The Yankees continue to have a need on the infield as we enter 2018 and there are plenty of options out there. Among those teams with more infielders than they can handle are the Phillies.
They traded shortstop Freddy Galvis to open a spot for J.P. Crawford, but they likely still want to create room for second baseman Scott Kingery, who hit quite well in Double and Triple-A in 2017. Therefore, current starter Cesar Hernandez has been central to many trade rumors.
Is he a fit for the Yankees? Let’s take a look.
The 27-year-old second baseman has spent five years in the majors and has been steadily improving since he received the full-time second base job in 2015. Formerly a negative at the plate, Hernandez put together a .294/.373/.421 (111 wRC+) line last season over 577 plate appearances. Furthermore, his walk rate remained at 10.6 percent while he cut down his strikeout rate by half a percent.
While playing 27 fewer games than the year before, Hernandez set career-highs for home runs (nine) and doubles (26). This improvement in power wasn’t simply from the juiced ball: he added muscle prior to the season and was noticeably stronger, leading to a career-best .127 ISO. He actually specifically has a swing tailored to hitting the ball on the ground.
If you want to boil down Hernandez to his basics, he’s a solid middle infielder with a good control of the strike zone, an above-average hit tool and some improving pop in his bat. He can contribute at the top of the lineup — he was the Phillies primary leadoff hitter last year — and has experience hitting near the bottom as well.
Another positive for 27-year-old? He’s a switch-hitter. He has a higher exit velocity (85 mph) from left-side than right-side (83.9) but had higher ISO as a RHB in 2017. He’s been slightly better in a smaller sample from the right-side for his career. However, he had the exact same wRC+ from each side facing opposite-handed pitchers in 2017.
He’s a positive baserunner overall and converted 75 percent of steal attempts last year. Perhaps his biggest red flag though is that he can be a little over-aggressive and make a few bonehead plays on the bases here and there. In 2016, he was caught stealing on 13 of 30 attempts and needs to be reeled back from running too often.
Just like with his hitting, Hernandez has become a better fielder, though the metrics didn’t like his 2017 nearly as much as they liked his 2016.
2015: -2.9 DRS, -4.9 UZR/150
2016: 4 DRS, 12.6 UZR/150
2017: -2 DRS, 3.1 UZR/150
He’s pretty average at second. I’m intrigued to see what he does next to a worse shortstop as Freddy Galvis was Gold Glove-deserving right next to him. Still, Hernandez passes the “much better than Starlin Castro” test in the field.
Hernandez also provides some versatility. He played 170ish innings at 3rd base in 2014-15 and has been Phils’ backup shortstop in a pinch. Hernandez also played 22 games in center field as a rookie. He shouldn’t be relied on outside of second base though.
Since Hernandez became the Phillies’ primary second baseman, he’s only been on the disabled list twice. Once was a freak dislocated thumb on a collision with Anthony Rizzo in 2015. The other was last season when he went down with an oblique injury. It kept him out for six weeks.
The 27-year-old second baseman is under team control for three more years and is a Super Two in his second year of arbitration. MLB Trade Rumors has him projected to make $4.7 million in 2018. He is also out of minor league options.
Hernandez’s salary would fit well in the Yankees’ plan to get under the luxury tax threshold and the three years of control are highly desirable as well.
What Would It Take?
Actual things! Controllable pitching for sure. Philadelphia has no reason to salary dump. Hernandez and his versatility — combined with Maikel Franco’s struggles at third base — make it a fine proposition to keep him and make Kingery force the issue. The Phillies’ rebuild has a glut of outfielders at the major league level but not nearly enough high-level pitching, so that would likely be the focus of any package.
The Phillies wouldn’t be out of left field to request Justus Sheffield or Jordan Montgomery to headline a deal. They’d be giving up three years of a solid 3+ win middle infielder presumably in his prime. Perhaps the Yankees could get the Phils to consider Chance Adams or one of their other young fireballers as an alternative.
