Are Braves affected by transition from Cox to Gonzalez?

Maybe we should've expected a transition period from Bobby Cox to Fredi Gonzalez. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Could the Braves' erratic start have anything to do with an adjustment period from Bobby Cox to Fredi Gonzalez as manager? (Jason Getz/AJC)

After 51 games, or nearly one-third of the way through the season, the Braves have been something less than predictable.

They have winning records against Philadelphia and San Francisco. But they are a combined 4-8 against Washington, Arizona and Los Angeles. They have pitched and defended impressively (No. 2 in the majors in ERA at 2.97, No. 3 in fielding percentage at .988). But they have struggled at the plate, hitting .242 (24th overall) with 377 strikeouts (fifth most), when offense wasn’t expected to be a problem.

Words like flow and rhythm don’t come to mind.

Let’s assume the Braves are still as good as most believed coming into this season. It’s possible that this is nothing more than common early season hiccups, and at some point there will be a market correction.

But could it be that the transition in managers, from Bobby Cox to Fredi Gonzalez, actually is causing a little bit of an adjustment period?

I realize this isn’t football. It’s not like Gonzalez is burning the old playbook and switching from the wishbone to the run-and-shoot. He’s certainly not unfamiliar with most of the players, or they with him. Gonzalez coached here. He coached for Cox. But considering Cox had managed the previous 21 seasons in Atlanta, it’s not a stretch to think there’s some kind of impact when a player looks down at the end of the bench and sees Gonzalez instead of the old Buddha sitting there.

General manager Frank Wren agrees, but only to an extent. He acknowledges everybody is going through an adjustment, but he doesn’t believe it has affected the Braves’ offense or overall play.

Dan Uggla hasn't helped the cause, hitting .180 (.128 with runners in scoring position).

Dan Uggla hasn't helped the cause by hitting .180, including .128 with runners in scoring position.

“I think the transition is more with us thinking in terms of, ‘What’s the next move [by Gonzalez]?’” Wren said. “We watched Bobby manage for so long, we knew what the next move was going to be.

“Obviously, our team hasn’t really found a rhythm yet, but I really like the way Fredi has managed the team. A lot of people are uncomfortable with change. Bobby was masterful at running a game, but that doesn’t mean things Fredi is doing are wrong. There are just different ways of doing things.”

When asked about his comment that some people are “uncomfortable with change” and whether that has affected the players, Wren said, “I don’t think so. I really don’t think it’s impacted the players as much as it has people like us. Fredi’s a really good communicator so I don’t think anybody is real surprised by anything he’s done.

“Hitters hit. The fact is, if hitters were functioning and playing at the levels we expected, the manager wouldn’t have a lot to do. Fredi has had to create some situations for hitters because we haven’t scored runs like we expected. The manager is more involved when the team is struggling than when it’s rolling.”

The Braves are 17th in the majors in runs scored. They’ve scored three or fewer runs in 25 of 51 games, two or less in 17. Their on-base percentage of .308  ranks 25th in the majors. They’re also last in stolen bases (eight). That’s a little surprising given the expectation that Gonzalez would have players run more, but as Wren said, “You can have a more wide open offense when you have a two- or three-run lead. We’re fighting for a run to get a lead. You don’t want to lose base runners.”

Then again, if Dan Uggla wasn’t hitting .180 — and .128 with runners in scoring position — all of this analysis might not be necessary.

Wren conceded that Uggla is feeling pressure. “It’s an extraordinary change in your life when you sign a big contract, sign with the hometown team or the team where you wanted to go play,” he said. “There are additional pressures  on the guy. But it’ll run its course and he’ll be fine.”

So, probably, will the Braves. But to this point, they’ve been a team out of sync.

By Jeff Schultz

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155 comments Add your comment

William

May 26th, 2011
3:33 pm

JWOOD

May 26th, 2011
3:37 pm

Tick Tock Tick Tock

Kevin

May 26th, 2011
3:38 pm

DawginLex

May 26th, 2011
3:42 pm

Uggla is our newest version of that cubs catcher that used to wear us out then we signed him and PHHTTTT! nothing.

Not Freddi’s fault. This team has no speed. Power comes from limited places. Pitching is great.

not much different than any of the 14 division winners. difference is the Phillies are better than they have ever been.

speed is what we need

May 26th, 2011
3:47 pm

This is no different than it was under Cox. Sit back and wait for the home run. Don’t manufacture runs.

speed is what we need

May 26th, 2011
3:48 pm

Hah, DawginLex…I think we’re on the same page!

