Fredi Gonzalez: The new manager gets a surpassing grade

If Fredi can get Nate McLouth going, we'll name him valedictorian. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

If Fredi can get Nate McLouth going, we'll name him valedictorian. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Bobby Cox said this week he’d give his successor “an A-plus,” but Cox has always been given to bouts of irrational exuberance when it comes to the Braves. Still, we thank the former manager for broaching the topic, and we welcome this opportunity to cast a cold eye on Fredi Gonzalez’s job performance and award him a totally rational …

A-minus.

The new man has been really good. The numbers are one powerful indication — the Braves awoke Friday with the fourth-best record and the best ERA in baseball — but the numbers don’t tell the entire tale. To say everything has broken right for Fredi’s club would be to ignore a run of injuries that sent the starting outfield to the disabled list and the ongoing flailings of Dan Uggla, whose batting average hasn’t topped .200 since May 16.

Uggla didn’t arrive as just another in a series of Frank Wren’s impulse buys: He was a calculated acquisition who figured to become the linchpin of this batting order. (Certainly Wren believed as much, re-upping Uggla for $62 million over five years and making him the highest-paid second baseman in the history of the sport.) Uggla’s struggles might have scuttled an entire team, but the Braves under Gonzalez have been buoyant.

It’s not as if the manager hasn’t done his managerial bit to help Uggla, with whom Gonzalez worked when both were Florida Marlins. He has moved him in the batting order, given him days off, taken pains to praise his hustle and work ethic. On Wednesday, after Uggla hit a two-run homer against Toronto, Gonzalez played the realist: “I tell him, ‘April and May are gone.’ ” Meaning: Look instead to the future, the only thing subject to change.

Cox was legendary for finding the tiniest sliver of sunshine on a dark day, and Gonzalez isn’t much different. He hasn’t agonized — at least not for public consumption — over his team’s lack of offense, insisting that the hits will come. Besides, just because you can’t hit doesn’t mean you can’t win. “Some people thought I was crazy for saying I’d rather have it this way,” Gonzalez said, “but you can’t be losing games 11-10.”

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Which brings us, inevitably, to pitching, and every manager rises or falls on his ability to handle a staff. Gonzalez has proved an expert handler, trusting his stellar starters while carving specific niches for his many splendid relievers. (Let the record also reflect that the manager was without his pitching coach for two weeks, Roger McDowell having been suspended for insensitive remarks.)

If there are quibbles, it’s that Gonzalez hasn’t tried a bit harder to kick-start the offense. (Though he did insert Jordan Schafer into the leadoff spot upon his promotion, and that has made a spot of difference.) And he does seem determined to work Jonny Venters (first among big-league pitchers in appearances) and Craig Kimbrel (tied for second) into every single game.

But you know what? When you don’t score much, you play close games. When you play close games, you need your best arms at the end. The Braves have the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors by some distance. Who wouldn’t use those guys?

Best of all, Gonzalez hasn’t worried about doing as Bobby did. That the men are temperamentally similar made for a (John Schuerholz’s word here) seamless transition, but it’s not as Gonzalez went out of his way to emulate No. 6. The new guy is a bit more involved on the field before games — he circulates among players as they stretch, and he throws batting practice and hits grounders — but nothing seems forced. Fredi’s doing in Atlanta as he did with the Marlins.

And it’s working. He has his team, which is hitting .239 (the big-league average is .252), within sight of Philadelphia, which has spent nearly twice as much for its players as have the Braves. So why the A-minus? Why not a straight A?

Old managerial trick: We want to give the new guy reason to work even harder the second semester.

By Mark Bradley

230 comments Add your comment

GTT

June 24th, 2011
10:38 am

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2011
10:39 am

Lowcountry Bulldawg

June 24th, 2011
10:40 am

I read the article…..1st?

Delbert D.

June 24th, 2011
10:40 am

Nice article, Mark.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

June 24th, 2011
10:40 am

and it was very well typed mind you,lol. Spot on MB!

George Stein

June 24th, 2011
10:41 am

He’s a complete idiot. This team is winning in spite of him, not because of him.

OldSchoolBraves

June 24th, 2011
10:41 am

I like the grading system…and the grade. Fredi is going to keep the ship afloat.

