Earlier this week, I wrote about DJ LeMahieu’s American League MVP candidacy. As great as he’s been, it’s unlikely LeMahieu wins it. Further, the Yankees don’t have any other candidates in line for other major player awards, such as Cy Young or Rookie of the Year. That being said, one member of the organization who could take home hardware is Aaron Boone. The skipper very well may be the favorite for the AL’s Manager of the Year award.
Generally speaking, the MOY goes to the manager of the team that most exceeded expectations. Last year, Bob Melvin took home the prize after leading the A’s to win 97 games and to a Wild Card berth. Oakland had low expectations after a 75 win season, so Melvin had a great case. Unlike last year’s A’s, this year’s Yankees team didn’t have low expectations. That means Boone will need a different narrative to win.
Entering this year, PECOTA projected the Yankees to win the AL East with 96 wins. Of course, that projection counted on the health of guys like Giancarlo Stanton and Luis Severino (full disclosure: I manage Baseball Prospectus’s playing time and depth charts for the AL East, which affects PECOTA). Nonetheless, without Stanton, Severino, and many others, the Yankees could beat that projection by around 10 wins. The players Boone has penciled in regularly certainly wouldn’t have had a PECOTA projection near 96 wins, and yet, here we are.
Still, how much credit do we give Boone for keeping the team afloat? Surely, he doesn’t have the Midas touch on guys like Gio Urshela or Mike Tauchman. But, from the outside looking in, he certainly has the backing backing of his players. It’s obvious from his strong clubhouse ratings in our Manager Evaluation Survey, the team’s embrace of his “Savages” rant, and the “Next Man Up” mentality. Regardless of how much credit Boone deserves, it’s impressive to be at the helm of a club that’s overcome a ton of adversity. That has to count for something.
In considering Boone’s competition, Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli probably has the best chance out of all other candidates. After the Twins finished 78-84 last season, they weren’t expected to be much better this year. PECOTA pegged them for 82 wins, which they’ve already surpassed. And, although Cleveland tightened the Central division race last month, Minnesota’s pulled away of late. Barring a collapse, the Twins will win their first division title since 2010. This is basically right out of the Bob Melvin playbook from a year ago.
Speaking of Melvin, don’t count on him winning back-to-back years. That’s never happened for an AL manager, though it has once in the NL when longtime Braves’ skipper Bobby Cox took the title in 2004 and 2005.
Aside from Baldelli and Melvin, AJ Hinch (Houston), Kevin Cash (Tampa Bay), and Terry Francona (Cleveland) could be in consideration. However, they don’t quite have the narrative that Boone or Baldelli have. Houston was supposed to be good and is good, whereas Cleveland is actually something of a disappointment. The Rays are good and have overcome some big injuries (Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow), so Cash could get some votes too. Perhaps I’m selling him short, but it still feels like Cash is behind Boone and Baldelli.
If Boone doesn’t win, it doesn’t take away from the excellent job he’s done this year. Think about it this way: would Joe Girardi have kept this team afloat? As much as I liked Girardi as a manager, I’m not sure his demeanor would have worked for this particular team. Boone has the perfect personality for a team under duress and it’s worked wonders in 2019. Even if he doesn’t get recognized with the award, he deserves praise for the job done this season.