Michael Gearon, Jr.

May 26th, 2011
3:53 pm

Nope, the transition hasn’t gotten in the way of their not winning a title ever again.

Ed Peskowitz

May 26th, 2011
4:01 pm

Hey Michael,

Can I borrow $20? Rutherford won’t pay me back and I’m a little short on cash.

Skeezix

May 26th, 2011
4:01 pm

Not easy coming in behind a Master like Bobby Cox. Bobby never missed anything and was like a Chess Master the way he managed a game. That’s why I call him the Master. But any time there is a change in leadership people will go though an adjustment period. I don’t think Fredi has anything to do with the lack of offense. The main thing is letting the players know he has their backs, demanding excellence and creating an environment of mutual respect –these are things Bobby always did.

Now let’s go beat the Reds.

All I'm Saying Is....

May 26th, 2011
4:07 pm

Not sure I would call this one of your better pieces of work, Jeff. Reads as if you are trying to find a way to blame Fredi for the Braves performance. Totally off base in my view, my friend.

But if you are stuck on this why don’t you do like everyone was doing last year and blame Terry Pendleton? Oh, wait, he’s not the hitting coach anymore. Hey, there is your answer: Blame the new hitting coach! Why hasn’t that been done thus far in 2011?

And, by the way, until Schaeffer was promoted, the Braves were right where they have been since they let Furcal walk years ago in terms of lacking base running speed and without a true lead-off batter. Without both, Braves are completely unable to manufacture runs i.e. play small ball which is what teams do when their bats are not popping. Besides Uggla not even coming close to hitting his weight, that’s the real challenge for this team.

All that typed, we can still win a wild card spot which, in my opinion, is all this team as constructed has ever been capable of doing. We still lack talent and power in the outfield especially centerfield compared to other teams and Heyward being hurt has really hurt. Plus Freeman is still getting going though I like the recent signs.

LET’S GO BRAVES!

What??

May 26th, 2011
4:07 pm

DawginLex – Phillies are better than they have ever been? Really? There core players are getting old and are much more injury prone. Rollins is not nearly the player he was a few years ago. There starting pitching is better than it has ever been, but I don’t think that you can say that for the team as a whole.

As far as the Braves, how many years have we seen the Braves tread water for the first part of the season and then go on a tear after the all-star game? My prediction is that this club plays basically 500 ball most of the year relying heavily on pitching with very consistent offense. We will have a stretch of 20 – 25 games where the offense is actually productive and will win 15 – 20 of those games and that will basically be what puts us in the playoffs. As frustrated as I am watching Uggla right now while his problems seem painfully obvious (can’t cover the outside corner, swinging too much and too hard), he has too large a body of work to write him off as a hitter.

What??

May 26th, 2011
4:09 pm

should be “…very inconsistent offense”

Loosing managar = loosing record

May 26th, 2011
4:10 pm

I warned everone that hiring this looser was a misteak. He had a loosing record in Fla and the Braves hired him. The guy is worst then Bobby Cox.

will

May 26th, 2011
4:10 pm

Some of this is almost comical, I mean have the braves not been a mediocre offensive team year after year uunder cox. This is the same old light hitting offense we have seen for years and a new manager has nothing to do w that.

Loosing managar = loosing record

May 26th, 2011
4:11 pm

@ will

At least when Bobby Cox left he had a wining record. They chump they got now had a loosing record when he was hired.

Nuff said!

Fred Finklestein

May 26th, 2011
4:14 pm

DUI/racing charges against Lowe dropped? Just like that? The police case just crumbled that quick? Huh? #@%?!! WTF?

Was the cop incompetent?….or is this just another example of a justice system that treats you differently when you can buy a high priced lawyer and/or you’re a starting pitcher for the home team?

Marteen is a Ball Player

May 26th, 2011
4:15 pm

I respectfully disagree Lex. I am a huge Braves fan and usually catch at least 130 games a year between the ballpark, radio, and television. Generally when I post I get the hater remarks, but this could not be futher from the truth. I am obviously disappointed with Ugglas and Heyward’s injuries are alarming, but we have a lot of heart and grit on this team. With that being said, I take huge issue with Fredi. If I thought about it, i could come up with a lot of issues that I have with Fredi. Not issues such as should he or shouldn’t he have made a call, but issue with decisions he makes that I don’t see any of the other 29 managers in baseball making. A few that come to mind:

1. Suicide squeeze with Hinske on 3rd and Hanson at the plate with 2 strikes and one out. You have Prado in the waiting deck, slow speed at 3rd, and two strikes on the pitcher in what I believe was a one-run game. Take your chances on a fluke hit by Hanson or just accept that you have a 30% chance of Prado putting the ball in play. Turned out to be a strikeout and then tag-out double play.