Bill

June 24th, 2011
10:42 am

Mark when Liberty Media can sell this team do you see them doing so?

GTT

June 24th, 2011
10:42 am

Fredi was a great choice.

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2011
10:44 am

According to esteemed colleague Tim Tucker, Liberty Media can sell the Braves after this season.

Jeremy

June 24th, 2011
10:45 am

I am very curious to see how things are handled when Prado comes back. Do we start seeing spot starts at 2B with McLouth in LF if Uggla can’t hit? Maybe a left/right platoon situation with McClouth and Uggla. I know you ideally don’t want to bound Prado all over the place in the field, but that .239 needs to go up. This also assumes that Schaffer continues to be serviceable.

Innocent Bystander

June 24th, 2011
10:45 am

Sorry, Mark. Gotta disagree with you here.

Fredi has oftentimes used one (or more) of the three heads of the O’Ventbrel monster in low leverage situations. Four run lead with three outs to go? Time to call on Venters! I honestly couldn’t even tell you who else is in the ‘pen besides them and Proctor, since they never get used.

He hit Wilkin Ramirez fifth, ahead of Gonzo and Freeman. He’s made it a nasty habit to hit Danny or Gonzo in the 2 hole, which displays his incompetence of what the 2 hole is all about (OBP). He throws his guys under the bus too much during post-game interviews, always calling on how this guy struck out four times, or that guy failed to lay down a sac bunt.

If he gets an A- for his first half performance, his mismanagement (particularly of the bullpen) will come back to haunt him in September, and you’ll be giving him a C-. And even that may be too generous.

Benjamin

June 24th, 2011
10:45 am

Maybe Liberty will sell to Mark Cuban! :)

Mark Bradley

June 24th, 2011
10:46 am

Linebrink has worked in 34 games. Just saying.

George Stein

June 24th, 2011
10:48 am

Gonzalez in the two spot is an abomination, Bystander.

All I'm Saying Is....

June 24th, 2011
10:49 am

Great post, Bradley, and not just because I agree with you. This piece is timely, topical, well written, thoughtful and clearly supported with facts and evidence.

LET’S GO BRAVES!

Marteen is a Ballplayer

June 24th, 2011
10:50 am

Mark:

I was excited by the Fredi hire, but have had misgivings since then. I certainly applaud our record and there are many things I will “tip my cap” too; however, there are some things that just stand out and are very concerning.

Unfortunately, the games run together, so I hope you can fill in the gaps and know which situations I am referring to. The first, and most noteworthy, was the non-third called strike that had McCann and the pitcher walking off the field. If I remember, we had a reliever brought in early who had the game of his life going and even got his first hit and doubled in the go-ahead run. Fredi chirped from the dugout while McCann nearly got thrown out of the game. Turns out the next pitch turned into a two-run hit. Bobby would have been thrown out of that game. We would not have received the third strike on that batter, but later on Freeman got called with a third strike that sure looked like a ball with the bases loaded. Maybe we would have gotten that call if Fredi had been a bit more vocal…this is just the worst of a number of examples of Fredi not standing up for his players.

I also recall Eric Hinske at third, one-run down, and Hanson at the plate with 2-strikes. He calls a suicide squeeze that results in a strikeout/tag out double play. We had Prado on deck with only one out. Who does this? It is not just that it was a bad call…it is that it is a call than I could never see any other major league manager make.

Lastly, he left a pitcher in with a four-run lead that he didn’t pull until two walks, three hits, and five-runs later. Who does this. I understand that some calls make you look like a genius or a goat, but there are simply too many calls that never should be made even if they end up working out one specific time.

Other than that, love the heart and guts of this team. Looking forward to a great 2nd half. Go Bravos!

elroy

June 24th, 2011
10:51 am

The AJC gets a Big Fat F. AJC columnists suck!

Shaun

June 24th, 2011
10:52 am

Bullpen management, over-utilizing the sac bunt, hitting Schafer leadoff, hitting Alex Gonzalez second, refusing to hit Heyward higher than sixth for 2 1/2 weeks…Are there many worse in-game managers than Fredi?

VinnyD

June 24th, 2011
10:53 am

Linebrink is 20th in the majors in appearances. Venters 1st, Kimbrel 2, Eric, 7th. That means there are 3 guys in the pen that either need to be trusted more or replaced with better players.

