Back in 2017, Brian Cashman decided that his group of young, talented players who had surprised the baseball world by coming within one win of a World Series needed a new voice in the clubhouse. The Yankees GM, seeing the window open on the “Baby Bombers” open, let Joe Girardi go and brought in Aaron Boone to be a manager who could speak the language of analytics while still bringing experience on the field.
It was at that time, on the verge of a new era in Yankees baseball anchored by Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, that managing partner Hal Steinbrenner also extended Cashman’s contract. His deal as GM and Senior Vice President runs through next year.
Since then, the Baby Bombers have grown up and are in the peak of their baseball careers. In the last four years, they’ve never come as close as they did in 2017.
Boone is Cashman’s hire and it’s a double down on the direction this front office has been going for the past four years. After 2021, watching other teams adapt, adjust and zoom past the Yankees, the question Cashman needs to answer with this 2022 team is if the Bombers are heading in the right direction.
It’s obvious something needs to change.
“As a team and as an organization, we must grow, evolve and improve. We need to get better. Period,” Steinbrenner said in a statement announcing Boone’s return, adding he looked forward to Boone’s input on that.
But Cashman and Steinbrenner know a manager is very limited by the process and direction of the front office he reports to. “I think a manager is only as good as the players he’s got,’’ Cashman said Tuesday as he answered questions for over an hour, more about his front office’s responsibility than Boone’s return.
Cashman strongly defended the front office and the decision-making process that gave the 2021 Yankees an unathletic team that lacks true contact hitters and struggled with fundamentals like baserunning. That’s all on the players that the front office delivers or the player development staff that could be reinforcing basics before players get to the big leagues and make mistakes on the big stage.
The analytics department has been the focus of much of the discontent among fans and even within the organization. There is no question that area has helped the Yankees’ game, just as it has for their opponents.
“I think our analytics department is very good at what they do,” Cashman said. “I think they serve us extremely well, and they’ll continue to be pushing their narratives. It’s not affecting us anywhere near in the adverse way that the public perception seems to be….Analytics have served us extremely well to get us to this level, to maintain and put us in a position to have success, just like hiring the best pro scouts has, trying to hire the best amateur scouts has.”
The issue isn’t the use of analytics in the decision-making process. The question is how good is the analytics department the Yankees have put together?
Unlike Boone, or former hitting coach Marcus Thames and third base coach Phil Nevin, who were let go after the Yankees struggled on offense and base running this season, there is no transparency for their decisions. All we can see are the results and by the Yankees’ own measure, they have been disappointing for over a decade now.
But where are the Yankees? 92 wins and four playoff appearances would be seen as successful in most other places, but the Yankees set the tone every year when they say they are on a quest for their 28th World Championships. So for the last 12 years, the Yankees have failed.
And in that time, the Yankees have watched the Rays use a mix of analytics and scouting to win the division twice. The Red Sox, using their analytics, have won two World Series since the Yankees’ last title. They even tore down their team and rebuilt and eliminated the Bombers again this season as they make a run at another World Series title. The Dodgers, another team with a robust analytics department, have been in three World Series and won one. The Astros, who beat that group of Baby Bombers in 2017, have appeared in two and won one.
And those teams aren’t sitting around waiting for the Yankees to catch up. As if watching the Red Sox and Astros play for the American League pennant isn’t enough, Boston’s principal owner John Henry had a warning for the Yankees and the rest of the league.
“We’re still in the building phase, so it does portend well for the future,” Henry told the Boston Globe. “We sort of felt all year we were ahead of schedule. We knew we had some flaws, but these guys kept picking each other up, so wherever we might have had flaws, others made up for it. It’s really remarkable.”