May 17, 2012

Fredi Hate Has Gone Too Far

Fredi Gonzalez was criticized a lot during his first season with the Braves, some of it deserved.  I wasn’t a big fan of Fredi’s lineup machinations last season when he would hit the likes of Jordan Schafer, Nate McLouth and Alex Gonzalez at the top of the order.  I was critical of Fredi for benching Jason Heyward for a “hot-handed” Jose Constanza, who is not a a very good major league player.  I was critical of all the small ball.  The bases loaded squeeze attempt with Tommy Hanson comes to mind.

But, dare I say, the Fredi hate may have gone too far.  Some of the more reasonable criticisms of Fredi have gotten lumped in with the unreasonable.  When the Braves lose, it’s often interpreted as them being flat and seems to be associated with last season’s September collapse.  But how much of the September collapse is on Fredi?  I would say not much. 

We could probably say Fredi costs the Braves a few runs last season, which may have costs the team one or two wins and a playoff berth.  But we can also point to a number of other things, like injuries to Hanson and Jurrjens and the under-performance of the offense.  But the Braves were cruising to a playoff berth going in to September.  If Fredi’s lack of inspiration or something cause the September collapse, why did it not affect the team significantly until very late in the season? 

I strongly believe Fredi deserves criticism for any wrongheaded tactical and strategic decisions.  However, we need to recognize that those types of decisions probably do not cost a team that many runs much less wins throughout the course of a season.  This is especially true once you consider that most managers manage to wrongheaded conventions.  For instance, most managers will not use their closers unless there is a save situation, there is no chance for a save situation (tie game in the 9th or later at home) or they are running out of pitchers.  This is not just a Fredi Gonzalez problem.  This is a baseball-wide problem.  So to say Fredi managing his bullpen this way is costing the Braves is probably disingenuous, in some sense.  Since every team is managed this way, it’s not really a competitive disadvantage if Fredi does the same thing.

We should be critical of Fredi and any manager who makes the less-than-optimal move.  This is the only way the game will progress, to bring out well-reasoned criticisms of the unwise moves.  Often times those moves are going to work out, especially on the defensive side of things, because all hitters usually make outs rather than get on base.  So criticism of managers’ decisions should often be separate from results.  However, we need to be smart enough to recognize that a manager can’t control everything.  If the team looks flat, it may not be because of a manager and it may not even be flat at all.  If a team loses a bunch of games in a rather short time frame and blows a lead in a playoff race, it may having nothing to do with a lack of managerial inspiration, especially when the team is battling injury to some key pitchers. 

Last season I think there were some less-than-optimal decisions by Fredi that went beyond the typical lunacy of most managers:  The aforementioned batting terrible hitters at the top of the order, sitting Heyward too often, too much small ball, etc.  But it seems Fredi hasn’t made quite as many of these sorts of mistakes as he did in 2011.  Maybe that’s due to the front office getting to him, maybe it’s just that the offense is better so it’s harder to make bad decisions with this personnel, maybe it’s that the Braves now have basically three long-men in the bullpen.  Whatever the reason, Fredi deserves some credit for changing. 

Fredi now looks more like every other major league manager.  Sure we would prefer to see someone progressive like a Joe Maddon, that will do the unconventional because it’s the right thing to do and should lead to more wins.  We might want a Bobby Cox, who will not do the unconventional that often but will wear his spikes, constantly and loudly encourage his players and constantly and loudly go at umpires, but those highly-motivational managers are unique personalities.  The next best thing might be the conventional guy who just takes his place as the figurehead of the team, deals with the media in a low-key way, keeps the egos in the clubhouse in check and doesn’t earn a lot of attention for bad reasons.  That’s not to say I think Fredi Gonzalez is a great manager or even a good one.  But sometimes mediocre and ordinary works just fine.

 

 

13 Responses to “Fredi Hate Has Gone Too Far”

  1. 1
    BluesMan Says:

    Agree completely w/ this assessment of Fredi, I think he has a lot of potential as a skipper, he certainly has room to grow…I’d say at this point he’s between mediocre & good. Thanks for this blog I enjoyed reading it!

  2. 2
    Jim Says:

    He is still one of the worst managers in the league. Just because he has mostly gotten away with bringing Durbin into high leverage situations doesn’t make it the right move. In fact he is likely the reason they have Durbin in the first place since he clearly didn’t Gearrin.

    Fredi is a -3 to -4 win manager and rarely makes the right tactical decisions. Braves can overcome it and have so far but don’t be fooled. As soon as a game gets close, Fredi gets busy doing aggressive idiotic things on the basepaths, terrible IBBs, or horrid sac bunts. He remains one of the worst managers in the game and the Braves would be improved slightly just having a average manager.

  3. 3
    Shaun Says:

    Thanks, BluesMan.

    Jim, he may be one of the worst. But I don’t think there is much difference between “one of the worst” and every other manager. I’m pretty cynical about all managers, at least when it comes to tactics. So I don’t think we are as far apart in our opinions as it may seem.

