Mailbag: Aaron Boone, Hal Steinbrenner, & Gleyber with 2 Strikes

Good morning, and happy Friday. At least we didn’t wake up angry today, right? That’s the beauty of a rainout the day after your favorite team falls on its face at 2 am. It’s a much-needed reprieve. They’ll supposedly get back on the horse tonight against the crosstown Mets, but the weather doesn’t look so great. We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, it’s time for another mailbag. As always, send your questions to viewsfrom314@gmail.com. We answer our favorite each Friday.

Iron Mike Asks: Has Boone’s managerial style really changed in this terrible year compared to 2019 when people wanted him to win manager of the year with all the injuries the team overcame?

We got a lot of questions related to Boone this week, especially after Wednesday night’s debacle. That’s not really a surprise. I’m choosing to answer this one, though, because it gets to the heart of the matter. It’s also impossible to answer, which is frustrating and unsatisfying. Asked another way, this question is basically ” to what degree do managers matter?” Let’s interrogate this a bit.

It is certainly true that, in 2019, Aaron Boone was the toast of the town. I was not the biggest fan of his hiring – none of us at Views were – and had serious concerns about his in-game managerial decisions. (In fact, the maddest I’ve been at the Yankees in quite some time was when they relieved Luis Severino with Lance Lynn with the bases loaded early on in Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS against Boston.) That all changed in 2019. It felt obvious that I missed something with Boone, and I was happy to be wrong. Obviously, over the last two years, that perception changed again.

So, has anything changed with Boone’s managing? I don’t think so. He is still the cool, calm, and overwhelmingly positive presence he was in 2018 right now. That is just more frustrating in 2018 – remember the mid-August Fenway sweep? – and 2021 because the team is more frustrating now. It was great in 2019, when nothing could go wrong even when everything went wrong. We cannot discern what Boone is doing differently or not doing differently. Frustrating, of course, but true. It is just impossible.

One thing I will say, though, is that Boone has generally been a very good manager by the record. Despite the meager, just over .500 record since 2020, the Yankees won 203 games across 2018 and 2019, and he has managed the bullpen quite well. As many of you know, my favorite proxy for managerial performance is the average leverage index in which relievers enter the game. That’s under their control over the long-term, and here’s the Top 8 since Boone took over:

  1. Aroldis Chapman: 1.64
  2. David Robertson: 1.41
  3. Jonathan Loaisiga: 1.38
  4. Zack Britton: 1.34
  5. Chad Green: 1.33
  6. Dellin Betances: 1.32
  7. Adam Ottavino: 1.26
  8. Tommy Kahnle: 1.17

Seems about right to me. I bet it does for you, too. So, with this in mind, let’s get to the next question, which I think fits right into this conversation.

Dan Asks: For me the decision on firing Boone comes down to a simple question: will his firing be a spark for this team? This season has been very frustrating, but there really is enough time to turn it around. If firing Boone can be the catalyst for the turnaround, it needs to be done ASAP. If Hal is content to have a lost season, or if he and Cash are convinced that nothing will light a spark to get the players going this year, then it doesn’t matter, and the tough decisions can wait until the season is over.

I completely agree with the beginning of this question. That does seem to be the second most pertinent question. If nothing has changed about Boone’s managing, then what is the purpose of firing him? Hal Steinbrenner spoke yesterday about not wanting to be the irrational, impulsive owner that his dad was. I know that people mocked him for that quote, but that’s generally a good thing. (Try rooting for the Knicks and see what you think of an impulsive owner.)

Still, though, there is a balance. The Yankees should have sky-high expectations for their roster. I do! We all do here. That’s why we all, and probably many of you, chose them to win the World Series at season’s beginning. I don’t know who the next manager would be, nor do I know if they’d have a tangible impact in terms of on-field decisions. There’s such a blend between the front office and managing these days that it’s impossible to know.

