SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Coaching Changes, Handling Failure, and Joey Gallo!
By Andy Singer
I’ve been as optimistic as any Yankee observer regarding the team’s outlook this season, but even I have to admit that the recent stretch of truly terrible baseball is wearing me down. One of this week’s mailbag questions cuts at something I planned to write about in my opening monologue, but I’ll just say that I’m finally on the bandwagon for some changes. I think part of what has made the 2021 season (and the 2020 season to a lesser extent) so very frustrating is the fact that this team very clearly has gobs of talent that just isn’t producing with any consistency. Did the Yankees come into 2021 with a flawed roster? Yes, but here’s the dirty little secret: every team is flawed. All of us understood that the team would likely be on the lookout for arms and left-handed bats by the trade deadline, but even the most pessimistic observers didn’t predict the anemic offense we’ve seen this year. So while roster construction bears some of the blame for what’s happened, I don’t think that’s even close to the worst issue plaguing this team. I’m not out of words yet, but I’ll save it for a separate post. Let’s move forward with the mailbag.
As always, thanks for your questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss possible coaching changes after this season, handling failure, and Joey Gallo! Let’s get at it:
Steve asks: I can understand why a team that still has a chance at the playoffs wouldn’t want to change coaches in mid season, but do you think that the Yankees will shake it up after the season? Who deserves the blame for what we’ve seen this season?
Everyone deserves blame for the caliber of play we’ve seen from the Yankees this year: the players, the coaching staff, and the front office all contributed to this inconsistent season. Hope is not lost yet (after all, the great Yogi Berra was famous for saying, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”), but there’s little question but that the regular season has been a disappointment, no matter where the team finishes in the standings. Even if the team makes the playoffs and goes on a run, it won’t diminish the fact that there were real organizational problems with this year’s team.
The real question is what the blame split looks like; what percentage of the blame should the players receive versus the coaching staff or the front office? I will tell you that no matter what amount of blame ultimately falls on the front office and the coaching staff, I am supremely disappointed in the body language shown by the team this season. Many people, including our Editor-In-Chief, have noted their disappointment with this team for 4 years. Those feelings are certainly valid given the expectations placed on this core of players in 2016 and 2017, but I look at it a little differently. From 2017 through 2019, even if the team didn’t win the World Series, they showed extended periods of dominance, but more importantly they showed fight and heart. In the regular season, the team dealt with an absurd number of injuries, but rode the “next man up” mantra to win the AL East in 2019. Even when the team fell behind the cheating Astros in the playoffs in 2017 and 2019, they clawed and pushed the series nearly to the limit. Even those who disagreed with the team’s approach and roster construction were willing to admit that the team showed some resilience in those years. The chemistry and fight from those years is clearly gone. The Yankees lost some key veterans over those years (CC, Didi, and Tanaka, to name a few), and there’s little question but that the aura around the team changed noticeably beginning in 2020. The players are paid to play baseball to the best of their abilities every day. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel like every player is clawing for the same goal. I hadn’t really thought about it that way until I listened to Derek Jeter’s HOF induction speech, but I can’t escape the feeling that Jeter would not be comfortable in this clubhouse. The players owe the fans and the people who helped develop their careers 100% effort; I’m just not convinced everyone on this roster plays that way, though there are certainly exceptions to that rule.
Even more depressing is the fact that the coaching staff has not been able to demonstrably alter this season’s trajectory. I have a hard time believing that Joe Girardi would allow a team to look as listless as this season’s team has for long stretches. More worrisome is the sheer number of hitters who have regressed significantly at the MLB level. Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, and others have lost the ability to consistently catch up to hittable pitches in the strike zone despite lofty raw talent and previous performances that indicate sustainable skillsets in the Majors. Sure, injuries have played a part to varying extents with each of these players, but at least 2 of these players have very clear mechanical flaws that should and could be rectified. Frankly, I am upset with the body language I see from some of the players, but I’m far more disappointed in the coaching staff’s inability to utilize the significant talent they’ve been provided. It’s inexcusable for a roster this talented, no matter the flaws, to look this bad this often. That falls on the coaching staff.
Of the current coaches, I think Matt Blake has done an outstanding job with the pitching staff this year. Otherwise, despite what I think when I read transcripts of interviews with Marcus Thames and Aaron Boone, I think they are both coaches that need to be shown the door after the season. New voices are needed because I think there are very obvious, definitive changes that can be made to improve this roster without changing the roster at all. When it’s that obvious, yes, changes are required.
Martin asks: Does this roster have an issue handling failure? Even when they’re playing well they look like they’re ready for the next collapse.
Baseball is failure. Anyone who plays the game even at the amateur level learns very quickly that you will fail far more than you succeed in baseball. For a professional, they spend years in the minor leagues learning how to overcome failure. Everyone who plays MLB baseball is already elite at managing their expectations and emotions over the long haul. The ones who do it the best are merely another level of elite.
However, it’s obvious to me that something about the energy and the chemistry in the Yankee clubhouse is off. Does that start with the coaching staff or does it start with the mix of personalities on the roster? I place more blame on the coaching staff, because players know how to fail by the time they reach the Majors. Coaching staffs are supposed to manage player moods as a collective throughout a long season. On that measure, the coaching staff has failed this year. The hits just keep on coming this year, but the coaching staff has to be able to find the heartbeat of the clubhouse, and they have consistently failed to tug the right strings.
Michael S. asks: Can the Joey Gallo era come to a close already?? This guy was an “all or nothing” hitter in Texas and now he’s really taken that to its extreme in New York. Pencil the opposing pitching in for 3 strikeouts before each game. I know he has another year on his contract and is practically free, but this guy is like an anchor around the teams neck. Can we just trade him to NYCFC for a goalie or something?
I loved the Gallo trade, but even I have to admit that it’s getting really hard to watch Gallo the last couple of weeks. He just looks uncomfortable at the dish, and though he’s drawing plenty of walks, the strikeouts and lack of solid contact really drags down the lineup.
However, we are dealing with a tiny sample size here. Prior to coming to New York, Gallo was hitting for more contact than at any previous point in his career and he’d cut his strikeout rate markedly. That guy is still in there, but I think he’s pressing in the New York market. I really wish that Boone would sit him for 3 or 4 days so that Gallo could get his head together. If Gallo can right the ship, he is talented enough to put the offense on his back for large stretches. Combined with plus defense in the outfield, Gallo can still be a difference maker.
I know it’s been ugly and Yankee fans are out of patience with this team, but don’t lose all hope on Gallo just yet.