Boone’s surprising decision with Anthony Volpe pays off for Yankees

Anthony Volpe hits a home run to tie the game against the Rays at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 2023.

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Yankees manager Aaron Boone is much derided for his wrong decisions. But his surprising dropping of Anthony Volpe from his usual leadoff spot went perfectly and helped the Yankees turn the hit on their nemesis the Rays. The rookie shortstop hit a home run at Yankee Stadium to tie the game and then a single that gave his team a lead at a very expedient moment.

Boone avoids any significant modifications to his batting order even when the team is experiencing hitting issues. However, he made some changes on Friday, following a match where the Yankees had only two hits over the initial eight innings of an 8-2 loss to the Rays. Anthony Volpe was dropped down to the seventh position while second baseman Gleyber Torres took over as the leadoff hitter for the third time this season.

Boone defended his Anthony Volpe decision

Boone explained that his choice to move Anthony Volpe down in the lineup was expected, given that two regular outfielders, Harrison Bader, and Aaron Judge, had recently returned from injury. He emphasized that this decision was not solely based on Anthony Volpe’s dip in batting average, which had fallen by 20 percentage points to .199 since April 27.

“Just getting some more guys back in the mix, it’s something I considered,” Boone said. “I think the at-bat quality has remained there with Anthony. He could end up back there (at the top), or as we get more guys back he could end up at the bottom again. I like him (at the top), but it was just something I want to do.”

Anthony Volpe in Yankees dugout after hitting a grand slam against Oakland at Yankee Stadium on May 10, 2023.

At the beginning of the season, Anthony Volpe made his debut as a ninth batter and continued in that position for the first ten games and 12 of his first 14 starts. After that, he started to play mostly as a leadoff batter.

The decision paid off

In the fifth inning, Anthony Volpe hit a home run to tie the game at two, and later in the seventh inning, he hit a single off Kevin Kelly, which helped the Yankees take a 3-2 lead.

“I just want to put together good at-bats and hit the ball hard,” Anthony Volpe said. “After that, you can’t really control anything. But definitely, to contribute and help the team win was really, really good.”

Anthony Volpe vs. Gleyber Torres

Anthony Volpe had hit his first career grand slam during the Yankees’ victory over the Athletics on Wednesday. But in his last six games, he only managed to get two hits, including his grand slam, before Friday’s game.

In his first 26 games, Anthony Volpe had a batting average of .226, 16 walks, and a .703 OPS. However, in his following 13 games, he had a batting average of .151, only two walks, and a .503 OPS. It’s worth noting that 12 of these games were starts.

Anthony Volpe of the New York Yankees

“If you really go back and dive even deeper into it a little bit, over in Tampa (last weekend) he was aggressive early in the count and all three times smoked the ball to lead off the game and had nothing to show for it,” Boone said of Anthony Volpe. “He hit two balls on the screws (Thursday) night and had nothing to show for it.

Boone loves the way Anthony Volpe goes up to the plate aggressively, while still being able to control the strike zone. But he believes that this ability will become more apparent over time.

Anthony Volpe, who had been leading off for every game since April 16, was moved down to the seventh spot in the batting order. Gleyber Torres was chosen to bat first and serve as the designated hitter. Isiah Kiner-Falefa was placed in the sixth spot and played in left field, while Oswaldo Cabrera played second base and batted ninth.

Before the game, Torres had hit safely in seven consecutive games, going 10-for-30 (.333) with two homers and nine runs batted in. Although Torres is not typically thought of as a traditional leadoff hitter, he has demonstrated an ability to draw walks, having walked 19 times in the first 37 games of this season. By comparison, it took him until his 73rd game last season to accumulate 19 walks.

“Look, he’s very talented,” Boone said. “We all know that I think. We’ve seen him have incredible stretches of production. I think in his DNA is that ability and I think as he continues to gain — again, it’s still a young player — but as he’s gained a lot of experience in his career, I think he’s continuing to grow and evolve and get a little bit better. With that, I think the walk and the strikeout rate hopefully is a byproduct of that, of the walk rate going up and the strikeout rate going down a little bit. But I think it’s more just his experience and evolution as a hitter, and hopefully, that continues.”

Before Friday’s game, Torres was struck out 21 times in 157 plate appearances this season, which accounted for 13.4% of his plate appearances. Prior to this season, Torres had a career strikeout percentage of 21.9% in 2,336 plate appearances.

Boons stood for players

On Friday, Yankees manager Aaron Boone chose to not criticize his players despite Aaron Judge’s apparent criticism of the team after their 8-2 loss to the Rays the previous day.

Aaron Judge with Yankees manager Aaron Boone following his hip injury Yankees Aaron Judge is at Globe Life Field in Arlington against the Texas Rangers on April 28, 2023.

During Thursday’s game, Aaron Judge commented on some of his teammates who did not follow the game plan during their at-bats against Tampa Bay pitcher Drew Rasmussen, who allowed only two singles in seven scoreless innings. Following the game, Judge gathered with LeMahieu and Bader in the locker room and then offered to talk to the media himself to express his thoughts.

Boone said before Friday’s game that he had seen Judge’s interview after the game, and he thought that Judge was simply responding to the question about the team’s lack of success in recent games, especially against Rasmussen, who has been a challenge for the team.

“But I think it’s also just making sure that our team approach is tight. Also, within that, there are also individual approaches that have got to have that conviction and that confidence when you go up there of seeing [it] through even when you don’t necessarily get a result. So having that conviction of plan is important.”

The main point of Judge’s argument appeared to be that some unnamed Yankees failed to follow the right approach during their plate appearances.

“I think some guys had some good plans,” said Judge. “But it’s just about sticking with it as the at-bat goes on. You’ll foul off a pitch, you’ll miss a pitch, and then you’ll kind of get upset and maybe switch off it and try something different. For us, it’s just about, you got to have conviction. You’ve got to stick with your approach, stick with your plan throughout the whole at-bat.

Judge said that it would be tough to have all nine players in the lineup not sticking to the correct approach during their at-bats, and constantly switching approaches would make it even tougher.

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