Side note: The Yankees and Phillies haven’t exchanged players since the Bobby Abreu-Cory Lidle trade in 2006. That, of course, means Brian Cashman hasn’t executed a trade with current Phillies GM Matt Klentak, who took over in Oct. 2015. Shouldn’t hamper trade talks, just a fact I found interesting.
Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?
Indeed. Hernandez would plug right into the lineup, whether giving them a solid leadoff alternative to Brett Gardner or a consistent presence at the bottom of the lineup. Furthermore, in a lineup full of right-handed hitters, he’d always have the platoon advantage at the plate and his good eye would fit in well. He won’t light the league on fire, but he’s a stable bat for any team.
Hernandez surely has the talent to hold down second base. He’d be a welcomed change-of-pace in the field compared to Starlin Castro. Adding him would also the Yankees to take their time with Gleyber Torres and delay his free agency by keeping him in Triple-A for a few weeks. The only real question with him is how much it’d cost to acquire and whether the Phillies even want to trade him.
We’ve got nine questions in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send all your questions each week. Fire away.
Tom asks: There has been very little ‘trade rumor talk’ of a trade with the Indians for Danny Salazar. I know there is an injury history tagged to Salazar but of all the pitchers the Yankees are supposedly linked to, Salazar has the most upside. Age, contract, strikeouts, tenacity all fit. Would the Indians consider a trade headlined with Clint Frazier and Chance Adams? Having 5 starters already signed would take a little of the injury fear away right?
Ken Rosenthal says the Indians are willing to move Salazar, presumably as a way to address other needs and open a full-time rotation spot for Mike Clevinger, who had a 3.11 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 121.2 innings last year. Salazar will turn 28 next week and he is under team control for another three years, plus he strikes out a ton of batters (29.9% last two years), so he seems to fit what the Yankees want in a pitcher. It’s kinda surprising we haven’t heard the Yankees connected to him yet.
The biggest issue with Salazar is the injury history, like Tom said. He is basically this generation’s Rich Harden. Dynamite stuff, impressive results, can’t stay on the field. Last year Salazar missed two weeks with elbow inflammation and nearly two months with shoulder soreness. Two years ago he missed basically the entire second half with elbow and forearm problems. Also, Salazar had Tommy John surgery back in 2011, so the ongoing elbow woes are especially troubling.
On one hand, the Yankees have the rotation depth (on paper) to give Salazar extra rest now and then, and if they feel he needs a little two-week break at some point(s), they can stash him on the phantom disabled list. On the other hand, his injury history is really scary, and it’s possible no amount of extra rest will avoid another blowout. Salazar obviously has a ton of ability. He’s a true difference-maker when healthy. I just have so little faith in his ability to stay healthy. I’d have a tough time sending top young players to Cleveland for Salazar given his history of arm problems. Then again, it doesn’t matter what I think. It only matters what the Yankees think.
Eric asks: Imagine a Major League Team has an outfield of Clint Frazier, Jake Cave, Billy McKinney and Tyler Wade as a 4 OF. Would they out-WAR any MLB teams this year?
There’s a pretty good chance Frazier, Cave, and McKinney are the starting outfielders for Triple-A Scranton this season, with Wade getting spot starts out there. Not a bad little Triple-A outfield, I’d say. There are still six weeks to go before Spring Training and a lot — A LOT — of free agents waiting to be signed, so the current outfield situations around the league can and will change.
