Yankees: 3 lessons NYY can learn from SF Giants manager Gabe Kapler

Feb 26, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler (19) and New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (17) talk prior to the game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler (19) and New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (17) talk prior to the game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

As we head down the final stretch of the 2021 season, it’s evident that the San Francisco Giants have been a huge surprise this year, and the New York Yankees have been a great disappointment.

The Giants will win over 100 games by the season’s end and be in the NL playoffs. In contrast, the Yankees have a huge hill to climb to even sneak into October as a Wild Card team. These results are basically the reverse of what many baseball analysts expected for each team.

While Gabe Kapler is the runaway choice to be selected as the NL’s Manager of the Year, there’s a reasonable likelihood that Aaron Boone will not be offered a contract renewal for next year due to his team’s underperformance in 2021 despite a large payroll and substantial player talent.

There are several reasons why the Giants have exceeded expectations and why the Bronx Bombers significantly underachieved pre-season predictions. One meaningful difference between the two teams is the varying style, tactics, and approaches of the two managers.

This raises the question regarding what Kapler has specifically done well and why Boone has done poorly. Importantly, such a comparison can inform the Yankees organization about what kind of manager works best, given the nature of today’s ballplayers. This information, in turn, can help guide the team in selecting a more successful manager than Boone next time.

Yankees: What’s at the core of Giants manager Gabe Kapler’s success?

The Giants and manager Bruce Bochy, who won three World Series within five years, agreed to part ways following three straight losing seasons. Farhan Zaidi, the team’s president of baseball operations, chose Kapler to replace Bochy as manager before the 2020 season.

Kapler was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm director when Zaidi was the Dodgers’ general manager. Zaidi knew Kapler well and thought that he was the best man for the job.

Kapler was a controversial choice. He had a rocky stint with the Philadelphia Phillies. Additionally, he was LA’s farm director when allegations of sexual assault arose against a Dodgers player, which Kapler later admitted were mishandled.

Kapler played for several different MLB teams and managers, and he’s had quite the run. The list of skippers he played under includes Terry Francona (Boston Red Sox), Johnny Oates (Texas Rangers), and Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay Rays).

Here’s what an MLB executive had to say about Kapler:

"“Gabe has done an amazing job fitting into the vision of the Giants’ organization. It’s my belief that the good ones learn from the experiences with their prior organizations. Joe Torre, Bobby Cox – they always did well with their second and third chances if they’re good self-evaluators.”"

Some good insight, eh? So what can the Yankees learn from Kapler’s current stint with the Giants? Let’s take a look:

Lesson 1: Replace Boone with someone who has managerial experience in MLB and doesn’t feel that he has a monopoly on good ideas

Kapler says that the difference for him now from his time in Philadelphia is that he was inflexible when he managed the Phillies. However, he has learned to consider a variety of different ideas and does so now. He is much more open to feedback than before, and that’s allowed him to become a better listener and be more open-minded.

One of Kapler’s strengths is that he’s not stubbornly anchored to one approach and can make adjustments during the season. For example, when he first began managing the Giants in 2020, there was criticism about how the team was using starting pitchers. Kapler analyzed different opinions and perspectives, processed them, and then made adjustments as the season unfolded.

Giants’ GM Scott Harris believes that’s one of the reasons why the club’s rotation has performed exceptionally well this year.

Another adjustment Kapler made is sharing playing time information with his players. After listening to their ideas, he altered the way he communicated with them. The players now feel confident and empowered, and Harris believes this is another reason why the Giants have won so many games.

Lesson 2: Next time, hire someone open to divergent internal and external views and can communicate effectively and candidly

The Giants have the largest coaching staff in baseball with 14 members. Most MLB teams have 9 or 10. Kapler is not a dictator, and he has no difficulty delegating authority to his coaches. As a consequence, one can assume hitters and pitchers extol the individualized plans and attention they receive.

While the Giants’ executives have done an impressive job meshing various new players (e.g., Kris Bryant and Mike Yastrzemski) with veterans (e.g., Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, and Evan Longoria), it’s been Kapler working seamlessly with the front office to determine how these guys would be handled and what roles they would play.

Also, Kapler, who is 45, is young enough to relate well to Giants’ players. He can talk about subjects from pricey footwear with fellow sneaker fanatics on the team to various kinds of music, from rock to rap and beyond. If you want a players’ manager, do all the necessary research to determine the non-baseball traits required to succeed on the job.

Lesson 3: The next manager should possess the ability to act on human instincts while working alongside analytics

In addition to using analytics, Kapler seems to prioritize his players’ emotional and mental health and how this affects their level of confidence on the field.

We’ve seen far too many instances with Boone where he misuses players, doesn’t discipline players, or calls on the wrong guy in a specific situation. If he had a 50% success rate in this department, the Yankees probably have seven or so more victories, which changes the entire complexion of their season.

The Giants are heavily analytical, but the organization likely understands how important it is for a manager to act autonomously and on instinct when necessary. It’s not all about spreadsheets and equations.

Of course, other variables must be considered in selecting the next Yankees manager, such as dealing with New York fans and media. From a foundational perspective, Kapler provides a good model for how a manager should behave and operate today, and the Yanks can use it as a guide to selecting their next manager.