2. Can’t recall the pitchers name now, but we had a four-run lead and Fredi left him in the game after giving up a couple of walks and a wild pitch. Led to a five runs and Fredit waiting until a two-out single/double before pulling him. We came back and rallied, but never should have been in that scenario. Again, it is a bit fuzzy.

3. Against St. Louis, we had McClouth on 1st and he elects to pinch-hit with Mather. He elects to bunt. First, you don’t need Mather to bunt…burn a pitcher who does it for a living. Mather struck-out fouling. Even then, we have some of our only speed on 1st in a one-run game. Fredi refuses to send him. Double play.

4. And finally, the game where the umpire ruined the best game of one of our relievers lives. Our reliever (gawd, my memory is failing), comes in early after Beachy goes out, gets a 2-run double and pitches lights out. We end up apparently striking out the batter so much so that McCann is walking off the field. No dice and the batter gives up the tying run. McCann is infuriated. The call was terrible. In fact, the umpire was a spot starter and his calls were bad all night. Fredi does nothing. Bobby would have insured McCann did not get thrown out (McCann fortunately didn’t) by coming out and arguing. Wouldn’t have changed that call, but it may have been Ball 4 to Fredi Freeman in a failed rally later on a pitch that was worse than the one called for the Phillies earlier in the game. He never argues calls. Umpires will walk all over him when there is a threatening opposign manager and his players will never respect him.

I’m done venting. Thanks!

Bryan G.

May 26th, 2011
4:18 pm

I think he needs to call for more sac bunts. We only sac bunt like 17 times a game

JC Boscan III

May 26th, 2011
4:25 pm

Wow – it’s a good thing that correct spelling is not required to be a baseball fan! If Uggla and Heyward were hitting as expected, the Braves would be in first place, probably with a nice lead. It would be nice to see better “small ball” since the offense is so inconsistent….. Someone should tell Uggla and Alex Gonzales that a curve ball that bounces a foot outside is likely to be called a “ball” by the ump if only they could resist flailing at it….!:) GO BRAVES…!!!

DawginLex

May 26th, 2011
4:28 pm

i understand the thoughts about the Phils for this year but generally over the past 3 years, the phils are and were better than any time during the 14 year run we had

GTT

May 26th, 2011
4:30 pm

Now would be the time to offer McCann to the Giants for Tim Lincecum.

I kid.

jhughes

May 26th, 2011
4:32 pm

you have a good team when your 5 games over 500 and your out of sync hitting ever comes around we may give the phillies a fight

Michael Gearon, Jr.

May 26th, 2011
4:33 pm

Hey, Ed, SHOVE IT!!! And hands off my whiskey, you red-nosed oaf!

AZBravoFan

May 26th, 2011
4:34 pm

wow, everybody take a deep breath. Last I checked the Bravos are only 3 1/2 out of first! Only so much Fredi can do when the guys aren’t hitting. If you’re looking for something positive to latch onto, check out Carl Crawford’s start this year and look what he’s been doing this week. The numbers will correct themselves.

Zing

May 26th, 2011
4:39 pm

Underperforming–massively underperforming–offense. That’s it. There’s nothing else to it. Non one expected Uggla to bat sub-.200 and Heyward to be barely any better (and hurt). It’s really amazing that the Braves have pitched and fielded as well as they have; we expected them to have strong pitching and decent defense, but the Braves have overperformed in both categories, especially on defense. Which is good, because otherwise, we’re looking at a sub-.500 team.

I don’t think this has anything to do with a Cox to Gonzalez transition at all–actually, I kind of think the improved defense might have a little to do with Gonzalez, if only because he runs fielding drills before every game, which I think is smart.

Marteen is a Ball Player

May 26th, 2011
4:42 pm

I am happy that the Braves are so close and I agree that the hitting will come around. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate into Fredi becoming a better game-time manager. A team of All-Stars may win 110 games with no manager whatsoever. Being close or even being in first does not excuse poor play calling or not sticking up for your players. Fredi has cost us a few games already. If we make the playoffs, those calls may not be so easy to overcome as is the case with a 160 game season. Fredi may cost us the Division, but we may get the Wild Card. I’m just saying.

Brock

May 26th, 2011
4:43 pm

Marteen- I too am frustrated a little with our new manager but I have to disagree on some of your points.

