Yankees: The most persuasive explanation why they did not advance to World Series

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03: Manager Aaron Boone
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03: Manager Aaron Boone /

A number of competing explanations have been offered in attempts to understand why the Yankees did not make it to the World Series this year. The major reason why the team lost the ALDS to the Boston Red Sox was the inferior leadership of the club’s manager and coaches.

Many analysts are blaming the poor performance by the Yankees against the Red Sox primarily on the team’s skipper, Aaron Boone. Yet, many if not most of these pundits were never big fans of Boone anyway. I for one, however, was generally pleased with the job the rookie manager did in 2018.

Of course, Boone was not perfect, and he did make a few significant blunders during the regular season. But this was his first year, so what should one expect? The Yanks did win 100 games despite serious injuries suffered to several key players and shaky starting pitching during most of the year. Not bad for a rookie manager operating in the pressure cooker of Yankee Stadium located in the highly competitive, generally unforgiving New York City.

However, as much as I applaud the overall quality of Boone’s leadership during the 2018 regular season, I believe that his poor performance as manager and the poor performance of his coaches during the intense and stressful ALDS was the single most important reason why the Yanks lost to the Red Sox and were embarrassed in four games.

Let’s review a few specific examples of faulty decisions made during the Red Sox series that reflected bad judgment on the part of Boone and his coaches.

Clearly, the Yanks were unable to capitalize with men on base at critical points in the division series. In general, the players seemed like they had no strategy on how to approach the Red Sox pitchers. Most appeared to lack focus and were pressing too hard at the plate. This resulted in players swinging at numerous bad pitches and not walking or picking up hits.

A seasoned manager and his seasoned coaches would have prepared their players better psychologically for the intense and ultra-competitive atmosphere of the playoffs. The team’s manager and coaches needed to create a relaxing atmosphere so that the players would stay loose and focus their attention on hitting and defense.

At the same time, they should have provided the players with guidance and a coordinated strategy on how to hit against the other team’s individual pitchers in different situations. There is no evidence that either of this was done. Quite the opposite – everyone seemed nervous at the plate and in the field. And players appeared confused while batting.

In Game 3 Luis Severino was hit hard during the first three innings. For some unexplained reason, Boone allowed Sevy to come out and pitch the fourth inning trailing 3 to 0. Boston’s 7-8-9 hitters in the lineup reached base, jumpstarting the Red Sox’s seven-run inning, thereby dooming the Yanks.

Rather than bring in one of the several outstanding bullpen aces (e.g, Dellin Betances for one inning, Chad Green, or David Robertson) to stop the rally, Boone brought in Lance Lynn who struggled and the game was over.

For some unexplained reason, Boone was unable to comprehend the importance of winning Game 3 (i.e., maintaining home field advantage) and the “do or die” situation the Yanks were facing at that moment in the game.

Thus, after splitting two games in Fenway Park where the Red Sox had the best home field advantage of any MLB team during the regular season, the Yanks lost crucial Game 3 in Yankee Stadium 16 to 1, a record-setting score. They also relinquished critical home-field advantage back to the Red Sox.

Unbelievably, Boone also allowed his starting pitcher, lefty C.C. Sabathia to stay on the mound too long in Game 4 with the entire ALDS on the line. It was quite clear to everyone watching the game that Sabathia was struggling to stay ahead in the counts and retire the hitters he was facing.

He ended up pitching to lefty Jackie Bradley after facing five consecutive right-handed hitters. He retired him on a ground ball but gave up three runs, providing the Red Sox the margin of runs necessary to win the game. Boone’s refusal to pull his starter in Game 3 and again in Game 4 sooner rather than later cost the Yanks the two games and the division series.

Finally, in order to gain an advantage, Boone decided to start light hitting, left-handed hitter Brett Gardner and switch-hitter Neil Walker (to bat left-handed and play defense) over Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Andujar, respectively, to face right-hander Rick Porcello in Game 4.

This decision made the lineup a lot less formidable and lessened the pressure on the Red Sox pitchers as they cycled through the Yanks lineup and eventually won by a single run. In particular, leaving Andujar out of the starting lineup and never using him in the game was especially a head-scratcher since he was arguably the Yanks most valuable player during the entire regular season.

One hopes that excluding a young pup who is an up and coming star from a critical elimination game during the postseason will not negatively affect him psychologically in the future. Not surprisingly, Miggy expressed disappointment after the game. However, despite the emotional pain, the benching caused him, he said that he will always do what is best for the team. He is a class act.

The urgent need to provide Boone more coaching help

Following the exercise of poor judgment in the ALDS, it is disappointing to hear that the Yanks will likely bring back all their coaches next year. In particular, Boone must look for a more effective bench coach next year so that he avoids the costly mistakes he made during his first year as manager.

It was critical, as a rookie skipper who lacks coaching experience, that Boone had a seasoned bench coach who could provide him with wisdom, insights, and timely and effective advice in October. In the playoffs, he especially needs someone who will immediately speak up when he is about to make an ill-advised decision during a game.

Josh Bard, the present bench coach, is a close friend of Boone. However, he lacks the experience needed to provide a green manager valuable and necessary guidance required to perform well. Following a long major league career as a backup catcher with multiple teams, he was the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen coach for two years (in 2016 and 2017). This is the only formal coaching experience he has on his resume. Hard to believe. Given the inexperience of Boone, it is puzzling that Brian Cashman did not hire a highly experienced bench coach.

At Boone’s introductory press conference, when discussing the hiring of a new bench coach, he said that he was looking for someone who can have good relationships with the players. “Whether that is a guy with all kinds of experience or little experience. I am not concerned about that.”

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Hmmm. I agree that bench coaches should have good relationships with the players. Yet, coaching experience is still awfully important. A manager should have coaches who not only get along with their players but who also bring the necessary experience and insight to succeed on the field. This is definitely not an either/or requirement. Coaches should have both good relationships with players and the professional background and baseball knowledge to advise the manager.

Outstanding prior bench coaches for the Yanks, such as Yogi Berra, Don Zimmer, Tony Pena, and others, had managed in the major leagues before they became bench coaches. Obviously, such past managerial experience at the major league level is highly desirable if not essential for bench coaches given the complexity and pace of the game today.

Should Boone and the Yankees consider hiring a new bench coach who has had significant managerial experience to help him? It is okay for Boone to hire someone who is not his friend. There are certainly a number of good candidates out there from which to choose. In my view, Paul Molitor, John Gibbons, or Eric Wedge would make a superb bench coach and could help significantly improve the team’s success over time.

Next. Yankees overachieved in 2018, so let's look ahead to next season. dark

Hopefully, Boone will consider acquiring more experienced bench help during the offseason. If he fails to do so, the Yanks performance on the field will suffer, and their chance to play in the next World Series will be greatly diminished.