In Support of Aaron Boone
by Mike Whiteman
October 27, 2021
As we all know, Aaron Boone was signed to a new three-year deal (with an option for a fourth) to manage the Yankees. As we all know, the decision by the team’s brain trust didn’t exactly evoke a reaction of excitement from the fan base.
I was not one of those hoping for a replacement. Had the club considered a totally different direction and hired a proven winner like Bruce Bochy or Terry Francona (neither of whom I’m sure were options) I could have warmed up that. Less a real change agent, I’m fine with Boone’s return.
A bit of history about my feelings towards Boone – I was a big Joe Girardi fan and was disappointed at his release after the 2017 season. I scratched my head a bit with the Boone hiring, a curious decision since he hadn’t been in an MLB dugout in any capacity aside from being a player. The Yankee organization was prioritizing communication and player relations instead of experience, though to be fair to Boone he wasn’t exactly a novice in the game, being a third-generation major leaguer.
I came to respect Boone’s performance over the past four years. While his tenure hasn’t been perfect, I feel that with the level of restraint being put on him either by injury or organizational decisions/strategy, he performed well. I struggle to think that another manager would have pushed the 2018-2021 Yankees over the top given similar circumstances.
His Record Boone’s career .601 winning percentage is very good. Historically good. Good for tenth all time in baseball history (minimum 315 games managed). The only managers ahead of him (aside from Dick Howser’s single season) during their Yankee tenure are in Cooperstown – Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Bucky Harris, and Joe Torre. I actually think a case can be made that Boone’s .600+ percentage was a bit harder to achieve than his historical counterparts’ in this era of increased parity.
His teams have outperformed their Pythagorean record each full season, indicating that the team has perhaps overperformed in Boone’s tenure.
The Yankees have reached the postseason every season Boone has been at the helm. Only the Astros, Braves, Brewers, and the Dodgers can say that.
Management in Crisis
Twice in his three full seasons Boone’s calm and positive manner were, in my opinion, difference making assets.
The 2019 season will always be fondly remembered as the “next man up season”. There were times when he had to feel incredulous – we fans sure did – about the injuries that besieged the team. Even through the chaos, Boone couldn’t be fazed and set the tone for a resilient 103-win season. He coaxed significant contributions out of seemingly nowhere from guys like Gio Urshela, Austin Romine, Cameron Maybin and Mike Tauchman that helped save the season.
The injuries weren’t just in 2019. Throughout his tenure Boone has dealt with the extended loss of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, Clint Frazier, Domingo German (remember he was 18-4 in 2019 when he was suddenly dropped from the roster due to domestic violence), Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar (after his almost Rookie-of-Year 2018) and Zack Britton.
We all just lived through the 2021 experience, and again Boone’s character shone through. Sure, it was frustrating for us as fans to watch his “we’ve just got to play better” statements after the games, when we wanted Boone to be as upset as we were about the team’s play. As the great philosopher Buddy Ryan stated though, “If you listen to fans, you’ll be sitting up there with them”, and he never gave into the frustration surrounding the fan base. As the season went on, the team gained it’s footing by playing .630 ball in the second half, clinching a playoff spot in the toughest division in the game.
His players noticed this too. When asked about the tone Boone set in the dugout and clubhouse, catcher Kyle Higashioka responded, “It’s always important for a manager to keep a level head, especially during down times, because we know during the times we’ve not played so well, that’s not who we are.”
The team just didn’t struggle a bit at times in 2021, they struggled spectacularly. Remember the heartbreak Field of Dreams Game? The Domingo German almost no-hitter to bullpen implosion against Boston in July? The ninth-inning meltdowns against the Angels June 30th and the Astros July 11th? I think Boone’s steady hand helped the team shake off these brutal losses, and not spiral out of the playoff picture.
