Braves changed little but got better. Will Falcons follow suit?

"Sorry, Bill, but I've got a new managerial guru. Guy named Wren." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Sorry, Bill, but I've got a new managerial guru. Guy named Wren." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They were seen in some local circles as Dumb and Dumber. The Braves went 9-18 in September, wasting an 8 1/2-game and losing the wild card in the 13th inning of the 162nd game. The Falcons went 10-6 but beat almost nobody of consequence and managed no offensive points in a 24-2 playoff loss to the 9-7 New York Giants.

The Braves’ response: Stay the course.

The Falcons’ response: Stay the course.

The response from large segments of their respective constituencies: Dissatisfaction, disbelief, disgust.

And yet … the Braves awoke Wednesday percentage points out of first place in the National League East, and the Falcons are set to open rookie camp this weekend with a spring in their collective step. Neither made an abundance of offseason noise, but both look to have improved themselves via tweaking. (Tweaking, as opposed to panicking.) The methodology involved:

1. Don’t overreact to one awful month or one wretched game. It’s human nature to be upset by failure. It’s good management to step back and analyze the failure. The Braves wilted in September because two starting pitchers got hurt and the offense was a non-starter all season. The Falcons couldn’t beat the big boys because their line couldn’t generate a push and because their offensive schemes were designed to bend but not break anything.

2. In the wake of systemic failure, find a new systems chief. The Braves fired one person — hitting coach Larry Parrish. The Falcons fired one person — offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. (Though the belief here is that they would have sacked offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey had Jacksonville not hired him.) Braves general manager Frank Wren took much heat for his stated belief that his lineup was good enough to hit, but under the tutelage of Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher it has. The Braves entered Wednesday’s game second in the National League in batting average and runs scored, fourth in on-base percentage. (OK, so they got shut out by the Cubs. Stuff happens.)

3. Trade at leisure, not in haste. The Braves’ only significant move from October through the final days of spring training was to dump Derek Lowe and some (but not all) of his salary on Cleveland. The Falcons’ only significant moves before the week of the NFL draft involved retaining their own free agents. Then GM Thomas Dimitroff landed cornerback Asante Samuel of Philadelphia, who came far cheaper than the free agent pass rusher Mario Williams would have.

"Like I always say: Sometimes you just need a new offensive coordinator." (AJC file photo)

"Sometimes you just need a new offensive coordinator." (AJC file photo)

4. Movement for the sake of movement can be counterproductive. The Red Sox and Braves will be forever paired as Choke Champs after September 2011, but only one team changed GMs and changed managers. Today that team occupies last place in the five-team American League East.  Did it make sense to replace Terry Francona, twice a World Series champion, with Bobby Valentine, who has never presided over a first-place finish in North America? No, but a frothing Red Sox Nation demanded change! (Sometimes having to cater to less hysterical fans/media can be a blessing.)

5. Trust your players. There’s a reason you drafted/acquired them. There’s a reason they’ve won games for you. To give up on the 22-year-old Jason Heyward after one awful season would have been the height of folly. To cast aside Matt Ryan for not winning a playoff game would have been the single dumbest move in the history of a franchise that has made more than its share. Peyton Manning was likewise 0-3 in his first three playoff starts. He was 9-5 over the next 14.

6. In a business where fortunes change overnight, stability isn’t an outdated concept. The Phillies, who’ve won five consecutive division titles, have been without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley all season, and Cliff Lee has been on the disabled list and there are questions about Roy Halladay’s lost velocity. The Braves aren’t a lock to win the East — Washington has looked good, and Miami is steadying — but the end of Philadelphia’s reign is close at hand. The New Orleans Saints, who under Sean Payton are 10-2 against Atlanta, have seen Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma suspended for the season and GM Mickey Loomis for half the season. Somebody else is going to win the NFC South. Who’s better positioned than the Falcons?

