Small samples count for managers, too.
So what do we know for certain about Aaron Boone so far? Understanding the folly of drawing conclusions from 16 games’ worth of tactical decisions?
We know that he presents a calm exterior in the face of adversity. Positivity to neutralize the anxiety.
And a new study reinforces the notion that such good cheer can lead to good results.
Boone’s Yankees will take a modest 8-8 record into Yankee Stadium on Thursday, when they’ll start a four-game series with the Blue Jays (11-5), the team directly ahead of them in the American League East. The rookie skipper has experienced more than his share of adversity — from a flood of injuries to considerable bullpen malfunctions to lousy weather to Giancarlo Stanton’s utterly predictable rough transition from the wholly irrelevant Marlins to the frighteningly relevant Yankees.
Nevertheless, after the Yankees suffered a 9-1 beatdown at the hands of Derek Jeter’s tanking Marlins on Tuesday night in The Bronx, Boone appeared as tranquil as someone getting a massage and reiterated his sentiment that the Yankees’ gray skies are gonna clear up.
“These guys are pros,” Boone said of his players. “These guys are grinding away in every way you can. We’ll continue to do that, and eventually we’ll get it rolling.”
Boone’s predecessor, Joe Girardi, used to declare his faith in his guys, too, in these postgame news conferences that you can watch on the YES Network. However, Girardi always entered the interview room looking like he had just been grilled by Robert Mueller. His face did not match his words.
Did that matter? I’ll stick to my stance that Girardi will go down as one of the better managers in Yankees history, his work ethic and intelligence trumping his fundamental inability to shrug off a loss. Yet I’ve been reading a 2017 book of baseball analysis, “The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking” by Russell A. Carleton, and it does offer a compelling case that Girardi’s tenseness did hurt his cause.
Carleton, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who writes for Baseball Prospectus and has consulted for teams, devised the theory that a good manager keeps his players focused through the grind of a long season, and one way to test this was to monitor hitters’ selectivity. Batters generally regress through the course of a season, so Carleton devised a formula to measure which managers’ position players regressed the least, and whose the most, from Opening Day through the 90th day of the season.
From 2012-16, the manager with the best “good decision” rate — measured (through a complex formula) by which skipper’s batters recorded the best balls-to-strikes ratio — was Dusty Baker, of the Reds (2012-13) and Nationals (2016), who registered a 61.91 percent rate. Girardi came in last at 61.51 percent. The differential between Baker and Girardi, Carleton calculated, can lead to one extra win per season for a team.
Carleton built on that and came up with “Grind runs” per season, which he did by adding batters’ selectivity and pitchers’ strikes-to-balls ratio against opponents. From 2012-16, Bud Black of the Padres (2012-15) topped the list with 9.68 grind runs per season, and Girardi placed last, again, with minus-7.57.
Interestingly, when Carleton updated his counts for 2013-17, Girardi fared better: He rose out of the bottom five in good decision rate, and he jumped to third-worst with minus-3.25 grind runs per season, trailing Walt Weiss (minus-7.57 with the Rockies from 2013-16) and the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny (minus-4.78). Girardi improved with the 2017 Yankees, who gained notoriety for their dugout and on-the-field bonding hijinks and who memorably overcame an 0-2 deficit against the Indians in the AL Division Series.
Carleton said in a telephone interview Wednesday that this study emanated from an interest in quantifying managers’ performance.
“We know the tactical stuff is not as important as anyone thinks it is,” he explained. “So what the hell does a manager do?”
Asked if he has shared this study with teams, Carleton declined comment.
Can Boone’s serenity lead to selectivity? We’ll monitor it and everything else about his performance as the sample size grows in conjunction with the scrutiny.
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