Steamer projections have the Frazier/Cave/McKinney/Wade unit at +0.5 WAR in 350 plate appearances in 2018, with Wade accounting for most of that (+0.4 WAR in 245 plate appearances). Don’t get mad at me. I’m just the messenger. Last season the average outfield racked up 2,079 plate appearances. Let’s call it 2,000 even. Pro-rating that +0.5 WAR in 350 plate appearances across 2,000 plate appearances gives us +7.1 WAR total. Here are the projected 2018 outfield WAR totals, per Steamer:
1. Angels: +13.5
2. Yankees: +12.1
3. Red Sox: +11.8
12. Frazier/Cave/McKinney/Wade: +7.1
30. Giants: +1.8
Based on our slapped together and not at all meant to be taken seriously calculations, the Frazier/Cave/McKinney/Wade outfield is on par with the Rays (+7.5), Twins (+7.4), and Cubs (+7.1) outfields. I’d take the under. I’m all in on Frazier and Wade. Cave and McKinney? Not so much. Given full-time at-bats, I think the Frazier/Cave/McKinney/Wade outfield would maybe crack +4 WAR next year. Maybe. That’s if Wade hits right away.
Update: I’m dumb. I screwed up the calculation somewhere along the line. The Frazier/Cave/McKinney/Wade outfield pro-rates to +2.9 WAR in 2,000 plate appearances, not +7.1 WAR. That makes much more sense to me.
Rich asks: Could Brandon McCarthy be a trade option?
I don’t think so. If anything, I think McCarthy would’ve been a potential CC Sabathia replacement as a veteran back-end guy you know won’t give you a ton of innings, but also probably won’t kill you with his performance. The Yankees are looking for a top arm now. They’re in on Yu Darvish, Gerrit Cole, Michael Fulmer, guys like that. They want a difference-maker. McCarthy’s more of a depth arm, and the Yankees have plenty of depth arms.
Joseph asks: Hi Mike…your thoughts and chances Yankees can swing a deal for left-hander Robbie Ray…(Justus Sheffield is off limits)? Thanks.
Thoughts: Hell yes. Chances: Close to zero. And why would you make Sheffield off limits? Aren’t we all hoping Sheffield turns into Ray, a high-strikeout lefty? Six years of Sheffield for three years of Rays doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Sheffield hasn’t pitched above Double-A and Ray is a legitimate All-Star caliber pitcher. You’re trading the three extra years of control for the lower risk impact pitcher you can plug right into your rotation.
The Diamondbacks are contending though, and I’m not sure a contending team would be willing to trade their second best starting pitcher. Patrick Corbin will be a free agent next winter and he’s an average-ish innings guy. It makes sense that Arizona would be open to trading Corbin. Ray is a stud — he had a 2.89 ERA (3.72 FIP) with 32.8% strikeouts in 162 innings last year — and he’s under control three more years. He strikes me as one of the more untouchable pitchers in baseball.
Richard asks: Which Yankees who played in the minors in 2017 are out of options for 2018? Two names in particular are Higashioka and Shreve. If Higashioka is out of options, then wouldn’t the Yankees look to trade him (like Mitchell) and also look for a third-string catcher with options? The problem with Shreve would be that the Yankees at this time have six relievers (Betances, Chapman, Green, Kahnle, Robertson, Warren) plus a long-man would push him out of a 7-man bullpen.
Four players on the 40-man roster are out of minor league options: Chasen Shreve, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Hicks. They can’t go to the minors without first passing through waivers. Sanchez isn’t going anywhere and chances are Hicks isn’t either. The Yankees don’t seem all that interested in replacing Romine, so I think his roster spot is safe. Shreve is the only out-of-options player whose roster spot is truly in jeopardy right now. (Kyle Higashioka has two options remaining.)
The Yankees have those six relievers for seven bullpen spots, plus plenty of young arms for the seventh spot (Domingo German, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, etc.), so Shreve could get pushed out in the numbers crunch. I guess it depends on whether they want a middle innings lefty to start the season. My guess is, if the season started today, Shreve would be the seventh reliever in the bullpen until his performance warranted a change. Just a guess.
Anonymous asks: Is there any situation where using 4 actual outfielders would be the best defense?
Sure. In fact, the Cubs used a four-man outfield against Joey Votto at one point last season. He doubled anyway. Here’s the video:
- Brandon Belt: 27.7%
- Matt Carpenter: 28.7%
- Brandon Moss: 29.8%
- Mike Zunino: 31.2%
- Chris Carter: 31.3%
Few hitters bunt to beat the shift regularly, and I don’t think anyone would bunt to beat the four-man outfield regularly either. There are definitely times it could make sense to play a four-man outfield. An extreme non-ground ball hitter with an extreme non-ground ball pitcher on the mound? Sure, why not?
William asks: So the Yankees want another cost controlled start with high upside right? What about Alex Reyes? He has team control for 6 years if I’m not mistaken. He projects as a 1 or 2 starter with swing and miss stuff. I just read the Cards want to make him their closer coming off Tommy John. I would assume his stock isn’t as high as before he had Tommy John when he was the best pitching by prospect on the planet. I would definitely send them Clint for him or even trade from strength and send Betances for him? What are your thoughts.
I don’t think the Cardinals would sell low on Reyes, who was arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball before he blew out his elbow last Spring Training. He had a 1.57 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 46 mostly relief innings in his big league debut in 2016, and was expected to hold down a rotation spot last season. You’re only getting five years of control with Reyes, not six, because he spent last season on the big league disabled list and accrued service time. But still, five years is pretty great, even if 2018 is something of a rehab/get back to normal year.
This is a really unique situation because you’re trading for an injured pitcher, but also a young pitcher (23) with considerable upside and five years of team control. I don’t love the idea of trading Frazier for two years of Cole, but five years of Reyes? That’s a different story, even considering the risk involved with recent elbow reconstruction. I’d trade Clint for Reyes in a heartbeat. (The Cardinals are loaded with outfielders, both at the MLB level and in Triple-A. They don’t need Frazier. But that’s besides the point.)
If St. Louis trades Reyes, which I think is incredibly unlikely, they’re not going to trade him for prospects. They’re trading him for MLB help because they want to win right now. Two years of broken Dellin Betances for Reyes? That’s not happening. What about Chad Green for Reyes? Five years of a healthy shutdown reliever for five years of an injured top pitching prospect? My guess is the Cardinals would simply put Reyes in the bullpen before doing that.
Steven asks: What’s your opinion of signing Danny Valencia as a free agent & what do you think it would cost? He can play 3B & 1B. This would give more time for Gleyber & Andujar to become MLB ready.
Huh, I didn’t realize Valencia was a free agent. He had a down 2017 season, hitting .256/.314/.411 (95 wRC+) with 15 homers in 500 plate appearances, but as recently as 2016 he hit .287/.346/.446 (116 wRC+) with 17 homers in 517 plate appearances. Even if you think his offense will return to 2016 levels in 2018, there are still two issues with Valencia. One, he’s a disaster in the field. He moved to first base full-time last year because he’s so bad at third. I don’t think the Yankees could look at him as a potential third baseman. He’s just too terrible in the field.
And two, Valencia has a reputation for being a pretty crummy teammate. The guy has been pretty productive overall the last few years, yet he’s been on four teams in the last four years and seven teams in his eight MLB seasons. It seems like teams pick him up then get sick of him real quick. The Yankees are trying like crazy to build a strong clubhouse. That’s basically all Aaron Boone talked about during his introductory press conference. Build good relationships and a positive culture. Fair or not, I think the Yankees would steer clear of Valencia given his reputation, especially now that his production may be slipping.
Anonymous asks: Would it make sense for the Yankees to attempt to bring back Ivan Nova? He wouldn’t cost as much as Gerrit Cole and seemed to have a decent “innings eater” year.
I have seen enough Ivan Nova for one lifetime, thanks. He had a 4.14 ERA (4.46 FIP) last season under the tutelage of the brilliant and unimpeachable pitching coach Ray Searage, including a 4.77 ERA (4.85 FIP) in 151 innings after April, which is basically the Ivan Nova we saw too much of in pinstripes. No thanks. He is the same guy he’s always been. He just happened to have one of his hot streaks after the trade last year. Look forward, not backward. Forget about past Yankees mediocrity like Nova (and Eduardo Nunez). Nostalgia won’t win you anything.
Here is an open thread for the evening. The Islanders and Devils are playing … and that’s pretty much it. Not a great sports night. Talk about those games, Cashman’s GIF usage, or anything else where, as long as it is not religion or politics.
Pitchers and catchers report in less than six weeks and there are a whole bunch of free agents who have to sign between now and then. Good free agents too. I wonder how many will be stuck looking for work in mid-March? We’ll see. Here’s the latest Yankees-related hot stove news.
Yankees still in on Darvish and Cobb
The Yankees remain interested in Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb, though they are unlikely to get seriously involved unless they can free up more payroll space under the $197M luxury tax threshold, reports Jon Heyman. We first heard about the team’s interest in Darvish and Cobb last month. Aside from Tyler Chatwood and CC Sabathia, every significant free agent starting pitcher remains unsigned at this point, with Spring Training less than six weeks away.
Clearly the Yankees want another starting pitcher, and not just a depth arm. They want an impact guy. Just look at their rumored targets: Darvish, Cobb, Gerrit Cole, Michael Fulmer, Chris Archer, etc. That said, I don’t think they’re all that serious about the free agents — unless they get a sweetheart deal — because of the luxury tax plan. I think Plan A is dipping into the farm system and trading excess prospects for a younger, controllable starter. The Yankees already have five starters, so they can afford to sit back and let the market play out, and see if anything falls into their lap before Spring Training.
Yankees remain interested in Machado
Manny Machado’s name continues popping up in trade rumors, and according to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees remain interested in the Orioles third baseman. They have not yet “discussed names that have moved the needle for Baltimore,” however. The Yankees have a great big opening at third base, an opening Machado would fill more than capably, though the intra-division/Peter Angelos dynamic makes a trade very unlikely.
Maybe I’m wrong, but trading top prospects for one year of Machado doesn’t strike me as something the Yankees would do. Does it improve the 2018 Yankees? Without a doubt. I don’t think the Yankees want to pay twice for him, so to speak. They’d have to trade top prospects to get him, then give him a market rate contract to retain him after the season. I’ve seen the rumors that Machado wants to play in New York, but I think it would be foolish to expect him to take some kind of discount. I don’t see the Yankees trading prospects for Machado now when they could simply sign him in a year, even though that doesn’t help them in 2018.
Yankees made offer to Choi
According to Jee-Ho Yoo, the Yankees are one of several teams to make an offer to free agent first baseman Ji-Man Choi. I assume it was a minor league contract offer. Choi, 26, spent most of last season with Triple-A Scranton, though he did make a six-game cameo with the Yankees, going 4-for-15 (.267) with two homers. He hit .288/.373/.538 (149 wRC+) with 15 homers in 87 games with the RailRiders.
The Yankees are going to need a pretty good Triple-A first baseman this coming season. Greg Bird is locked into the big league job, but he’s had trouble staying healthy the last few years, and backup plan Chase Headley has been traded. Right now Tyler Austin is No. 2 on the first base depth chart and he’s had his own health/production issues in recent years. Mike Ford was taken in the Rule 5 Draft, leaving Ryan McBroom as No. 3 on the depth chart. Expect a Choi-esque signing before Spring Training.
Chance Adams | RHP
The 23-year-old Chance Adams was born and raised in Scottsdale, AZ, where he attended Chaparral High School, winning back-to-back state championships in his final two seasons. That small school, whose graduating classes are generally around 300 students, also produced Brian Bannister, Ike Davis, and Paul Konerko (as well as Brie and Nikki Bella, but I digress). Adams spent two years at Yavapai College, a junior college, before transferring to Dallas Baptist University for his junior year in 2015. He was excellent there, posting a 1.98 ERA and striking out 83 (against just 13 walks) in 59 IP – though, he did so pitching exclusively out of the bullpen in a set-up role.
While it would be inaccurate to say that there was no hype for Adams heading into the 2015 draft, his name was not well-known to most. Baseball America had him ranked as the 245th best prospect in the class, and that represented the high water mark for his pre-draft stock. The Yankees saw something they liked, though, and snagged him with their fifth round pick, 153rd overall. Adams signed to a below-slot $330,000 bonus shortly thereafter.
Adams made his professional debut less than two weeks after being drafted, and he pitched at three levels – Short Season Staten Island, Low-A Charleston, and High-A Tampa – before season’s end. He continued to work out of the bullpen, and his numbers weren’t too dissimilar from his production at Dallas Baptist; in 35.1 IP, 24 H, 9 BB, 45 K, 1.78 ERA. Rumblings that the Yankees would convert Adams to a starter for the 2016 season began in earnest before the season was over, and it was confirmed by the team before the end of the calendar year.
With a new course charted, Adams made his first professional start at Tampa on April 9, 2016; it didn’t go too well, as he allowed 6 hits (including 2 home runs) and 6 runs (5 earned) in just 3.1 IP. He struggled mightily in three of his first five starts, but he righted the ship when the calendar turned to May, and he was utterly dominant from that point forward. Over his last 20 games (19 starts), Adams pitched to the following line – 107.2 IP, 56 H, 31 BB, 119 K, 1.67 ERA, 45% GB. And that included a mid-season promotion to Double-A, where he ranked among the top-three in ERA, K%, and K-BB% among pitchers who started at least 10 games.
Despite his excellent season, Adams didn’t get much love on prospect lists heading into 2017. He didn’t make the top-100s of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, or MLB.com, which are oftentimes the go-to lists for baseball writers and fans. He did, however, have a fan in John Sickels of Minor League Ball, who ranked him as the 78th best prospect. And Adams made him look like something of a genius.
Adams opened 2017 back at Trenton, making six dominant starts (35.0 IP, 1.03 ERA) before earning his promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a May 14 start. He proved to be right at home in the highest level of the minors, with two scoreless outings in his first four times out, including a what may be his most dominant performance to-date – 6 innings of one-hit, no run ball, with 12 strikeouts and 2 walks against the Columbus Clippers. All told, Adams made 21 starts at Triple-A, tossing 115.1 IP of 2.89 ERA ball, with a 22.3% strikeout rate and 9.3% walk rate.
Prospect outlets got in on the action this time around, with Baseball Prospectus ranking Adams 37th on their midseason top-50, and Baseball America placing him 56th on their list. In fact, the BP staff went as far as to say that “[h]e’s probably a MLB fourth starter already.”
Adams is short for a pitcher, checking in at right around 6′ tall, and he’s a solidly-built 215ish pounds. He works quickly on the mound, drawing praise for both his smooth, compact delivery and the natural deception in his mechanics. And – TINSTAAPP be damned – many believe that those clean mechanics have played a huge role in his ability to stay healthy.
Stuff-wise, Adams has two pitches that grade out as plus: his mid-90s fastball with “rising” action, and a diving, mid-80s slider. Those are the two pitches that helped him dominate as a reliever in college, and they’ve only improved as he has worked with professional coaches. He also features a couple of fringe-average to average offerings in his mid-80s change-up and a curveball in the upper-70s. The curveball is probably the better of the two right now, if only because he repeats his delivery so well, and it has a similar shape to his slider with much less velocity.
It feels almost inevitable that Adams is going to serve as trade bait for the Yankees. He is just about as ready as a prospect can be for the show, but the big league team already has a full rotation, and they’ve been consistently linked to young, controllable pitchers. Joel Sherman reported that the Yankees don’t want to deal Gleyber Torres, Estevan Florial, or Justus Sheffield in such a deal, which leaves Adams and Clint Frazier as the most attractive young pieces in the organization.
Should the Yankees stay the course, Adams will probably be the team’s sixth starter – and that could be a substantial role. Eight different pitchers made at least five starts for the team last year, and he could be first in line for that overflow. Moreover, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery both set career-highs in innings pitched last year, and their workloads are sure to be monitored as a result.
Adams has more than earned a shot at the majors, and I am confident that he has all of the makings of solid starting pitcher. He has stayed healthy and productive under increasing workloads, and he has stuff that belies his size. I do think that he is more likely to be a fourth starter than his statistical profile suggests, given his size and modest groundball rates, but there’s a ton of value in that – especially when the player is under team control for six years.
Aside from the Giancarlo Stanton trade, the biggest move the Yankees have made this offseason is replacing Joe Girardi with new manager Aaron Boone. Brian Cashman and the rest of the higher ups felt the team needed a fresh voice in the clubhouse, and a fresh voice they will get. This is Boone’s first managerial gig.
Hiring a manager with no prior managerial experience — Boone doesn’t even have any coaching experience, he’d been an analyst with ESPN since his playing career ended — is far from unprecedented. In fact, it is business as usual these days. Six teams changed managers this year. Five hired first-timers.
- Mets: Mickey Callaway
- Nationals: Dave Martinez
- Phillies: Gabe Kapler
- Red Sox: Alex Cora
- Tigers: Rob Gardenhire
- Yankees: Aaron Boone
Three of those teams made the postseason this past season and four of them can go into 2018 with a reasonable expectation of competing for a postseason spot, at worst. And yet, they hired rookie managers. The average MLB payroll was just north of $150M in 2017. Teams are putting their nine-figure rosters in the hands of inexperienced managers. Pretty wild.
Why are they doing this? Two reasons, I think. One, front offices are always looking for the next big thing. Hiring Joe Maddon or Terry Francona is the sexy move, but hiring the next Joe Maddon or Terry Francona is the real goal. And two, managers with no experience are essentially a clean slate. Front offices can mold them into the type of manager they want. I’m sure that applies to the Yankees and Boone to some degree.
Of course, hiring a no experience manager comes with a lot of risk. You simply have no idea what you’re going to get until the person is put in the position of being a manager. Everyone loved Matt Williams as a player and a coach, then, as soon as he became Nationals manager, he was a disaster. An experienced manager is a known commodity, and the team could help him improve on the things that got him fired from his previous managerial job.
Eighteen teams hired a rookie manager between the end of the 2011 season and the start of the 2017 season. That’s a six-year window and it does not include interim managers who were later hired full-time, like Mike Quade and Ryne Sandberg. They took over the Cubs and Phillies, respectively, as interim rookie managers at midseason and were hired full-time after the season. Those 18 teams gave the keys to a first year manager in the offseason.
My original plan was to look at those 18 teams and rookie managers to see how they performed and how the rookie manager’s tenured played out, and maybe a pattern would emerge or something. A pattern did emerge, for sure.
Combined actual winning percentage in final year under old manager: .468
Combined PECOTA projected winning percentage in final year under old manager: .513
Combined actual winning percentage in first year under rookie manager: .480
Combined PECOTA projected winning percentage in first year under rookie manager: .488
Here’s my spreadsheet. I used PECOTA projections to get an estimate of each team’s talent level because that’s kinda important. For all intents and purposes, the teams with rookie managers met their PECOTA projection. The difference between the actual .480 winning percentage and projected .488 winning percentage is roughly one win per 162 games, which is nothing.
In the previous year, those same teams under their old manager collectively unperformed their projected winning percentage by more than seven wins per 162 games. That’s why the managerial change was made, right? The team underperformed and the front office wanted to shake things up. Among our 18-team sample, eight underperformed their projection by at least ten wins and 15 underperformed their projection in general. The 2011 Cardinals were the only team to beat their projection by more than two wins. They beat it by five wins in Tony La Russa’s final season, and he retired after winning the World Series. He wasn’t fired.
The teams underperformed under their old manager for whatever reason. The 2014 Rangers were decimated by injuries under Ron Washington. The 2013 Cubs were picked apart at the trade deadline under Dale Sveum. The 2012 Rockies were so thin on the mound they went to a four-man rotation and used tandem starters under Walt Weiss. A team that underperformed replaced their manager, in this case with a rookie skipper, and met projections the next year. That was the pattern. Underperform with the old manager, meet expectations with the rookie. A few more observations.
1. Most rookie managers had a prior history with their team. Click on my spreadsheet and go down the list of rookie managers. Almost all of them had some prior connection to their new team. Mike Matheny played five years with the Cardinals before they hired him in 2012. Sveum was the Red Sox third base coach under Theo Epstein before Epstein hired him with the Cubs. Robin Ventura played for the White Sox. Mike Redmond played for the Marlins. Weiss played for the Rockies. So on and so forth.
Boone, of course, played for the Yankees back in the day, albeit briefly. He hit a big home run and was honest when he blew out his knee playing basketball. Boone could’ve made up some story about hurting the knee during an offseason workout to keep his contract, but he was honest, and I think the Yankees appreciated that. It says something about his character. That prior connection undoubtedly helped Boone — and the other rookie managers in our little 18-team sample — get their job. They had their foot in the door already.
2. Bo Porter is the cautionary tale. When the mid-tank Astros named Porter their new manager in September 2012, GM Jeff Luhnow had this to say:
“People know Bo is going to be here for a long time. He could be one of those guys who is an Astros manager for decades, not just years. The players knowing that this is the group that’s going to be here — it begins to lay the foundation for stability, which is really what we’re looking for.”
Clearly, Luhnow was very high on Porter. And less than two years later, he fired him. “I made this decision because I believe we need a new direction in our clubhouse,” said Luhnow after letting Porter go. The two reportedly had some communication problems leading up to the firing. Their relationship went south quick.
To me, this looks very much like a case of Porter not being the guy Luhnow expected. Luhnow thought he was hiring the next great manager, someone who could take all the fancy ideas the Astros have and implement them on the field, and it didn’t play out like that. The two couldn’t get on the same page. Porter had no prior managerial experience — he had plenty of coaching experience, but not managerial experience — so as much as Luhnow liked him, he was going in blind. He expected one thing and got another. That’s the risk that comes with an inexperienced manager.
3. True zero experience managers are rare. As you know, Boone has no coaching or front office experience whatsoever. He retired as a player, headed to the ESPN broadcast booth, and remained there until being hired by the Yankees a few weeks ago. Pretty crazy. Here’s the breakdown of our 18-manager sample:
- Coaching experience: 12 (Jeff Banister, Kevin Cash, Andy Green, Chip Hale, Paul Molitor, Porter, Bryan Price, Redmond, Rick Renteria, Dave Roberts, Sveum, Williams)
- Front office experience: 5 (Brad Ausmus, Craig Counsell, Scott Servais, Ventura, Weiss)
- No front office or coaching experience: 1 (Matheny)
Like Matheny, Boone is going into his new managerial gig blind. He’s never coached and he’s never worked in a front office. Matheny is the only other guy to do that since the end of the 2011 season, and he’s still in the dugout for the Cardinals, so I guess that means he’s doing okay? (I know plenty of Cardinals fans who are sick of him, for what it’s worth.) The Yankees are asking Boone to do something that is very rare, and they’re asking him to do it in the game’s largest market. A bold decision, this is.
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I didn’t expect to learn much from recent rookie managers, though I did think it was interesting teams more or less met projections with their rookie skipper after underperforming with their previous manager. In that sense, replacing Girardi with Boone is a huge outlier. PECOTA pegged the Yankees as an 82-win team last year, and they wound up winning 91. No other team since 2011 has replaced a manager after that much success (aside from La Russa retiring).
Can a bad manager sink a talented roster? Absolutely. Look at Williams and the Nationals a few years ago. The players were damn near the point of mutiny in the clubhouse. Can a good manager contend with a not so talented roster? Eh, maybe. I’m of the belief managers can do more harm than good. At the end of the day, talent wins out. The players play. I think the most likely outcome this coming season is the Yankees win a lot of games because they’re talented, and Boone looks smart because of the players.