December 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez had his option picked up by the club Wednesday for the 2014 season. Gonzalez has managed the team to a .565 winning percentage in his first two seasons.
Fredi became an easy target for Braves fans after his first season was filled with head scratching decisions. Whether it was the use of small sample sizes, construction of the batting order, the use (not to be confused with the *overuse* of Kimbrel/Venters/O’Flaherty, which I didn’t necessarily have a problem with) of the bullpen, or his love affair with Jose Constanza, he earned himself the wrap of being a poor manager. Tactically, almost all of this frustration towards him was probably well deserved.
However, I believe Fredi did a better job in 2012. There were still plenty of moves that left me cursing at the TV, but at least there were signs of improvement. One that stands out was his benching of Brian McCann in the one game playoff for David Ross. It was a tough and unexpected move considering his past, but it was correct considering the circumstances. Even if David Ross didn’t validate his decision with a home run, it was right call.
Those types of decisions can be somewhat measured. A lot of what I believe Fredi is good at can’t be, which is a reason for him being thought of they way he is. A big part of a manager’s job, like any other sport, is not just the in-game decisions making. For example, how does he interact with each player? How does he handle tough losses in the media? Can he keep control of the clubhouse and the players motivated? There are no real ways to statistically measure these contributions positively or negatively, so they are often discounted. He may tip his cap at the end of games and give the boring, politically correct answer, but he will always back and protect his players in the media.
Overall, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that Fredi is at least improving. That is not to say he is “good” by any means, but I think he is trending in the right direction. It may be selective watching and a small sample of correct moves, but I think decisions like playing Ross and bringing in Kimbrel in the eighth inning, during a high leverage situation, shows he can adapt. There were a number of times in the final months where I was pleasantly surprised with the moves he made. I won’t go back and rehash every right and wrong move, but in the aggregate, he was better in 2012. He will never be the ideal manager we all want him to be, but there are only so many Joe Maddon type managers in baseball. You won’t see many managers willing to push against “the way it’s always been done,” even if it does slightly increase the chances of winning.
At the end of the day, the amount of importance a manager has on team wins and losses is up for debate. What can be mostly agreed upon that a poor manager can hurt more than a great manager can help. When it comes down to it, the players have to play and perform in the situations given.
A couple of weeks ago there was a great article on Baseball Prospectus written by former major leaguer CJ Nitkowski. I highly recommend it as a look through a different window for those of us who like to quantify everything.
Looking forward to this season, a lot of the roles on the team seem to be fairly straightforward. Frank Wren has done a great job so far constructing the team with each player having a clear strength and purpose that should only help with the in-game decisions that are made, especially in the bullpen. He certainly will never be an ideal manager, but after two years, that’s something we should already know. I’m not excusing Gonzalez past decisions by any means, just trying to suggest that they are getting better.