#1- a suicide squeeze will work with your grandmother running at third. It’s the execution not the speed. the runner is halfway or more down the line. If the bunt is made, it works.

#2-didn’t see that game so can’t comment

#3- I agree Mather shouldn’t have been bunting, however, bringing in one of our pitchers to do it at that time would have been bad. They were bunting for sh#t and couldn’t get a smell. Even Timmy was pathetic and he is suppose to be one of the best.

4# I was so pi$$ed at Fredi I could have thrown the dog out the window. Bobby always took up for his players and to see Fredi just sit there…well, let’s just say my neighbors think I’m a nut job after some of the words that came out of my mouth.

Overall I think Fredi has been ok, B- if you will. However, he has done his best to mix the lineup up to try and produce runs. He can only do so much in that dept.

Hitters gotta step up.

I’m willing to give him til the end of the year. Same with Uggla. He’s killing me but I’m still rooting for the guy.

Thank god for pitching and defense huh?

Andrew

May 26th, 2011
4:43 pm

From ESPN’s Matthew Berry:

12. Only one player in baseball has a lower BABIP (batting average on balls in play) than Dan Uggla’s .194.

13. Dan Uggla ’s career BABIP is .306.

It’s a fluky start, there’s nothing else to say. I know that we all live in a “win today or you obviously stink” era, but maybe, just maybe, at a time that we haven’t played great baseball but are still only 3.5 games out, a little patience is in order??

Come on guys

May 26th, 2011
4:44 pm

What’s with Chipper taking so many called 3rd strikes? Quit guessing with 2 strikes and react. And I am with Marteen about Freddi, sometimes you wonder “what was he thinking”?

Ben

May 26th, 2011
4:45 pm

Uggla and Freeman are black holes in this lineup right now. No getting around it.

Also, we are the worst base running team in MLB.

Thank God for our pitching staff.

Marteen is a Ball Player

May 26th, 2011
4:51 pm

Hey Brock…I like the feedback but on the suicide squeeze, it is the tying run, the pitcher has two strikes. It is an all or nothing play (ergo, the suicide squeeze). I agree with you on the speed…hadn’t thought about that, but in the end, we have Prado waiting to bat. If Tommy gets thrown a ball or misses the bunt, it is a double play. So much could go wrong on that call at that time. Just seemed irresponsible with one out, Prado waiting to bat, and the tying run at third

Disappointed in Fredi

May 26th, 2011
4:54 pm

Marteen and Brock,
I agree that Fredi does not have the fire that Bobby has when it comes to arguing and protecting the players. So many games I’ve seen changes for Fredi to come out and argue, but instead he sits in the dugout with this “OMG” expression on his face. If he does come out to argue, he doesn’t make a strong enough argument to get thrown out. He has to show some fire before he can expect his players to.

Second, all of the wasted bunts are getting boring. What happened to all the extra focus on fundamentals during Spring Training? They can’t even get bunts down now. Here’s a though, if we can’t bunt, might as well give the runner a chance to steal, especially with Schafer in the lineup now.

I still think it’s too early to panic, but I want to see some fire from Fredi. I even remember one game, in AZ I think, where our SP was out by the 3rd inning. Fredi’s post game remark was “we had no business winning that game anyway”. What kind of manager says that??

Largo

May 26th, 2011
4:57 pm

I didn’t realize how much I liked Cox (until Fredi showed up) for the way he tried to protect his players. Actually the whole atmosphere has changed with Fredi in charge. If he wasn’t such a weenie.

chief pitchanono

May 26th, 2011
4:59 pm

Nah, I don’t think this is really about Freddi or Bobby, pretty sure Bobby would love to have this problem right now. He believes in his players and has the patience of jobe, so getting Uggla & Heyward through this rough patch would be no prob. Freddi and the rest of us have to do the same – just wait it out.
Good to hear some comments from Wren, and I have to agree with him. Baseball is a long season Uggla & Heyward will get it turned around and the Braves are gonna win allot of games. From everything I’ve seen so far these two guys are our only question marks. The rest of the team is solid. Thats why we have a decent record at this point despite very little contributions from those two. I think in the end the phills are gonna regret not burying us when we were down. When they do get rolling this team is gonna be real tough. Go Braves!!

What??

May 26th, 2011
5:00 pm

Ben – Freeman actually hit really well during the road trip – one of the few bright spots. The hit-and-run that he executed was incredible on a ball in the dirt.

