Now that we’re a little more than a week into the season, it’s time for the 2020 debut of the manager evaluation survey series. For a refresher, take a look back on the 2019 summary of the series from last fall.
It’s gotta be a good time to be Aaron Boone right now. The Yankees have the best record in baseball at 7-1 and are two games ahead of the Orioles (?!) in the division. With that, let’s do a quick roundup of Boone-related news before we jump into the polls:
The manager said it was difficult to send down Clint Frazier last week. “Clint’s ready to be an impact player in this league. There’s no doubt in my mind.” (NJ.com)
There’s been a slew of pitcher arm injuries around the league, Yankees included. Tommy Kahnle will have Tommy John surgery, as you know. Perhaps that’s why Boone avoided Zack Britton the other night in a save situation vs. the Orioles. (Bryan Hoch)
Boone took a little bit of heat for his bullpen management. The Britton example above was one example, though his postgame rationale clarified things. Additionally, instead of going to Kahnle in a tight game in Baltimore last week, he stretched Jonathan Loaisiga out for a third inning and got burned. Of course, we didn’t know Kahnle’s health situation at the time, so Boone sort of gets a reprieve. He also could have gone to Chad Green in that spot, for what it’s worth.
After James Paxton’s second lackluster start last night, Boone said that physically the starter is fine: “I feel like he’s healthy and I feel like he feels good”. After that, he danced around another question: Can Paxton compete without his typical velocity? Boone said: “I thought he competed tonight” and followed up with how he’ll continue to work on getting his mechanics back into shape. It’s a bizarre situation, to say the least. (YES)
It’s not clear when Aroldis Chapman will rejoin the Yankees even though he was cleared on Friday. Boone noted that he’ll throw a bullpen today. (Bryan Hoch)
To be honest, I thought this would be the year that a Yankees manager would finally be awarded with the American League Manager of the Year award. Alas, it was not to be: Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli edged out Aaron Boone, who finished second. The last Yankee manager to win the award remains Joe Torre, all the way back in 1998.
To be fair, it was a very close race. Both Baldelli and Boone finished with 13 first-place votes; Baldelli won the award because he received four more second-place votes. Baldelli ultimately ended up with 106 total votes to Boone’s 96. Here is the complete vote:
As expected, it was a two-man race, as Boone tripled the score of third-place Rays skipper Kevin Cash.
Boone’s leadership certainly felt instrumental in keeping that ship steady and leading the breakouts of players like Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin, Mike Tauchman, and so many others. These awards are all about expectations, and while the 2019 Yankees certainly lived up to those, it wasn’t with the team we all expected to man the field. If ever there would be a season in which a Yankee manager could overcome the (yes, I do believe this) Yankee bias in this award, it would have been this one.
Now, with all of that said, there is absolutely zero cause to get worked up over this. Minnesota certainly overcame expectations themselves, they won 100 games, set the MLB record for home runs in a single season, and won their division. Very few people would have predicted that before the season, and Baldelli deserves a lot of the credit for that if Boone does here in New York.
In other words, it would have been nice to see Boone win, as it would have been nice to see Girardi win before him. But honestly? It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. These awards are subjective and both of them deserved it. Congratulations to Rocco Baldelli, and remember: the Yankees still swept the Twins in the ALDS. That was fun, and I’d take that 10 times out of 10. Wouldn’t you?
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.
Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone had their end-of-year press conferences. Per usual, the big news came out of Cashman’s end. In the below clip, he summarizes the surgery news for the Yankees coming out of October.
Let’s get into all the news from the pressers, starting with Hicks’ long rehab.
Aaron Hicks to undergo Tommy John surgery
This was a big blow at the top of the presser. The Yankees’ centerfielder will undergo surgery on Oct. 30 and will miss 8-10 months in the rehab process. That’s the same timeline that Didi Gregorius followed last year and he had surgery only a week earlier in the year. That being said, Didi’s quick return (early June) may not be indicative of Hicks’ process.
This isn’t the Yankees being proactive and getting it early. “He’s getting Tommy John because he needs it,” Cashman said. Hicks gets plenty of value out of his cannon-ball arm, just as Didi has.
Though Cashman wouldn’t answer questions about the team’s plans this offseason, he said that the team doesn’t question whether Gardner can handle center field offensively and defensively after his standout 2019 season. A reunion could be in the cards to have Gardy handle center.
