Yankees: Aaron Boone Isn’t Alone: All Managers Have Shrinking Roles

David Grabiner, Yankees Director Of Quantitative Analysis

Aaron Boone insists the Yankees make strategy decisions collectively. Maybe so, but the real power rests in a name you do not know.

Recently, Yankees manager Aaron Boone found himself in the middle of a firestorm that followed in the wake of a critical decision made during the ALDS that backfired on the Yankees.

Yankees fans and curious writers wanted to know – Who’s the culprit responsible for deciding to use Deivi Garcia, an untested rookie, to be an “opener” in Game 2 of the ALDS?

Immediately, the Yankees closed ranks with universal insistence pledging that Aaron Boone was never and will never be Brian Cashman’s puppet.

Cashman himself felt compelled to confront the issue in a meeting with reporters last week.

“There’s that narrative that’s been asked several times about the manager being a puppet and all that. None of that’s true.’’ Doubling down, Cashman added, “I’ve never ordered a manager to do anything specifically.’’ (newjersey.com)

We can quibble about Cashman’s use of the word “specifically.” Still, it barely matters as Aaron Boone is no different from managers around the league today, seeing significant changes in their roles and adjoining responsibilities concerning their job.

The Evolution Of Yankees Managers 

Baseball and the Yankees had come a long way since the days when managers were known as Field Generals who ruled without question. They didn’t have coaches; they had Lieutenants who enforced the plan laid forth by their boss.

Ralph Houk, Yankees Field General Manager (NY Times)
Ralph Houk, Yankees Field General Manager (NY Times)

Ralph Houk, a World War II veteran who participated in the invasion at Normandy, managed the Yankees for three years from 1960-1963 before he was elevated to the front office as General Manager, was known as the Major.

His players never forgot that Houk was in command. As Tony Kubek put it in “Sixty-One,” a remembrance of the 1961 season: “None of us questioned Ralph. He was the Major.”

Those were days when it was not uncommon for a manager to call his GM, telling him in terse words, “My second baseman stinks. Get me another one and have him in uniform for tomorrow’s game,” – and the GM would unblinkingly react.

A Different Game And Different Roles

Today, as in the case of Aaron Boone, managers are hired mainly for their “communicative” skills, as opposed to their abilities as the game’s field general in charge of who plays tonight and who doesn’t, as well as in-game strategy.

Aaron Boone Getting To Know Gerrit Cole (NY Post)
Aaron Boone Getting To Know Gerrit Cole (NY Post)

Making the daily rounds with his 28 players, each of whom has distinctive personality traits, keeping in touch to see if anything is bothering them, especially physically.

Keeping mental notes, the gathered intel is then relayed to the Yankees brain trust “upstairs” while Boone goes on with his daily chores, mostly consumed with meeting with the ever-present media.

“Upstairs,” the Yankees employ twenty “analysts” in a department where the real power rests in the organization. It is headed by the name you do not know.

David Grabiner is the Yankees Director Of Quantitative Analysis, commanding his twenty-two staff along with the Dodgers in the major leagues.

Analytics Personnel By Team (The Athletic)
Analytics Personnel By Team (The Athletic)

Teams Playing Catch-Up With The Yankees

Not visible in the table are the Mets, who employed the fewest in 2018 with three. To no one’s surprise, incoming owner Steve Cohen is about numbers. He is all about analytics and takes that strategy from his experience as a billion-dollar hedge funder.

To wit, Cohen’s first undertaking is to overhaul the Mets, analytics department to increase staff.

Nearly all managers today, including Aaron Boone, do not see someone like David Grabiner as a threat to their existence or an obstacle who regularly usurps their authority.

But not to be mistaken, Grabiner and his staff are the ones who gather information from  Boone, his coaches, and scouts – mix it and grind it up to produce minute detail that forms the basis of the Yankees strategy against an opponent.

Baseball – A Game Of Robots

Once a game begins, rarely does a specific order come down to a manager from the front office, and when it does, it is cause for furor and rage in the organization.

A recent example is when Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen called into the team’s clubhouse from home, instructing a clubhouse attendant who happened to answer the phone – to head to the dugout – and tell then-manager Mickey Callaway to remove Jacob deGrom from the game – immediately. Callaway did so, and the rest is now history.

Brian Cashman expects Boone to be aware of the Yankees analytics people’s numbers and to utilize the info when making in-game decisions.

For example, if Aaron Boone sends Tyler Wade up as a pinch-hitter, either unaware that Wade is 1-17 again the opposing pitcher, or he does so in defiance of the intel, he does know, Cashman will hold Boone accountable.

A Collective Yankees Strategy

So, as to the broader question of what happened within the Yankees organization regarding the now-infamous Game 2, it’s not likely that Boone cooked up the scheme to use an opener on his own.

Instead, as the Yankees insist, it was an organization decision which, once made, everyone is expected to fall in line, especially when things go off the rails.

Cashman and Boone trying to figure it out (N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg)
Cashman and Boone trying to figure it out (N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg)

Baseball purists see “strategy” as one giant computer that spits out numbers, and they rue the loss of the human element in the game as it’s played today.

Gone are the days when managers made decisions based on “a hunch” or a feeling in their gut that Tyler Wade is the guy who is going to deliver a hit, despite what the numbers say.

Similarly, gone are the days when a player pleaded with his manager, “I can hit this guy,” and the player would win.

Recall, for instance, the images of Matt Harvey telling his manager Terry Collins, “Don’t take me out” during the 2015 World Series, with Collins acquiescing only to wish later he hadn’t.

Today, outfielders carry a laminated sheet in their back pocket that tells them where to play as each hitter comes up, and they know they’d better follow those instructions – or else.

However, some elite players are allowed to go off the reservation of robots. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, for instance, is an avid reader of the reports handed down from David Grabiner, but no one tells Cole how to pitch.

Don’t Be An Idiot

For most players, though, prevailing thinking in baseball suggests, “Here’s a bunch of information we think you should use, and if you don’t, you’re an idiot.”

Aaron Boone is not an idiot, and he is not anyone’s puppet. David Grabiner and his staff are here to stay as an expensive but critical piece of the Yankees organization, whether anyone likes it or not.

Henceforth, anything having to do with Yankees’ strategy must be seen in that light.


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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.