The Yankees’ separation from the Rays is wider than the final 2020 standings. The Rays use analytics, but they are not robots like the Yankees.
When former Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius took a swipe at the managerial style of Aaron Boone, compared to his preferred approach by his current manager, Joe Girardi, perhaps inadvertently, he hit on a point that uncovers a major weakness in the team’s use of analytics.
Didi Gregorius, who is probably ideal managerial material himself someday, did not suggest that analytics have no place in baseball; he knows better.
Instead, he was hinting at the Yankee’s overuse of analytics, and therefore, their baseball brand is boring, and he’d prefer (as a player) a different style of play.
Yankees Rigidity – A Counterproductive Strategy
To put it another way, when you remove spontaneity from a player, and it seeps down to the team as a whole, you no longer have a team.
Instead, you have nine robots dressed in Yankees pinstripes who take the field each night with no purpose other than making sure they have their “marching orders” in their back pocket, or else!
Look at those Tampa Bay Rays and compare them to the Yankees team we are used to watching.
No team in baseball uses analytics more effectively than Kevin Cash‘s team. Not only that, no other team is more experimental in executing new styles of play based on the information supplied by their analysts.
Was it the Yankees or Rays who quickly adapted analytics to “shifting” infielders based on where batters tend to hit the ball? Or, can you imagine the Yankees daring to try using a four-person outfield like the Rays are doing?
Was it the Yankees or Rays who developed and introduced The Opener to baseball as an analytics-based strategy, albeit one that Aaron Boone notably botched in Game 2 of the ALDS?
Can you imagine the Dodgers or the Yankees, both power hitting machines, having the audacity to use a squeeze play to eke out a run to take advantage of a shifted Ray’s infield?
The Stilted Yankees Style Of Play
The Yankees have always projected and protected a corporate image and style of play. The no facial hair thing is a kindergarten example of what we see on the playing field today as a stilted, scripted, do it our way or the doorway approach to everything.
Home runs – yes, of course. We’ll see them hop the dugout railing to greet a teammate who’s rounding third, high fives, and the whole bit. But when do we see the Yankees actually having fun? Yeah, plain ole fun playing a boys game.
Who is the Yankees player we can imagine running around hither and fro in the outfield like a chicken with his head cut off – as the Rays’ Brett Phillips did after his single led to one of the most exciting World Series single plays ever?
A play culminated with priceless TV images of a smiling Randy Arozarena‘s outstretched hand touching home – after stumbling and falling halfway to the plate.
Yankees: Finding The Blend Between Analytics And Teamwork
Didi Gregorius used Aaron Boone as a metaphor, but he was really saying that the Yankees treat their players like workers on an assembly line.
Aaron Hicks, your job is to take pitches and manufacture base-on-balls, and you are forgiven for batting around the Mendoza Line. Tyler Wade, you are on the Yankees because of your speed and versatility, so don’t be swinging for the fences.
Yankees: Let The Players Play
It’s safe to say there isn’t a position player on the Yankees who doesn’t welcome the voluminous amount of information made available to them individually.
But although analytics is intended as a pre-game resource, see the ball, hit the ball goes out the window too often with the Yankees once a game begins.
Hunches and a “feel” for the game are left behind in ways that lead Aaron Boone, for instance, to fall in line, sending Gary Sanchez up to pinch-hit while Joe Girardi stays with the batter scheduled to hit because he trusts his guy will put his bat on the ball.
Feisty, loosey-goosey, fun-loving, and without fear are the Tampa Bay Rays. And this has nothing to do with the payroll gap between them and the Yankees, or the dump the Rays play in versus the so-called Cathedral Of Baseball, Yankee Stadium.
One championship over two decades says it all about the Yankees. The assembly line, follow the numbers wherever they may lead rigid strategy isn’t working.
Put a team of young, fearless, and hungry players out there, and watch what happens. It might even be a Yankees team that can beat the Rays.