But, as Dan says, it could be a spark. I am growing increasingly sympathetic to this viewpoint, too. The timing is rapidly approaching for a change, I think, and it may just be that an in-season managerial firing could wake the team up. It could also completely deflate them. Only the Yankees brass knows how the clubhouse will react to such a move. We are clearly approaching this season’s Rubicon, though. The time to make a move with time for it to matter is probably the next two weeks.

Sam Asks: As the Yankees continue to sink, I keep seeing calls to fire Boone and Cashman. I’m not sure how much they are to blame/how much firing them would make a difference. Isn’t Hal Steinbrenner the real problem? His devotion to the Luxury Tax Threshold has hamstrung Cashman and given Boone a decidedly weird roster construction. A lot of this past offseason’s weirdness (and continued weirdness) can be linked to the fake salary cap. The Kluber/Taillon additions, the Otto trade, the continued faith in Rougned Odor. Is the one person that can’t be fired the real culprit here?

Now it’s time to move up the ladder a bit. I’ve said all I can say about this question many times, which is that I think it’s insane that the Yankees hamstring themselves in this way. I ranted about this on Twitter earlier this week in this thread:

The crux of my argument – which is the same it’s been since 2018 – is as follows:

  1. The Yankees spend about the same in real, non-inflationary dollars on payroll in 2021 as they did in 2004.
  2. Team revenues, if league revenues are any proxy, have skyrocketed in the intervening 17 years, pandemic notwithstanding. (This argument was also true pre-pandemic, so that’s no excuse.)
  3. Therefore, the Yankees invest way less on the team than they did a decade and a half ago.

Inexcusable! It’s also inexcusable that they’ve twice cut $50 million in payroll since 2017, even as they’ve added Stanton and Cole. That’s a real problem and it of course starts and ends with Hal. That’s his choice, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. I completely disagree with it, of course, and I think it’s hurt the Yankees in a significant way.

That all said, and at the risk of sounding like an ownership bootlicker, the Yankee roster also has plenty of resources. There is no excuse for the team to be middling around .500 and in 4th place. The tapestry that is the 2020-21 Yankees is quite complicated indeed, and there’s nobody who is solely to blame. I’m mad at Hal, and I think every fan should be. But it’s also true that the players, the front office, and the manager also deserve a healthy portion of the blame. It’s been a complete organization-wide failure for many reasons. Hal is just one of them, even if he’s the most important one at the end of the day.

Yogi Asks: Much has been made about Gleyber’s production, but I haven’t heard anything about his approach at the plate, specifically with two strikes. If you remember, when Gleyber first came to the show, they praised his approach at the plate (“Well beyond his years,” they would say). Early in the count he would hunt for his pitch and try to obliterate it. But when he got to two strikes, he essentially eliminated the leg kick and just tried to hit line drives up the middle. He has completely stopped doing that. If you watch his ABs now, when he’s down to his final strike, he still has that big leg kick, trying to pull the ball out of the stadium. What am I missing?

This is an astute observation. It’s definitely true that Gleyber was praised for his two-strike approach. He also deserved to be! He seemed like a very calm, collected, and confident hitter. I also agree that he cut down on his leg kick, and that he’s not doing that now. However, I’ll admit to being a bit surprised by this. Check out Gleyber’s two-strike line in 2018-19 compared to 2021:

  • 2019: .203/.269/.298 (.250 wOBA), 39.9% K rate
  • 2021: .189/.280/.227 (.238 wOBA), 39.3% K rate

Not that much different! Comparable in many ways, though the expected power drop is there. Here is a big difference, though. Check out the spray chart in 2019:

Compared to 2021:

Even though he still pulls the ball a lot in these situations, the opposite field approach is all but evaporated. I think that’s a symptom of what you outlined. He’s selling out for power, perhaps, and it’s harming his approach. This deserves a deeper dive, but there certainly seems to be some fire underneath this smoke.

Mr. Rodgers Asks: At what point does Boone have to force Stanton into the field? Him clogging up the DH spot really messes up the flexibility of the team.

