School’s out for Aaron
Boone must learn from first-year mistakes to make grade in 2019
Aaron Boone has a lot to learn.
That’s not an indictment on his first year as a manager, it’s just a statement of fact. Coming into this assignment with zero experience in management or coaching, this learning curve should have been expected.
Now, the biggest question the Yankees front office and fans have about the 45-year-old heading into 2019 is whether the baseball lifer is willing to accept the mistakes he made this year and learn from them. That is one of the things Boone can be expected to answer today, when he and GM Brian Cashman meet the press to wrap up the 2018 season.
Let’s be fair here. In his first year of managing, Boone did lead the Yankees to a 100-win season and got them to the American League Division Series. This was not a disaster you see with some rookie skippers.
But clearly, there is a learning curve when you look at his handling of the pitching.
Whether that is deference to a veteran pitching coach or a frontoffice analytics department, Boone has to get a better gut feel for managing his pitching. Perhaps a veteran bench coach, which first-year Red Sox manager Alex Cora had in Ron Roenicke, could have been a help in these situations.
In the wild-card game, it seemed pretty obvious that Luis Severino was done after he got out of a jam in the fourth inning. The primal scream he let out as he walked off the mound might as well have been a cry for the bullpen, but Boone tried to “steal,” a few more outs from him. It didn’t bite the Yankees, because the offense and bullpen bailed them out.
In the ALDS, however, it came back to hurt the Yankees in Game 3. Boone stuck with Severino too long and the game got away from him and out of hand quickly. In Game 4, he again showed a hesitancy to pull the trigger on a bullpen change.
Considering how involved analytics departments are now with every aspect of game preparation, managing the pitching is one of the hardest things left for a manager to do. Just look across town. Rookie Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway, considered an expert as the pitching coach for the Indians, blew through his bullpen in April and struggled to get a handle on it most of the year.
So, that is the obvious thing Boone needs to address this winter.
But the bottom line is, he had a successful first season, navigating some of the other obstacles that trip up rookie managers.
Sure the Yankees’ lineup was stocked with the likes of Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius and breakout stars like Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, but it wasn’t simply a matter of plugging names into the lineup. You have to give Boone credit for getting the Bombers through a season that included significant injuries.
He had to navigate an initial missed prognosis of Judge’s broken right wrist before the trade deadline. (Cashman didn’t give him a lot to work with there until nearly a month later, well after Judge was supposed to be back in the lineup.) He also had Gary Sanchez not only miss 57 games because of a groin injury, but go through a nightmare of a season at the plate and a pretty bad one behind it.
Boone managed to get the Yankees to 100 wins with a rotation that could be described as mediocre at best, especially considering how Severino struggled in the second half.
And as Boone finally acknowledged in the playoffs, the Yankees won 100 games in a division where they had to spend their energy chasing greatness — the Red Sox.
Boone seemed to have a solid relationship with his players, never publicly (or off-the-record) disparaging their play. That reflected in a relaxed clubhouse that was apparently one thing the Yankees were looking for when they replaced Joe Girardi last winter.
If you don’t think those things matter, then take a moment to consider what happened across town. How many times did Callaway end up in the headlines for saying something that reflected badly on the team, organization or himself (“This isn’t Cleveland,” or “How it works in baseball is...”)? Boone never embarrassed the Yankees or his players.
Sure, Boone made mistakes in his rookie season, but the key now is if he learns his lessons going into 2019.
Aaron Boone takes lumps, especially in ALDS, but can rebound quickly if he learns from first-year mistakes. GETTY