The Yankees 2021 bullpen had a 3.56 ERA – trailing only the 100-win Giants, Dodgers, and Rays. Was that due to, or in spite of, Boone’s management? A look at Yankee bullpen usage at baseball-reference.com reveals the following:
1. The Yankees’ percentage of inherited runners on base who scored – 28% – was second lowest in all of baseball.
2. Boone left his relief pitchers in for more than three outs 157 times, fourth most on the game.
3. Yankee relievers made appearances with zero days rest 74 times, fifth least in MLB.
Summing up, Boone generally utilized the right relievers, at the right time, pushing them a bit when necessary but not so much to burn them out. He also resisted the urge to drive the pen too hard even in the most difficult of times. We all recall games in 2021 when we think Boone should have let a reliever pitch longer, or brought in someone else, but the total body of work indicates that he ran a pretty good bullpen.
This successful pen came while his closer bottomed out for a significant period in the summer and he got very little out of top setup reliever Zack Britton. Like 2019, Boone again squeezed good performances out of spare parts; in this case Lucas Luetge, Wandy Peralta, Joely Rodriguez, and Clay Holmes. Jonathan Loaisiga was an intriguing arm who hadn’t yet been able to stay healthy. In 2021 he was one of the best relievers in the game.
Remember also that due to injury and poor performance Boone basically rebuilt the pen on the fly last summer. The April plan of guys like Chapman, Britton, Chad Green, Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson anchoring the relief corps was Chapman, Green (after both bottomed out at one point in the summer), Loaisiga, Holmes, Peralta and Mike King by the end of September.
Players Play for Him Boone seems to be well liked and respected by his players.
Remember “Savages in the Box”? Aaron Judge was pretty impressed. “We love it as a team. That shows that he’s in the trenches with us, he’s out there fighting with us, he’s living and dying on every single pitch, and he has our back”.
During Spring Training 2021, Boone underwent surgery to receive a pacemaker. Reaction by his players was strong and supportive – “We’re all in his corner. He knows we all love him and hope he’ll be back soon” stated Giancarlo Stanton. This period was also when he made a believer out of newcomer Corey Kluber – “I think it’s, it’s been pretty clear from the little bit of time I’ve spent here…how much he cares about the guys in the clubhouse.”
Brett Gardner reflected “He’s been great. Since day one, coming over to the Yankees and just being in control of that room and really taking care of me as a veteran player and always being honest with me and communicating with me and just keeping his door open all the time and that line of communication open. Very thankful for the things that he’s taught me and the things that I’ve learned from him and the way that he’s treated me and the rest of my teammates. Just thankful for his dedication and time.”
These aren’t run-of-the-mill players we’re talking about. These are folks of influence, in some cases players who have been around the game for a while. Having the players in your corner is key in especially today’s game, and Boone seems to be highly regarded in his clubhouse.
The obvious stain on Boone’s record is the zero championships. This will need to change for his tenure in Pinstripes to be considered successful.
Yankee legends wear rings.
“Aaron Boone was part of the solution and wasn’t the problem” stated Brian Cashman when announcing Boone’s new pact. “If he was entering the free-agent market, I believe he would be the number one managerial candidate in baseball. He’s been a good hire.” Even with this glowing reccomendation from his boss, there will be changes. There will be some new hires in the coaching staff, and it will be interesting to see who they put into place. Old school coaches? Analytically driven younger “technicians”?
Cashman acknowledged the frustration of the 2021 season, calling them at one point “unwatchable”. Then he said perhaps the most obvious yet revealing thing about his manager.:
“I think a manager is only as good as the players he’s got.”
Wherever fans lie on the question of Aaron Boone, almost all agree that the Yankee front office hasn’t necessarily put their best foot forward in recent years. The “fully operational Death Star” seems to be operating on a periodic basis. The team’s recent reluctance to leverage their economic advantages may have cost them pennants in 2017 and 2019.
Does Cashman’s strong statements of responsibility and blunt assessments of the team foretell of a more “Yankee-like” winter of free agent signings and trades? Well, time can only tell.
What we do know right now is that the Yanks feel they have the right man at the helm in Aaron Boone.
So do I.