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Close Call: Why the Yankees have fared better in one run games in 2018

The 2017 season was an awesome year for the Yankees and their fans, filled with unforgettable clutch hits and big games. However, one area where the team really struggled was in one run games.

In 2017, The Yankees were just 18-26 in one run games, which was particularly frustrating given their +198 run differential. On paper, the Yankees overachieved, winning 91 games with a young roster that wasn’t expected to seriously contend. However, their run differential indicates a Pythagorean record of 100-62, meaning that they actually underachieved record wise based on the amount of runs they scored and surrendered.

The 2018 season is about 25 percent complete, and the Yankees have fared well in one run games this season, as they are currently 8-3 in such contests as of May 22. Part of this is simply a regression to the mean, as a team with this much talent was bound to start winning more close games eventually.

Maybe it’s still early and their record in one run games will even back out. Or maybe, the answer lies in the manager’s office at Yankee Stadium.

I was never a fan of Joe Girardi. I thought he was uptight, rigid and not able to adjust on the fly the way that guys like Joe Maddon and Terry Francona could. I legitimately believe that anyone off the street could have won the World Series with the 2009 roster, and in 10 years that World Series was the only one Girardi got to, never mind won.

Obviously the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman agreed with me somewhat. Hal Steinbrenner stated that he would have given Girardi the axe even if the Yankees had won the World Series, which is a crazy statement if you think about it. Girardi was so uptight and rigid, and had worn everyone out so much, that no matter what happened in the playoffs, he was gone.

Aaron Boone is everything that Joe Girardi is not. He’s relaxed in the dugout and with the media. He walks and talks like a ball player instead of a dad. Upon his hiring, one anonymous scout was quoted as saying “Boone is the rare manager that still has the swagger of a player, and you can’t fake it.” Even though that’s not a quantifiable statement, anyone who has watched Boone speak or manage knows exactly what that means.

Everyone knows the stories of Boone growing up in clubhouses across America, how his grandfather, dad and brother were all pro ball players. His upbringing, combined with his laid back demeanor and quiet confidence, made him the ideal fit to help the Yankees in close games.

If Girardi and Boone were both high school students, Girardi would be the president of the National Honor Society, and Boone would be the Varsity quarterback with the cheerleader girlfriend. This isn’t a knock on anyone’s interest or personality, it’s just that for a room full of young athletes wearing gold chains and blasting rap music in the clubhouse, Boone is a more natural fit.

I want to be clear — I don’t think Boone is making any magical late game decisions, and I don’t think Girardi was poor at preparing the team to be ready to play every day. But at any level of the workforce, a team or unit generally takes cues on demeanor and attitude from their leader.

I for one have noticed much more bat flips, smiles, and general happiness from the team this season compared to last. Baseball is an extremely tense and pressure filled game, and having a leader who exhibits a calm confidence can do wonders for a team when they are battling in close games.

Based on the early returns, it looks like it already has.