Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
All through the fall and winter, it will be as if Aaron Boone didn't help a team win 100 games during his rookie season as a manager, didn't synthesize complex analytics, didn't win over the clubhouse, and didn't handle his media responsibilities with ease and class.
Many Yankee fans will only want to talk about his bullpen management in the division series. And in a sense, that's the deal in New York. When you work for the championship-or-bust Yankees (however silly and dated that mentality may be), you will only win over the public with a World Series win. Or two or three or four.
So there will be noise about Boone, and it will last for months -- maybe even a year until the Yankees get another chance at the postseason. But the truth behind it will be more nuanced: The team has found the right manager to lead it into the future, provided Boone spends the offseason reflecting on this series, and making a key adjustment.
For all his facility in implementing the analytics provided by his front office, Boone needs to strike a better balance between his pregame planning and his ability to react to the moment, especially when under extreme pressure. He can't freeze again like he did the fourth inning of Game 3, and he can't be as trusting of his starting pitchers.
In that pivotal frame, Boone had a perfect grasp on the game plan, which results from top-notch work from the analytics and coaching staffs. He was trying to get a struggling Luis Severino through the bottom third of the Boston order, and then summon Lance Lynn for the top. The idea was that Lynn would be the best choice to induce a double play, and that his stuff would play well against the top of the Red Sox lineup.
But it was clear to everyone watching that Severino didn't have it, and Boone failed to read the moment and summon a reliever sooner. Simply put: He choked.
Tuesday's inaction was not as egregious. In the third inning, as CC Sabathia began to struggle, Boone perhaps should have gotten a reliever up sooner. It went like this: Andrew Benintendi hit by pitch, Steve Pearce single, J.D. Martinez sacrifice fly to make it 1-0.
Then, during the Xander Bogaerts at-bat that followed, David Robertson began to throw. While he did so, Ian Kinsler doubled, Eduardo Nunez singled, and the Yankees found themselves trailing 3-0. Should another pitcher have been ready to spell Sabathia before the scoring began? It was an elimination game, after all.
I checked in with several baseball folks after the inning, and the opinions were mixed.
"Two batters too late," one rival executive said.
"As soon as they scored a run, there was a phone call to get someone up," said an evaluator who said he had no problem with the flow of the inning.
Said another evaluator and former pitcher: "Robertson in to face Kinsler and/or Nunez was a move he could have made."
The upshot was that Boone, who defended the non-move, did not make nearly as sloppy a mess as he had the night before -- though he might have been a little quicker with his hook. Again.
Combine that with Game 3, and the Wild Card Game when he got away with leaving Severino in for too long in the win over Oakland, and the pattern is clear.
Modern managing requires a challenging blend of implementing game plans that are more complex, and more data-based than ever -- and tending to players who are more needy and sensitive than ever. A year ago, Joe Girardi lost his job in large part because of his old-school toughness with the sensitive Gary Sanchez. He could run a bullpen, but not connect with people to the extent that was required.
Throughout this season, Boone has proved adept at this balance. He collaborates well with Brian Cashman and his staff. Players say that they like and respect him.
"I thought he did a really great job," said Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee and a team leader. "I don't think you win 100 games without doing a great job in that post. With all the young guys who came up and played a big part, being able to … [he was able to] communicate with those guys and make them feel comfortable."
But there is no avoiding the fact that, when facing his most significant test, Boone was unable to run an effective game. He could not use his eyes or his considerable baseball knowledge to override his plans.
Next season, this has to change for both Boone and Cashman, who took the risk of hiring him from the ESPN booth.
The Yankees have found a leader with so many of the essential qualities, from exceptional empathy to communication to class. But, if Boone can't start acting more decisively in the biggest moments, he can't hack it in the Bronx.