    I think a lot of managers manage their bullpens like Fredi. I seriously doubt he’s the sole reason or even the primary reason the Braves have Durbin instead of going with Gearrin. I seriously doubt teams sign players because of the opinion of one person within the organization, unless that one person is an owner or a GM.

  4. 4
    Shaun Says:

    It’s just crazy that Fredi got criticized for giving Bourn one night off, simply because we don’t want to give him the benefit of the doubt due to other things that deserve legitimate criticism.

  5. 5
    Walker Says:

    I can’t say this enough

    Bottom Line: Fredi Gonzalez is a horrible manager. You can’t work your way around it. Soon the MLB will start to realize that hiring former players to be managers isn’t the best way to go. Especially when you see how many horrible managers there are.

    I say treat hiring a manager like hiring a GM and hire whiz kids. People who study baseball and treat it like a science. Not duh…duhhhhhhh….duuuh Fredi.

  6. 6
    Shaun Says:

    Walker @5, I can’t say I completely disagree with that sentiment. I just don’t think Fredi Gonzalez is any more horrible than most other managers. Now if more teams suddenly started hiring more progressive managers, Fredi’s shortcomings would really start to stand out and make more of a competitive difference. Until that happens, teams will continue to get by with managers who overuse the sac bunt, the intentional walk and assign too strict roles to relievers.

    I’m with you on the studying of baseball, etc. but I think there is something to a manager playing the role of psychologist, dealing with the media, scouting, teaching the game, etc. I think teams focus on these things and have been slow to come around to the progressive tactical style.

    I’m not sure exactly why that is. My guess is teams don’t want to rock the boat and create distractions by having a manager that’s going to bat the best hitter second or who won’t necessarily assign one particular reliever to the closer’s role. So they’d rather have a guy that can just take his place amongst the team and deal with the players and the media in a way that isn’t going to create a stir.

  7. 7
    Bubdylan Says:

    Shaun, I agree and disagree. I agree because, let’s face it, us internet types love to demonize. It seems impossible that by demonizing Fredi we don’t sometimes pin stuff on him that’s not his fault and withdraw credit where it’s due.

    But I also think the team is winning in spite of him, and that has us all in a more benevolent mood. He has proved that he stinks horribly and consistantly over a good long period of time now. He’s made some improvements this season, but it’s almost like congratulating a five year old for finally using the toilet. It’s a big relief that he’s made the adjustment, but it’s still pathetic.

    You’re right about few managers doing better. And I thought Joe Maddon stupidly gave away at least one out in a key situation, so even the best make the fans facepalm. In the big scheme of things, maybe they don’t do enough for better or worse to sweat it like we do. But dammit, we fans can’t hit a fastball or throw one either. We can think through the game, though, so the manager is the only member of the team we can “play along with.” And for that reason, Fredi makes the Braves experience significantly frustrating, in spite of having a fun team to watch. I say he deserves most of what he gets. He’s very, very bad at his job.

  8. 8
    Shaun Says:

    Bubdylan @7, there is no doubt we should kick, scream and yell when Fredi and other managers make boneheaded decisions.

    I just think because there are legitimate criticisms to be make that people have taken upon themselves to go above and beyond and criticism him for things that really shouldn’t be on him.

    Yes, he deserves criticism for batting McLouth, A-Gon, Schafer and Pastornicky at the top of the order; for bunting too much; for things of that sort. Criticizing him for giving Bourn a day off, for the team collapsing last season or for a perception of the team playing flat whenever they lose seems to just be criticism of Fredi because it’s “cool” to do so, instead of legitimate criticism.

    I think that’s what I was trying to get across. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it too. We should take a step back and be smarter with our criticism. There are plenty of legit things about which to criticize him (and other managers).

  9. 9
    Bubdylan Says:

    For the record, I never blamed Fredi for the collapse.

  10. 10
    Shaun Says:

    Bubdylan, most reasonable fans do not.

    But it seems to me many are jumping on the criticize Fredi bandwagon instead of offering up legit criticisms with solid analysis to back it up.

  11. 11
    Bubdylan Says:

    You make fair points.

    Hey, if the Braves keep winning so that the permanent argument becomes whether or not Fredi gets any credit, I’ll be happy enough. :)

  12. 12
    Bubdylan Says:

    Here’s a helpful round-up of our 2013 Contract Issues from mlb.com.

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2012/05/2013-contract-issues-atlanta-braves.html

    From my chair, the relevant names are:

    Free Agents:
    Bourn
    Ross

    Options:
    McCann
    Huddy

    Arbitration, 1st year:
    Heyward
    Venters
    Hanson
    Medlen

    Arby, 3rd year:
    Prado

    So, we stand to gain around 37 million from Chipper, Lowe, Bourn, Jurrjens, and Diaz departing.

    Then we’ll need _________ dollars to pay raises for the 5 arby guys. Can someone estimate that number?

    Leaving ________ dollars to fill needs at CF and 3B, plus bench and whatever little stuff (starting pitcher? lol) we need.

    This offseason will be verrry juicy. Wren’s biggest test yet.

  13. 13
    Bubdylan Says:

    Sorry, Shaun. I thought I was on the comments of the show.

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