Mailbag: DJ LeMahieu’s role, Aaron Boone’s culpability, Ketel Marte at shortstop

When the World Series features the Astros and Braves.

Good morning everyone after another weekend gone by far too quickly. Since Friday, Houston (ugh) eliminated Boston (yay) and Atlanta (ugh) knocked out the Dodgers (yay). Both championship series featured some of the most insufferable teams, didn’t they? So naturally, that results in an insufferable World Series which starts tomorrow in Houston.

Today is mailbag day. We’re going to run these on Mondays rather than Fridays going forward, just so you all know. As a reminder, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We’ll pick our favorites for the next edition. Here’s what we have this week:

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Priorities

Every day, no matter what, my students write down their learning target. It’s a simple sentence I put on the board or in my presentation that helps them figure out what it is they’re supposed to, well, learn, by the end of the lesson and how they’re going to do it. Let’s give the whole Yankee organization:

I can be a better, more winning baseball team by being more flexible.

The Yankees knew when it was time to let Joe Torre go. After twelve seasons at the helm of the Yankees, things went stale by 2007 and they made a change. They did the same after nine seasons with Joe Girardi, though that seemed way less clear and clean a break. Now after four years of Aaron Boone, they’re running it back again, but things most definitely don’t seem fresh in the Bronx after the 2021 season.

The flexibility needed for the Yankees to succeed more, to get over the hump, must come from the top down. It starts with the front office approaching roster construction in a different way. First up is depth.

The Yankees have more or less ignored meaningful depth in the last few years, especially when it comes to middle infield. We’ve been harping on this–especially Randy–for pretty much the entire existence of the blog, and definitely the entire existence of the podcast. In an era of load management and aggressive resting of players, your infield depth can’t be Tyler Wade and Andrew Velazquez. This means stockpiling good players. It’s why I’d opt for keeping Gleyber Torres, even if he’s not the starting shortstop (hopefully a free agent signing) OR second baseman (a hopefully healthy DJ LeMahieu).

Torres can’t and shouldn’t man short for a full season, of course, but as part of some load management system, he’s more than fine. He’s young and talented enough that the team would be more than justified keeping him around. As I’ve said in the past, follow the Dodgers’ model. Just get as many good players as you can and let the rest fall in line. These ‘problems’ usually sort themselves out.

Second, the front office needs to be more flexible–whatever it might mean in this context–in delivering and applying its analytics to the field, be it players or coaches. For its part, the coaching staff also needs to get more flexible. Too often it seems like they don’t quite know what to do, how to react when the script they wrote doesn’t come to fruition.

From what we can tell on the outside, the Yankees have one of the biggest, most well-funded analytics departments in the entire league. At times, it feels that their deployment thereof is not great and that needs to change. If it’s a flaw with the numbers, dig deeper. If it’s a flaw in communication, fix it. If it’s a flaw in decision-making, if things are too rigid, too orthodox, loosen up.

Third up is financial flexibility. And I don’t mean the type the front office people usually love. I mean the flexibility to spend beyond what other teams spend. When I think back to Brian Cashman’s ludicrous comment about the Yankees and their payroll, I get rage blind for a moment. Yes, the Yankees spend a lot of money. Yes, only the Dodgers spend more than they do. BUT as many have pointed out, the Yankees’ payroll is more or less the same, in terms of raw dollars, as it was when I was in high school and early college.

Considering inflation, considering the jumps in spending made by other teams, the Yankees’ financial commitments to their roster have gone down. This doesn’t even take into consideration their other financial factors, like a new stadium, cable money, etc. Yes, again, the Yankees spend a lot, but they could spend more and still be more than okay.

I understand Cashman’s desire to prove himself as a GM, but hasn’t he done that over the last twenty something years? I understand the Yankees want to flex their analytical muscles instead of their financial ones, but is that really working after a decade without a championship? No matter what the Yankees do, outside forces will be critical. Just lean into the heel role and spend.

Doing the same thing over and over again is not working for the Yankees anymore. The results haven’t been desirable and the process has soured. Breaking out of the mold, doing things more flexibly is now an absolute necessity. Can the Yankees do it? Good thing for them they’ll have 162 games to figure it out, not just 45 minutes like my students do.

What went wrong with the Yankees Offense?

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We expected the Bronx Bombers to continue being just that, an offensive juggernaut that ranks solidly among the top five offenses in the regular season. I mean, they’ve been constantly doing this ever since the Baby Bombers got here. How could we consider any other outcome?

Well, another outcome did indeed happen. And it was…not good. Now that’s everything is said and done for the Yankees, it’s time to check on why this happened.

So, let me get to my best Marvel’s “What If?” The Watcher’s voice, and say: Follow me, and ponder the question: What the hell happened to the 2021 Yankees’ offense?

The Views From 314ft Podcast Episode 77: Looking Ahead

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Yankees fans have at least three more years to debate the decisions of manager Aaron Boone. This also means the podcast has three more years to debate the decisions of manager Aaron Boone. Randy, Derek, and Jaime team up to discuss Boone’s new contract, striking a balance between feel and analytics, positions of need in the offseason, and who should be the next Yankees shortstop.

The podcast is still a remote recording. We are operating over Skype, so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues. We hope you continue to bear with us as internet connections can always be tricky during recording.

The podcast is now available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating, and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now.

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of an inconvenient situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the pod and spread the word.

The decline of DJ LeMahieu [2021 Season Review]

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No one expected DJ LeMahieu to repeat his 2020 performance in 2021. At the same time, no one expected LeMahieu to go from a 177 wRC+ in 2020 to a 100 wRC+ this season. Regression was coming to some extent, particularly after a shortened 60-game season, but LeMahieu didn’t resemble anything of his former self for the Yankees this year. His downturn was one of the many reasons that the Bronx Bombers didn’t live up to their moniker all season long.

Now, it’s not like LeMahieu had a bad season. A .268/.349/.362 (100 wRC+) batting line, good defense, and 2.4 fWAR is a tick above average as a whole. Yet, that’s not the performance the Yankees anticipated when they re-signed him to a six year, $90 million contract prior to the season. Surely there were a few more seasons in store where he’d fight for the batting title and be one of the top hitters in the league.

It’s possible that this season will prove to be an anomaly. After all, we learned about LeMahieu’s sports hernia, which required surgery, toward the end of the regular season. Time will tell on that front, but for now, let’s take a look at what went wrong for LeMahieu this season.

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