May 20, 2016

The New Braves Way

After a couple of weeks of rumors, the Braves finally fired Fredi Gonzalez (and bench coach Carlos Tosca) on Tuesday after a 9-28 start to the 2016 season.  Brian Snitker comes up from managing Triple-A Gwinnett to manage the big club.  Terry Pendleton moves from firstbase coach to bench coach.  Eddie Perez moves from bullpen coach to firstbase coach.

The Braves get off to a bad start, therefore manager gets canned.  Many read the bad start as the cause of the Fredi Gonzalez firing.  But I think people looking at it this way (as Fredi being the scapegoat for the 2016 struggles) are misreading the situation.  I believe that Fredi Gonzalez was a Bobby Cox/John Schuerholz guy.  Bobby Cox more or less hand-picked Fredi Gonzalez to take over for him when he stepped down after the 2010 season.

I don’t think John Coppolella was ever a Fredi guy.  (I don’t think Frank Wren was a Fredi guy either, but that’s neither here nor there now that Wren’s gone.)   Cox and Schuerholz knew at some point they were going to have to let go of their influence on the organization; the current GM is in his 30’s with few ties to the 1991-2005 run taking charge and a complete rebuild is underway.  Out of respect for Cox and Schuerholz, I think Coppolella decided to give Fredi longer than he would have otherwise, if left to his own devices.

This is about 2016 only in that Fredi hasn’t done anything special to convince Coppolella that he should keep Fredi on.  The only way Fredi would have kept his job is if the Braves came out, played over their heads and it was apparent that Fredi was really firing up the troops and making outstanding tactical decisions.  But Fredi is more of a good guy than a great baseball tactician or great evaluator of talent (like Bobby Cox).

With the historically bad start (albeit while playing a very tough schedule), it became easier for Coppolella and his side to convince Cox and Schuerholz (or whomever) that it’s time to move on from Fredi.  With John Hart leading the transition from Schuerholz/Cox to Coppolella (with the Wren hiccup in the middle), The Old Braves Way makes way for The New Braves Way.  This is a positive sign.  The organization is keeping up with changing times.  Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz seem to be getting out of the way, and John Coppolella is firmly taking the reins.  The new manager will be a Coppolella guy and not a Cox/Schuerholz guy.

Fredi seemed to try hard to be an information-junkie type manager, in the mold of what Coppolella probably wants (a guy who knows how to evaluate players, knows scouting, and is comfortable in the realm of sabermetric concepts).  I just think he was more of a nice guy, players’ manager type.  In post-game interviews, Fredi talked a lot about game situations and worked hard to put a positive spin on things.  In Brian Snitker’s first post-game interview, he talked like an evaluator.  He talked about Mallex Smith’s “upside” and talked about Aaron Blair’s need to locate his fastball to be successful.  This is simple, obvious stuff but also refreshing.  I’m not sure Snitker is a great tactical manager but you have to like that the new manager of a rebuilding team spoke the language of a player evaluator as much as he spoke about game-situation stuff.  It seems he’s going to try to read players and their tools and skills and win games with players rather than trying to read situations and win games with his own decision making.  Maybe he won’t win a lot of games but what I posit is Snitker’s way is probably a better way to develop big league players.

You got the sense that Fredi wanted to be liked and wanted his players to be successful (nothing wrong with either) more than he wanted to implement information into his decisions to put players in the right situations and to make the team better.  Baseball management is in an information age and is moving out of the age of a manager solely having to worry about doing conventional things so that players like their manager and/or play hard for him.  The role of manager is now as much a liaison between the front office and the players as much as it is a leader-of-men type position.  With Coppolella as GM, the Braves will likely look to this model of a manager.



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