A question about Jacoby Ellsbury in center field elicited a sigh from Cashman, who indicated Ellsbury was not available health-wise at this moment.
Voit and Tanaka surgeries
Luke Voit had surgery on his core muscles after suffering a sports hernia at midseason, while Masahiro Tanaka already underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow. Both players are expected to be ready for Spring Training.
For Voit, that helps explain why he didn’t get an opportunity in October. His injury was old news, so him needing surgery wasn’t out of the blue.
No elbow surgery is minor, but Tanaka’s surgery sounds minor relative to other potential elbow issues. Cashman stated that it was status quo on his UCL ligament and the bone spurs were discovered as part of end-of-the-year checkups. It didn’t change his season from start-to-start or anything, Cashman indicated.
Conditioning and Rehab Questions
A major topic in the presser was the Yankees’ injuries and how they dealt with them in 2019. That’s no surprise: The team set an MLB record with 30 players going on the injured list. Multiple players had setbacks or new injuries while rehabbing this season.
Cashman said that the team is “laser-focused” on the strength and conditioning process and whether issues that came up were preventable. These statements reiterated the ones he made at mid-year about the team’s mounting injuries.
Meanwhile, he refused to say if the team has made alterations to their process. The Yankees’ GM said that if changes are made in process or hirings, that the media will be made aware.
This problem isn’t going away. The Yankees have many players returning who have injury concerns or a checkered past there, and how the team prepares them to not only get on the field but stay there without setback is key to a successful 2020.
‘Passing’ on World Series-bound pitchers
The most fascinating exchange in the presser? WFAN’s Sweeney Murti pushed Cashman on the Yankees’ inability to reel in some of the top pitchers that now adorn the top of the Astros’ and Nationals’ rotations. Namely, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Patrick Corbin.
The back-and-forth was somewhat heated, and Cashman refused to say that the Yankees “passed” on those players. He did go into the reasoning for each non-move:
Verlander: As he has said previously, it came down to not going over the luxury tax in 2017. Editorializing, it’s disappointing that the Bombers couldn’t exceed that, but that’s been the consistent answer.
Cole: “Houston made an offer that in Pittsburgh’s mind was a better offer than ours,” Cashman said. At the time, reports had the Pirates asking for both Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar. In retrospect, you do that trade in a heartbeat, right? But we’re no longer in the winter of 2017. Could the Yankees have topped Houston’s offer and were they given an opportunity to do so? Yes and maybe.
Corbin: “The Nationals made a more significant offer for Patrick Corbin,” Cashman said. Last winter, the reports said that the Yankees were unwilling to go to six years for Corbin.
Regardless of how those all played out, Cashman remained steadfast in his approach and didn’t regret the process.
Randy will address this exchange in a piece soon.
Other Health Issues
Cashman said Edwin Encarnacion was fully healthy this postseason, citing his swings in the ALDS and ALCS. He doubts there was a lingering injury with the ribcage.
Giancarlo Stanton suffered a low grade II calf strain and would have been placed on the IL if it were the regular season. Cashman made the choice — right or wrong, he emphasized — to keep Stanton on the roster so he could contribute in the World Series (If a player is removed from the ALCS roster due to injury, they can’t rejoin for the World Series). “I weighed that as being more valuable than someone to come into the bench,” he said.
When asked about the team’s budget and willingness to go over the luxury tax levels, Cashman said he wouldn’t speak for Hal Steinbrenner. He added that ownership has spent some big coin in the past.
On the team losing in the ALCS: He said he’s “not afraid to admit this was a great team” and that they went up against a great team. He spoke to the importance of remaining objective and not getting too emotional in his decision-making afterward.
Cashman said the team lost because they didn’t get timely hitting against the Astros, particularly with runners in scoring position. He didn’t feel that the ALCS dissuaded him from a superbullpen approach.
Bradford William Davis asked him about some of the reliever’s comments about the over-exposure of the bullpen. Cashman spoke about the team taking a hit when they lost “one of the best starters in the American League” in September with Domingo German. He also mentioned Dellin Betances’ injury and how losing those two players had a “cascade effect,” forcing them to lean more on certain pitchers.
He was asked about Gary Sanchez and Cashman thought Sanchez had a great season outside of his injuries. Said he was “part of the solution.”
