Year two of Aaron Boone at the helm is in the books. It didn’t end how everyone had hoped, but it wasn’t necessarily a failure of a season. Boone’s club overcame a number of injuries that not many teams would have survived. And, come November 12th, Boone could be named the American League’s Manager of the Year.
If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that Monday mornings are for a review of Boone’s skillset as the Yankees’ manager. The idea was to get the fanbase’s perspective on Boone’s in-game decision making, his communication with the media, and his relationship with his players. Now, let’s reflect back on the voting from this season.
As with most managers, in-game strategy is often heavily scrutinized. And, because Boone had never managed before, there was plenty of concern about his ability to manage a game. Particularly, bullpen usage. Along with lineup construction, bullpen decisions are typically the easiest to judge a manager on.
Boone received solid ratings in this category throughout the season, though he was better regarded for his media and clubhouse skills. The verdict on his managing was also pretty volatile this season with a significant swings from week to week. Let’s highlight a few of those notable ups and downs.
Confidence in Boone’s decision-making gradually rose through the end of June, but took a steep decline down in our July 8th voting. That week’s polls came right at the All-Star break. And, at that time, the Yankees lost back-to-back games against the Rays, both by one run. There was frustration about Boone resting a number of players that series instead of trying to go for the kill. The team entered the break up 6.5 games on the Rays. Of course, as we saw all summer, the Yankees were very conscious of keeping everyone fresh.
After the team returned from the break, Boone’s strategy ratings recovered. Part of that certainly has to do with getting further away from that weekend series against the Rays, but it also helps that the week of July 22nd’s voting occurred after his famous “savages” tirade. Now, that rant certainly doesn’t affect strategy directly, but there was a spillover effect to some degree.
The goodwill from that episode didn’t last long. After dropping three of four to Boston and making some questionable bullpen moves vs. the Twins in a wild series in Minnesota, his strategy rating tanked. That dip was once again temporary though, as after the trade deadline and into late August, things remained pretty steady. Everything was pretty ho-hum in August as the Bombers’ built up a cushy division lead.
Things went topsy-turvy in September, however. The Yankees decidedly didn’t put the pedal to the medal for home field advantage. Boone played things carefully and rested key players down the stretch. The low of September was the week of the 16th’s voting, which came right after a 3-3 week against the lowly Blue Jays and Tigers. Additionally, Gary Sánchez strained his groin in that Detroit series in which Boone said he gave Gary the green light (he was probably just covering for his player, though). Also in that Tigers series — Chance Adams gave up a walk-off in a game which Aroldis Chapman didn’t pitch. All of that clearly frustrated everyone hoping for home field in the playoffs.
Then came the postseason. To no surprise, Boone scored highly on October 7th when the Yankees were up 2-0 on Minnesota. Things came crashing down a week later when the Yankees left Houston even at 1 win a piece in the ALCS. A lot of folks didn’t like that Boone pulled a seemingly strong Chad Green for Adam Ottavino in that Game 2 loss. Finally, in our voting last week after the Bombers were eliminated, Boone hit his season low in strategy rating. A lot of that, in all likelihood, is a result of disappointment and frustration and not so much on how Boone performed. But, Game 2’s loss was something of a turning point and he took some heat for it. Additionally, his lineup construction (i.e. Brett Gardner hitting third in Game 3) didn’t go over well.
Cumulatively, Boone ended the season with a 7.2 out of 10 strategy rating. Though we don’t have anything quantifiable to compare to from 2018, I think it’s safe to assume he took a step forward with his decisions from the dugout this season.
As a former broadcaster for ESPN, there were high expectations for Boone’s interactions with the media. Based on this season’s voting, Boone received plenty of plaudits for his communication with reporters.
From the beginning of this feature to early September, Boone’s media ratings gradually rose. There were a couple of peaks, most notably the “savages” week of July 22nd. He also had a little bit of a jump from June 17th to June 24th, which was not long after the Yankees had acquired Edwin Encarnación and demoted Clint Frazier. The skipper had to handle a number of questions pertaining to Frazier’s reporting window to Triple-A.
Boone didn’t take a hit in this category until September 16th’s voting, which I covered a bit in the prior subsection. That was an instance of what was viewed as poor managing spilling over to this category than anything else. Boone was pretty candid that week, as you may recall, particularly after the Adams vs. Chapman debate in the Detroit walk-off loss. You may recall that he wanted to save Chapman for a save situation. Obviously, that didn’t go over well, but he wasn’t deceptive with the media.
In the playoffs, and really just the ALCS, Boone’s media performance took a nosedive as the Yankees’ lost control of the series against Houston. In this instance, however, the voting didn’t necessarily just reflect that the Yankees as a whole were struggling. Rather, and maybe this is me editorializing a bit, but it didn’t appear that fans took too well to his explanation of his lineup. He didn’t come across very confident in his answer.
As a whole, Boone ended with a strong 8.4 out of 10 rating for his media interactions.
Here’s where Boone shines. As expected, too. Toward the end of Joe Girardi’s tenure, there were rumblings about his lack of connection with the clubhouse. Boone was supposed to be a 180 from that. Based on the voters’ perspective, he’s been excellent in this facet.
Now, the problem with grading Boone’s performance with the clubhouse is that it’s the most difficult one for an outsider to evaluate. There’s basically no insight into what goes on between those four walls.
That said, there are some lagging indicators of how Boone bonds with his players that anyone can see. And most obviously, the “savages” and subsequent responses from Boone’s players to the media said a lot. There weren’t many ebbs and flows in this category, but clearly the voting after the “savages” rant was a high water mark. The only real low was mid-September, after the Detroit/Toronto week that I’ve already discussed. And that was really just the spillover of a poor week of play hurting him. Same with the playoffs — it’s hard to imagine that he lost the clubhouse in the matter of a week of bad results against Houston.
Boone ended the season with an impressive 9.1 out of 10 rating for his handle on the Yankees’ clubhouse.
Thus concludes the manager evaluation series for 2019. It’ll return right before the regular season begins in 2020. Since there’s plenty of time between now and then, I’d appreciate any feedback on this weekly series in advance of 2020. Feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments below and I’ll weigh them for the future.