Shaun

June 24th, 2011
10:56 am

“Though he did insert Jordan Schafer into the leadoff spot upon his promotion, and that has made a spot of difference.”

Jordan Schafer has a .310 on-base this season in the majors. His on-base against minor league pitching in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively: .263, .268 and .309.

Really? Inserting Schafer into the leadoff spot counts as a good decision?

Michael "Crocodile Tears" Gearon

June 24th, 2011
10:58 am

C’mon, Fredi, just resign. All the cool kids (in the NL East) are doing it!

Fredi G is alright

June 24th, 2011
10:59 am

Mark,

I’m glad you brought up the bullpen issue. That is my only gripe, and a good reason to bump him down to A minus. Overall he has been fairly solid.

George Stein

June 24th, 2011
10:59 am

You underestimate Jim Tracy, Shaun.

You’re about to set off a bunch of fools who think bunting is a winning strategy.

Scott

June 24th, 2011
11:00 am

“Expert handler” with pitchers????

we have the best 8th and 9th inning relievers in baseball and they’re both young, yet Fredi seems intent on pitching them until their arms fall off. WHY were they EACH in a 5-1 game this week? Why did Fredi hit Heyward 6th for 3 weeks? why does he continuously over-utilize the sac bunt?

i had high hopes for Fredi, but we are winning in spite of him, not because of him.

Innocent Bystander

June 24th, 2011
11:00 am

Linebrink has worked in 34 games. Just saying.MB

Linebrink, owner of a 3.80 ERA, has worked in 34 games (30.1 innings) with an avg Leverage Index of 1.0. Sherrill, owner of a 2.33 ERA, has worked in 28 games (19.1 innings), with an avg LI of 0.9. Platoon splits aside, one of them is clearly better than the other, yet has worked 2/3 as much.

Herschel Talker

June 24th, 2011
11:00 am

MB:

I agree with George Stein at 10:41. We are winning despite Fredi’s idiocy. Fredi is just as big an idiot as his foolish predecessor. Fredi tips his hat to opponents to darn much, and he basically has no clue. How about leaving Asencio out there to get pummelled a bunch of weeks back when it was obvious he had nothing that day? Or using Venters every day. He has no clue how to manage the pitchers, just like Bobby the Bozo.

You are speaking way too early. When Fredi’s boneheadedness screws us, you will have to issue yet another apology for jinxing things.

HT

Shaun

June 24th, 2011
11:02 am

Oh, yeah. I can think of at least one road game, tied in the 9th or later, and he refused to use Kimbrel simply because he’s designated as the team’s “closer.”

In Fredi’s defense, he’s not the only manager who refused to use his closer in such games. A lot of managers would rather hold back their closer for save situations than put their closers in when their teams can least afford to give up a run.

Marteen is a Ballplayer

June 24th, 2011
11:09 am

HT, yes, I was referring to Acencio in my post…just couldn’t recall his name. By the way, I actually saw a heartfelt post on Brian McCann from you. Nice to see instead of Richt bashing :)

Hankie Aron

June 24th, 2011
11:12 am

HT- Have you ever said anything positive on here about anyone?

Herschel Talker

June 24th, 2011
11:14 am

Marteen is a Ballplayer:

Missed your post on Asencio, good call.

I call it like it is. McCann is the man, gotta give the man a lot of props. Richt, on the other hand, may actually be more foolish than Bobby or Fredi. Nice guy, but he has driven UGA into a ditch.

HT

Hankie Aron

June 24th, 2011
11:14 am

Again, you have the coolest handle on here brother but you would gripe if Fredi and the Braves won the World Series because there is no room for improvement.

Hankie Aron

June 24th, 2011
11:15 am

Can only go down from a World Series not up.

timthebrave

June 24th, 2011
11:15 am

Fredi needs to stand up for his players more before he gets an A in my book. I would give him B-

Herschel Talker

June 24th, 2011
11:17 am

Hankie Aron:

Actually, as noted by another blogger, I gave props to McCann, who is a stud.

The problem is that there are few people to say anything positive about when it comes to Atlanta sports. I bet you can’t name 10. We have pretty much nothing but clowns and losers.

HT

Joey

June 24th, 2011
11:20 am

Fredi, please don’t wear out Venters. He’s the best pitcher on the team.