He “politely ducked” a question about Aroldis Chapman’s pending opt-out and any conversations that may or may not be taking place between the Yankees and his representatives.
Finally, when asked about Joe Girardi reportedly becoming the Phillies’ manager, the GM was highly complimentary of his former skipper, going into the process of hiring him.
Aaron Boone’s presser
Just a few notes here. I may have missed some things following Cashman’s presser, but Cashman also had more newsworthy questions.
He was in line with Cashman on why the Yankees lost in the ALCS, saying the series came down to execution and the Astros had a couple more impactful at-bats.
Boone mentioned the team needs to tighten up some areas and, in a follow-up, said the team never stops trying to do that.
He said he can’t watch the Jose Altuve homer and walks away from the TV when it comes up. Having hit a famous series-ending homer himself, Boone stated the obvious, that it is better being on the other side.
He said his dad, a scout for the Astros Nationals, is on his way to DC for the World Series.
Boone didn’t have an issue with at-bat quality in the ALCS. He said the team’s first-pitch swinging approach came in part due to the caliber of opponent. He spoke about Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander by name and thought the Yankees gave themselves a chance against both pitchers.
At some point later this week or next, I’ll provide a more detailed analysis of this year in voting. For now, one more summary before we get to the polls:
This is it for our inaugural Manager Evaluation Survey series in 2019. Wish we had another week or two of it, but so it goes. Aaron Boone’s club was eliminated at the hands of a great Astros team in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday night. Now that we’ve had a day to stew on the series loss, it’s time for one last referendum on Boone’s abilities this year.
Recent Aaron Boone News:
After Game 4’s ugly and error-filled loss, the skipper was ready to “flush it” not longer after the final out. The Yankees rebounded with a win the next night even though things looked really bleak after Game 4. Perhaps Boone’s demeanor helped the club bounce back from not only a poorly played game, but also keep his players on task after the upsetting finish to CC Sabathia’s career.
Boone pushed Luis Severino in spite of a shaky outing, though it didn’t come back to bite the Yankees at all. In retrospect, it was good that he gave him some leeway. Eventually, Sevy was removed in the middle of the fifth inning for Chad Green, who escaped a jam.
One move that drew plenty of ire: using Adam Ottavino to open the seventh inning. He walked George Springer and allowed a hit-and-run single to José Altuve before getting removed. Zack Britton wasn’t able to wiggle out without allowing the inherited runs to score.
Before the game, Boone told the media that Giancarlo Stanton would probably have been on the injured list if it were the regular season. Still, the manager said he was available to pinch hit, but did not use him.
Boone started Aaron Hicks for the first time in the postseason.
Game 4 decision-making:
We finally saw the bullpen wear down at this point. Chad Green, who had been nails, entered in the sixth for Masahiro Tanaka, but struggled and gave up a two-run homer to Carlos Correa. Boone had little choice but to constantly go to a small subset of relievers, which got even smaller because…
…Ottavino failed to get an out in this one, again. The skipper went to him for the eighth when down 6-3. Now, he didn’t get much help because of a DJ LeMahieu error, but still.
Stanton was in the same boat as Game 3.
Boone moved up Hicks to the three-hole. He remained in the heart of the lineup the rest of the series.
Game 5 decision-making:
The manager finally penciled in Stanton to the starting lineup, though the slugger went hitless. He benched Edwin Encarnación in his place.
In the top of the sixth, Boone visited James Paxton on the mound with one on, two out, and the Yankees ahead 4-1. Paxton was adamantly wanted to stay in and Boone obliged. The crowd was fired up and I have to imagine the team was too. The lefty got the final out, though it was a little scary — Robinson Chirinos flew out to the wall.
After that, Boone used Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman to seal the victory and force a Game 6 in Houston.
Game 6 decision-making:
Chad Green opened and allowed a three-run homer to Yuli Gurriel in the first inning. Not ideal for a bullpen game! But, Boone did steal four shutout frames from JA Happ and Luis Cessa.
A day after returning to the lineup, Boone sat Stanton for EE in this one.
Should Boone have ordered Aroldis Chapman to intentionally walk Altuve in the bottom of the ninth with Jake Marisnick on deck?
Here’s Boone’s post game press conference following elimination: