Both Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone sat calmly during the two hours that they combined to take questions about another early playoff exit, but you had the sense that Cashman in particular wanted to stand on his chair and scream a few things:
What about the Dodgers? They lose in the playoffs every year!
What about the Rays! They use openers and everyone loves them! And they haven’t won a pennant since 2008!!
And what about the fact that we nearly beat Tampa Bay in a tight Game 5, and they’re probably going to the World Series?
The bottom line is, the Rays and Dodgers are still playing. They made more decisions this year that worked, and are enjoying the rewards of a longer season. Cashman, Boone and the rest of the Yankees’ leadership need to reflect hard about why that is. That process will begin in earnest with pro scouting meetings as soon as next week.
But we actually agree with Yankees brass that by now there has been too much scrutiny on Boone’s decision, supported by the analytics department, to use Deivi Garcia as the opener and J.A. Happ as the bulk pitcher in Game 2 of the division series.
To be clear, this isn’t a full-throated defense of the move itself. Baseball minds much sharper than the one writing this column didn’t like it to begin with, even before it blew up. Even some other managers who embrace analytics felt that it would have been a safer play to use a traditional starter for the game, whoever it was.
These were not Luddites, the people who called or texted to say, “what are the Yankees doing?” These were open-minded new schoolers who simply didn’t like this particular call.
The Yankees continue to disagree. They believe that they put Happ in a better position to succeed by using an opener, and that Happ simply didn’t execute. They concede privately, after the fact, that perhaps a reluctant Happ wasn’t the right player to put in that situation -- even if that’s an indictment on Happ’s acceptance of Boone’s salesmanship and not the data.
We could go around and around on this all day. Or all week, as the New York baseball world actually has. Our main point about the opener gambit is that it was just one branch of a larger approach that has kept the Yankees in annual contention for years.
If Cashman was wrong about that specific strategy being advisable, he was dead-on correct about a few other points he made Wednesday, which we will paraphrase:
- Other teams do it. Why can’t the Yankees?
- The Dodgers have become the gold standard MLB organization in terms of annual success and roster depth, and they’re also struggling with the postseason crapshoot.
- The Yankees didn’t have enough high-end pitching in the Rays series, and Cashman knows he needs to address that.
Operating a baseball team in New York carries many advantages. Cashman has a larger budget to work with than many competitors, and a passionate fan base.
But it also brings scrutiny that other analytical teams get to avoid -- and this has allowed the opener game to carry more weight in the season’s narrative than any single decision deserves.
Did you hate the decision and the way it seemed to turn the series? You’re not alone. But have you enjoyed more than two decades of relevant September and October baseball, with continued hopes of a championship? Then, to use a cliche, you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.