Hankie Aron

June 24th, 2011
11:21 am

No offense but I think the negativity says more about you than anyone in the Atlanta sports arena.

Bailiff took George Steins Phone

June 24th, 2011
11:23 am

Fredi’s ok with me. Maybe a bit more vocal ala Bobby. George isn’t there a DUI somewhere for you to defend get back to work.

IlliniBrave

June 24th, 2011
11:23 am

Seeing how veteran leaders like Chipper, McCann, Gonzalez, Lowe, Linebrink, etc. respond toward Fredi weighs heavily in my judgment of him as a good manager.

Joey

June 24th, 2011
11:23 am

Mark – if Uggla was putting up the average of his career numbers, the Braves would be the team with the 4 game lead, and Fredi would be a genius.

Double Zero Eight

June 24th, 2011
11:24 am

Fredi’s Grade thus far is a B minus.

George Stein

June 24th, 2011
11:26 am

You offer no reasons why you think Fredi’s performance is any good, bailiff.

In the meantime, I will continue walking and chewing gum.

tmc

June 24th, 2011
11:27 am

I feel that Fredi is finding his way with this team.
In the beginning, i thought FG was using the same lineup and people in the same situations to establish “consistency” and loyalty with his players. no matter the results.
of late, i see FG making adjustments in the batting order, moving players up and down, even using Venters as a closer (like he said in spring training).

I don’t agree w/ every move he makes or doesn’t make, but i do see Fredi adjusting. And that is more than i can say about Bobby Cox, and he infuriated me.

So i say to those ripping Fredi, no manager will please everyone ALL the time. But if he establishes a consistency and loyalty, but is willing to adjust based on trends… that’s really all you can ask for and hope the players respond.

Keep up the good work Fredi! and i hope the return of Martin Prado and eventually Peter Moylan propel this team to the post season.

Skeezix

June 24th, 2011
11:28 am

Mark: We don’t see it on the field or in the dugout–but it takes solid leadership to keep a team focused and positive what with all the injuries and hitting struggles. He has been very good with the pitching staff. I like his recent advice to Uggla. I would like to see him get into umps more when they really screw up.
We must evaluate him on actual results and they are very impressive given this team’s obstacles to date.
I’m okay with an A-.

ED

June 24th, 2011
11:28 am

If I had read the articles author, I would not have bothered to read it. Bradley writes such childish jibberish.

bob

June 24th, 2011
11:33 am

Fredi hasn’t pitched an inning, but he did select the hitting coach.

Hankie Aron

June 24th, 2011
11:36 am

1) Brian McCann- Stud C, even MB admits is at worst the 2nd best catcher in baseball
2) Chipper Jones- sure fire HOF 3rd baseman
3) Johnny Venters- best ERA in the bigs, a wicked 95mph sinker, not a fastball
4) Matt Ryan- Young stud QB already top 10 QB in the league
5) Arthur Blank- great owner who has helped turn the Falcons into winners instead of Anthony Wieners
6) Mike Smith- Great coach who has 3 winning seasons in a row and has the Falcons on the cusp of something great
7) Thomas Dimitroff- Shrewd, Savvy GM of the Scott Pioli (Patriots) ilk
8) Tim Hudson- Solid veteran SP who does just as much good off the field in the community as he does on the field
9) Roddy White- Top 5 WR in the NFL, i believe led the NFL in receptions last year
10) Jair Jurrgens and Tommy Hanson- Solid young SP who at times dominate games. Jurrgens has lowest ERA of any starting pitcher. Hanson strikes out 14 with soreness in his shoulder and both will command a huge contract when arbitration is over
11) Julio Teheran, Arodys Viscaino, Randall Delgado- No better tandem of young arms for any team out there. Theyr’e future is bright son

Accountabilabuddy

June 24th, 2011
11:38 am

Ht is a fat redneck who hates all coaches. Period.

Hankie Aron

June 24th, 2011
11:40 am

Those 10 enough for you HT?

Hankie Aron

June 24th, 2011
11:42 am

There isn’t any pleasing the guy. If the Dawgs won the BCS National Champ next season he would that Richt was too much of a showoff as his team carries him off the field on their shoulders and kisses the Crystal Ball