Fully agreed. This is insane to me. Giancarlo is a professional athlete who spent his career in the National League. He played in 159 games in 2017, for crying out loud, and won the MVP. Listen. The Yankees know more about Giancarlo’s health than you or me. No question at all. But that doesn’t mean that their complete inflexibility here is having no negative effects. It absolutely is. The guy can play the outfield even once or twice a week. He just can.

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6 Comments

  1. Glenn Dotter

    Yes, the players bear some responsibility, but Boone had made terrible decisions when games have been on the line. He is so predictable. In that 11-7 debacle, Loaisiga had thrown only 19 pitches. With a 4 run lead he could surely have staryed the 9th. Putting Chapman in because “he needed the work” was stupid. You work your problems out in the pen, not in games. He has struggled his last 4 or 5 games. Even the triple pla saved his butt. He places too much on analytics instead of managerial skill.

    • Carlos Cruz

      Illegal substance ban. Cole and Chapman turned average or worse

  2. Broussard Yankee

    At the risk of being a contrarian, I do not think the blame for this season’s debacle should be attributed to Cashman, Steinbrenner, Boone, or the ticket takers at Yankee Stadium. The blame lies with the players. They are handsomely paid professional athletes who are not performing. By the time a player makes it to the major leagues, he should know fundamental baseball and not make fundamental mistakes. The base running and defensive mistakes are inexcusable in a major league player. With the exception of Judge, every player on this team has under performed, with short-lived very good performances by Cole, Stanton, Sanchez, Chapman, and Urshela. Boone puts the players in the lineup. The rest is up to them. And, they have just not been very good. Just because a player is paid a lot or gets a lot of hype, does not mean he is actually any good. As Coach Parcells said, “You are as good as your record says you are.” And, the record says this is a .500 team.

  3. Brent Lawson

    I think the issues of baserunning, fielding and overall baseball acumen should occur in the m oi nor leagues or college. It doesn’t happen for the Yankees, this one does fall fully on Steinbrenner and Cashmen. They have stuck with Oppenheimer well beyond his expiration date.

  4. Cary

    Regarding Cashman it also comes down to detached baseball decision making. He’s not a baseball man. He started the season with the Jay of Bruce as his opening day first baseman. Bruce was going to learn the position. He was horrendous in spring training and had done nothing to warrant that decision yet the decision was made. Now, the Yankees are letting Andujar learn how to play left field during games that count.

    The Yankees are tolerating Odor. Cashman gave the Red Sox a third of their pitching staff, lol. There are a lot of reasons to fire Brian Cashman and any baseball man could make this argument.

  5. Cary

    Nice article Bobby, fun Q&A. One thing I would say is that your assessment of Boone doesn’t account for the putrid base running in the horrendous fielding that we’re seeing. These are basic baseball no-nos and a tight coaching staff run by an unyielding focus on run suppression and defense would certainly not tolerate what we are seeing. Base running and defense are both controllable. We’re even seeing coaches make massive blunders which definitely comes back on Boone – in fact all of this stuff does.

    Also, Boone is probably being directed by Cashman to do many of the things he does, for example making lineup cards out and resting players and all that malarkey. The other day with the season feeling like it was literally on the line, we saw both Judge and Urshela get the day off and what amounted to a must win game. It just doesn’t appear Boone has a sense of urgency.

    Also, the meltdown in the last inning the other night showed an inability to react to a situation that was developing. Chapman clearly didn’t have it. Leaving him in was a big mistake and it was kind of a curious decision to bring in Leutge in such a higher leverage situation also.

    The last topic regarding Stanton playing the outfield is really for me personally the biggest reason why Brian Cashman should be fired. I hold him accountable for this and it is absolutely stupid of the Yankees not to put him out in the outfield. The team is really frown-intensive purposes out of wildcard contention at the moment. They are fading fast against very consistent leading teams like Oakland and Tampa. Catching them would require the Yankees to play at least .650 baseball the rest of the way out which is kind of unrealistic to believe is possible. Therefore, what do the Yankees have to lose? Play Stanton in the outfield every single day. The Yankees don’t know whether this would keep him actually more healthy or not. They’ve never experimented with us and honestly, again what do they have to lose?

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