Matt Blake is back, once a gamble he has become vital to the Yankees

New York Yankees' Aaron Boone, Matt Blake, Gerrit Cole and catcher Gary Sanchez at Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, in 2020.

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Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager, didn’t renew Joe Giradi’s contract in 2017 and, instead, brought Aaron Boone, who had no managerial experience then, as the new manager. He repeated the same feat in 2019 when the Yankees hired Matt Blake, who had no pitching experience and would have to work hard to earn the respect of the players, as the pitching coach after firing veteran Larry Rothschild.

When Gerrit Cole met Matt Blake for the first time, he didn’t waste time, he asked him, “So, how many times have you pitched on the mound professionally?” And Matt Blake nodded in negative. However, Cole’s question showed the pressure on the new coach.

But since then Matt Blake has excelled much like Boone to earn the confidence and respect of the Yankees. He has come a long way since Cashman took a chance by hiring a 35-year-old minor-league pitching coordinator with a very unimpressive resume to replace fired long-time pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

Cashman laughed as he told that story Thursday at a news conference at Yankee Stadium to celebrate signing left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon to a six-year, $162-million contract. Matt Blake signed a new three-year deal with the Yankees, which is the other news of the day about the team.

Matt Blake went to high school in Concord, New Hampshire, at Concord High School. He was good at three sports – golf, basketball, and baseball. Blake went to college at the College of the Holy Cross and played baseball for the Crusaders all four years while passing out with a degree in psychology and a degree in philosophy from Holy Cross.

Matt Blake started coaching baseball in 2009 as the pitching coach for Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. His first job in baseball was as an assistant scout for the New York Yankees in 2010. During the 2015 season, he was the pitching coach for the Yarmouth–Dennis Red Sox. In 2015, he started working for the Cleveland Indians as a lower-level pitching coordinator. In 2016, he was made assistant director of pitching development there.

Matt Blake had worked as a scout for the Yankees in the early 2010s. In 2015, he became a high school baseball coach, and in 2016, he became a minor-league pitching instructor for the Cleveland Guardians. Over the next four seasons, he became known as an analytics whiz, and after the 2019 season, he was promoted to director of player development.

That’s when Cashman brought Matt Blake in for an interview to be a pitching coach. It was a very unexpected hire that has paid off.

“One of the things I can tell you from my perspective that resonated in his interview was that part of coaching is connecting with your players and I felt like his personality was set up in a way that the connection would be easy,” Cashman said. “That aspect was important. Then the focus is more on the content, what content he had. Despite maybe not having the on field in-game experience, the content that he was bringing with his personality traits would serve him well and allow him to be able to get that fire hose up and let all that information flow to our starters.

On November 7, 2019, the Yankees hired him as their pitching coach. In his first season with the Yankees, Matt Blake helped the team get a 4.35 ERA, the highest for the team since 2007. However, in the last two seasons, it was in the top five in the American League, at 3.74 in 2021 and 3.28 in 2022. Along the way, Matt Blake earned the respect of his pitchers, including Cole, who soon after that meeting in California signed a $324-million deal with the Yankees.

Boone admires Matt Blake’s contribution

Matt Blake also won Aaron Boone over quickly. According to the manager:

“We loved all the information and content he brought to the table. Then it’s how are you going to act when you get into the fire, especially here? It’s been a lot of fun to watch him deal with it. There are going to be days when bad things happen to him, but he doesn’t let them get to him. He doesn’t let his feelings get in the way very often, which helps him handle the hard work of the grind. He does a great job with that.”

“I think where he’s really grown is in his ability to command the room when he’s presenting content or talking about strengths and weaknesses with the staff or individuals. He has grown a lot in that role, and I think he has been everything we hoped for when we hired him.”

But at the time, when the Yankees hired Matt Blake, it was a big risk. About it Cashman explained:

“I’ve been around for a long time. This game gives me the chance to meet a lot of talented people. That helped me a lot, because I think a less-experienced general manager wouldn’t take a chance like this. But I thought the reward was worth taking the risk. I thought that the numbers he brought to the table would be an important part of the pitching puzzle as a whole. I thought he would help us, so I put my money on it, and now I just have to hope it pays off.

“I feel like he hit the ground running and validated us from the start. That doesn’t mean that there’s not adjustments, growing pains, new experiences. But whatever has been thrown his way and whatever those new experiences were there, he’s been so even keeled and levelheaded. If it was adversity he was dealing with or if it was overwhelming joy because we were on a high run or whatever it is, he was the same either way. And that’s important for our players to see how our staff is reacting to the highs and the lows of the game and the challenges that come from the daily grind.”

All of this speaks enough of why the Yankees wanted to keep their pitching coach position the same through 2023 and beyond. However, Matt Blake did consider his options before settling on a new deal two weeks ago, which wasn’t made public until Thursday.

“When your contract ends, it’s natural to start thinking about what else is out there,” Matt Blake said. “But I really liked the first three years, and I think I, the group, and the organization all grew a lot. It seems like we still have a lot to do, but we’ve made good progress in terms of our processes and getting buy-in from the players. I’m also getting more experience and learning what works and what doesn’t at this level, so I can keep trimming the fat around our process.”

What do you think about Matt Blake’s strong performance? Leave your comment below.

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