So much of that volatility, I think, comes from the blurry lines between where the front office ends and where the “on-field” team begins. Take something as simple as stolen bases — headed into the unofficial second half, the Yankees have swiped 63 bags and been caught 14 times. Over the entire 2021 season, they stole 63 times and were thrown out 18. They’re on pace for a 75 percent increase in stolen bases this year, while actually being more effective at picking when to go.
How much credit does Aaron Boone get for this? Improving performance on the basepaths was a stated goal of the org in the offseason — it wasn’t just about trading for Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Gleyber Torres’ baserunning is much better that it was last year, Aaron Judge has stolen eight bases without being thrown out once, etc. Credit goes to the front office for deciding on a strategy, to the entire coaching staff for being able to train it into players, and players themselves execute the strategy at a high level.
But surely Aaron Boone still calls spots, right? I find it hard to believe that such a basic, fundamental change to the club’s offense is completely outside of his purview and thus, his credit. Similarly, I find it hard to believe that Alex Cora, the guy the baseball media still fawns over, bears no blame for the decline of the Boston Red Sox. Yes, he didn’t build a very top heavy lineup himself, and he can’t control Chris Sale throwing six innings before breaking a finger, but if managers matter, he hasn’t done his job, right?
Or maybe he has, this is the hard part about evaluating managers — I don’t watch enough Red Sox games to know if he’s putting the right guys in the right spots and they’re just not executing.
The one thing we know for sure is the modern manager must be the buffer between the players and the umpire, and the players and the media, and this is where we see Boone genuinely excel. I don’t think the “six bleepin’ seven” kind of rants are just for the giggles, I think that it serves as a message to his players that they can play with a chip on their shoulder, bringing some of the swagger that we’ve seen this team have this season, and he’ll back them up.
Then there’s the noise. There are a lot of distractions around this team — chasing the 1998 Yankees’ pace, everything going on with Aaron Judge’s season — and it doesn’t feel like anyone’s distracted. Yankee professionalism is a bit of a cliche, but Boone’s ability to maintain it has kept the focus on the field and on October, and I think he deserves credit for that.
I’ve always liked Aaron Boone more than most Yankee fans. I think the stability and respect the boys have for him counts for a lot, and I think his tactical decisions are better than he gets credit for — although when you have the best bullpen in baseball, pretty much any relief decision you make is going to pay off. Still, he’s come into his own as Yankee manager, and headed into the stretch run of the season, there’s not a lot of guys I’d rather have over him.