COMMENTARY | Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is one of a handful of managers that does not need to worry about his job security for 2014.
And, trust me, it is as weird for me to write it as it probably is for you to read it.
After the Braves' embarrassing 2011 late-season collapse and disappointing 2012 playoff wild-card exit, It seemed pretty clear that Gonzalez was a different breed of field manager than Bobby Cox, the team icon he was tasked with replacing. However, the wildly successful 2013 season, as well as a few subtle changes in Fredi's approach to management, has left him comfortably secure for future employment.
Here are 5 reasons why Gonzalez doesn't need to worry about the offseason hot seat:
Better bullpen management
This is kind of a tricky point because two of Atlanta's key relievers went down right at the beginning of the year with major arm injuries. Season-ending injuries to premier setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty could very well have been a delayed fallout from the 2011 season. That year, Gonzalez was heavily criticized for overusing Venters, O'Flaherty and Kimbrel. The three relievers had huge drop-offs in effectiveness down the stretch run, tangibly contributing to the team's collapse.
But, in 2013, Gonzalez has utilized his bullpen expertly. Some have even suggested that he's been too conservative as an overreaction to the 2011 debacle, but it's impossible to argue with the results. This type of noticeable improvement bodes well for his job security.
He's eased off the sac bunts
It goes beyond the excessive number of sacrifice bunts that Gonzalez called in 2011. He has taken a much more hands-off approach to in-game management. And that's the way it should be.The most frustrating part of following the Braves over the last three years was the period where Jason Heyward was getting benched for Jose Costanza. That was just textbook over-management and a belief in the type of small-ball baseball that doesn't work. Maybe just over-saturating the lineup with boom-or-bust hitters ties his hands some, but Fredi hasn't done nearly as much tinkering this year. That's the type of management style a power-heavy lineup needs.
Lineup construction in the face of so many injuries
The most remarkable storyline for the Braves this year is that they've had so much success while dealing with so many bad injuries. I already mentioned how well Fredi has deployed the bullpen after losing Venters and O'Flaherty, but there was much more than that to deal with.
Heyward had two different freak injuries that landed him on the DL, first a ruptured appendix and then a shattered jaw. Evan Gattis missed a big chunk of time with an oblique strain at the end of his incredible first half. Tim Hudson had an ankle injury that still haunts my nightmares. Utilityman Tyler Pastornickey tour his ACL.And the Braves won 97 games. There's really nowhere else to assign praise than with the players who stepped up and with Fredi who gave them a chance.
Willing to bench two high-priced flops
The enormous lead that the Braves built over the first two-thirds of the season allowed Gonzalez to have more patience than most would have expected with B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. The two highest players on the team were, by a wide margin, the two worst regular hitters. With a safe division lead, the wise move was to keep giving them chances to figure it out. But as September wrapped up, it was clear that neither player should be given regular playing time.
Upton has been relegated to a bench role for the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Uggla was left off the roster entirely. That was probably a very difficult decision for Gonzalez to make from an emotional perspective, but that he went through with it showed that he's not willing to put hurt feelings above a team's chances of winning.
Check out the standings
The argument for a manager's continuing employment almost always begins and ends with the team's performance. A total of 97 wins and a division title is more than enough to give Gonzalez a little breathing room for next year, and most likely through 2015. The season represents a tangible improvement from last season, even if the Braves get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Particularly given the preseason expectation that the Washington Nationals were the team to beat in the division, Gonzalez is in good shape.Of course, this cuts both ways. An 85-win season next year or an absence from the playoffs would mean Gonzalez would be squarely back on the hot seat, and all of the above positives would be quickly forgotten. The nature of the business is that somebody has to get fired when a team fails to perform, and the manager is usually the first to go. But, for now, Gonzalez is safe and I hope he keeps up the good work.
Patrick Richardson is a longtime follower of the Atlanta Braves who started playing t-ball right as Atlanta's record-setting run of division titles began. He is an amateur but enthusiastic sabermetrician.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Braves
- Fredi Gonzalez
- the Braves