Jommy

May 26th, 2011
5:01 pm

No, they need to get rid of Lowe. The drunk pays money to get off and if I were manager, he’d be suspended for the rest of the year. The guy is a worthless drunk and a mediocre pitcher who is severely overpaid.

mountain_jim

May 26th, 2011
5:09 pm

I agree that Freddi needs to argue and protect his players more. Personally I would have raised hell over not getting that 3rd run on the fan interference in Pitt.

My question is what the hey is the hitting coach doing about Uggla? Not a dang thing it appears, and even the crew calling the game sees and points out what is wrong with his plate coverage and stance location.

Eric

May 26th, 2011
5:12 pm

It’s not Fredi’s fault our lineup is terrible. Prado’s doing what was expected and is solid. McCann’s been solid, but this lineup has no speed or plate discipline. We don’t hit behind runners to move them along. Instead we hit the ball in the air. We don’t take an extra base or steal bases. Our “best” hitter is 39 and really should be hitting 7th and not be in the heart of the order. If we got a speedster to lead off and had Prado bat 2nd with Chipper, Heyward (when healthy), Uggla, McCann, and Freeman we’d be much better off.

reckingball

May 26th, 2011
5:15 pm

There is not a whole lot of difference between Bobby and Fredi, for the most part. Fredi likes to bunt more than Bobby did, and Fredi makes as many mistakes as Bobby used to make(just some different kinds of mistakes).
But there is one major difference between them, as cited by Marteen @4:15pm in paragraph 4.
Fredi does not appear to have his player’s backs.
The incident Marteen refers to that happened, was against the Phillies, with Victorino batting(I am pretty sure, but I could be mistaken). Bobby would have been on that umpire like white on rice after that very bad call, McCann never would of had to say anything to that rookie ump.
The incident in Pittsburg with the fan interference would have resulted in Cox being ejected(I would bet the farm on it).
But Fredi G. never got off of his behind in the McCann incident, and only went out and shook his head like a bobble-head doll in Pittsburg.
Bobby never won an argument with an umpire(as far as I know), but he sure as heck let them know he was there, and that they had made a bad call.
The umps will walk all over the Braves, as long as the manager doesn’t open his mouth.

reckingball

May 26th, 2011
5:22 pm

mountain jim 5:09 ……….I think Uggla might need a head doctor as bad as a hitting coach, right now. No joke.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

May 26th, 2011
5:23 pm

True JS- but the majority of strikeouts are from Freeman, Heyward & Freakin Uggla. Some of these guys actually have more Ks than hits….don’t think it’s Freddi G’s fault..more or less the players and the new hitting coach.

reckingball

May 26th, 2011
5:26 pm

Freeman’s a rookie and he is getting better at the plate. His defense has stopped a lot of runs being scored against the Braves.

Jeff Schultz

May 26th, 2011
5:29 pm

All I’m saying is … Not blaming Fredi at all. If I wanted to blame Fredi, I would have. You should know that about me by now.

Dennis Reynolds

May 26th, 2011
5:30 pm

Hey Wren,
I pretty sure I could hit .180. Will you give me $60 million too?

Bob

May 26th, 2011
5:33 pm

In my opinion, Fredi will be just fine. It’ll take a few years to completely change the Cox culture in the minors and the Braves. You’ll begin to see this taking place next season…more speed, successful bunts, and patience at the plate. Of course, our pitching will only get better. Right Jeff?

Stinger2

May 26th, 2011
5:34 pm

Jommy: What facts do you have to show that Lowe is a “worthless drunk”?

Dennis Reynolds

May 26th, 2011
5:36 pm

Uh Oh….an off night in Atlanta. Hopefully our players stay in tonight while they get hammered.

Ace of Hearts

May 26th, 2011
5:40 pm

Last the record at this point was 29-22 and now it is 28-23 not much difference.

reckingball

May 26th, 2011
5:41 pm

Jommy, glad that you are not the manager.

shadowfax419

May 26th, 2011
5:43 pm

@ marteen 4:15 You are absolutely right. Just the other night, the fan interference cost us a run and Chipper an rbi. Fredi came out of the dugout (shock of shocks) and just stood there waiting for the replay decision by the umps. After the call (which was unbelievable in itself) Fredi just appeared to say “OK guess you guys got it right.” He then walked back to the dugout and sat down. In my heart of hearts, I believe Bobby Cox would have been thrown out for giving the umps what for and the team would be fired up, knowing their manager has their backs. I hope Fredi grows a set and realized that his teams respect has to be earned.