This isn’t to suggest that Wren and Dimitroff haven’t made mistakes. (They have, and they’ll make more.) This is to note that each GM faced a clear choice — do I rip it up and start again, or do I continue to believe in what we’re doing? — and each reached a separate similar conclusion. As of Wednesday morning, only one team in baseball had won more games than Wren’s, which would seem a partial validation. It should also serve as an affirmation to the Falcons: Sometimes you don’t have to change much to get better.

By Mark Bradley

99 comments Add your comment

todd grantham

May 9th, 2012
12:12 pm

maybe, maybe not Mark.

RecentWreck

May 9th, 2012
12:12 pm

We can only hope, MB…

FirstyThirsty

May 9th, 2012
12:13 pm

First.. time to put J-Hey at WR and Chipper at LB.

todd grantham

May 9th, 2012
12:13 pm

The Braves have my confidence again. Falcons yet to earn such.

todd grantham

May 9th, 2012
12:14 pm

except for Ozzie Newsome, has a GM ever looked like a player?

RecentWreck

May 9th, 2012
12:20 pm

Grantham, I assume you’re talking football or I’d point you to the likes of Billy Beane

Lee

May 9th, 2012
12:25 pm

Take these same 6 criteria and apply them to the Hawks:
1. Multiple blowouts in the playoffs- more than just 1 random occurrence
2. Hawks have already done this, and the end results have been about the same, though there have been improvements in certain areas
3. Kirk Hinrich for essentially 2 first round picks…. really?
4. Movement for the sake of movement can be counterproductive- and so can a complete lack of movement
5. The “Core” has been trusted far too long
6. Stability has meant no movement, and as a result the franchise has become stagnant, from on the court to the fan base

While the Braves and Falcons have taken the right actions to date by sticking with the plan, the Hawks have been sticking to the same plan for far too long already. Blow em up and start over. New GM, New Coach, and New Owners

Lost on Exit 7

May 9th, 2012
12:27 pm

Wait, I thought Billy Beane looked like Brad Pitt.

RecentWreck

May 9th, 2012
12:29 pm

So Mark, I hate to pronounce a patient dead on the table while there’s still a pulse (faint as it may be), but what are your thoughts on the Hawks off-season? Is the stay basically pat with addition by subtraction and slight management (since we can’t elect ownership) change enough for ATL’s 3rd perennial playoff team with a glass ceiling enough?

Vet.

May 9th, 2012
12:29 pm

Only time will tell…

I like Billy Beane.

Josh Smildress

May 9th, 2012
12:33 pm

Meanwhile, the Hawks have been following this method of standing pat for years…..

I dropped my fried twinkie

May 9th, 2012
12:34 pm

Baseball is different than Football when it comes to making BIG changes. I think Football teams need to make a Big Move or 2 in the Off season to get better but that isn’t as necessary in baseball IMO.

I hope the Falcons will be better but it will be hard to get much better. Fans are expecting to go to the playoffs now. We have to WIN in the playoffs now and I don’t see that we made any real big improvement towards that goal.

coach13

May 9th, 2012
12:43 pm

THe BRaves had the best bullpen in all of baseball, the fact that they were tired from being overused is not their fault. The Falcons don’t have the best of anything, even in their own division. The injuries to their starting pitching on top of that killed them late. To me there is alot more to be excited about with the BRaves.

Top to bottom they SHOULD be the best lineup in baseball. Their bullpen will eventually return to their dominance as the season progresses and the starting pitching while young is still pretty darn good.

What exactly is their to be excited about with the Falcons???? You can sign the best 4 corners in all of football and won’t mean anything if you can’t rush the passer. You can sign the top 3 RBs in the league for a 3 headed monster and it won’t mean jack without an OL.

Blue Fender

May 9th, 2012
12:51 pm

We could be like the Redskins or Yankees and try and buy a championship by overpaying for players (well, it may have worked for the Yankees). It’ll feel so much better to win with players we’ve seen develop.

Oh who am I kidding? I just want to win. LET’S BREAK THE BANK AND GET SOMEBODY! (kidding)

Stank Wren

May 9th, 2012
12:53 pm

Good article but the possibility that Matt Ryan turns into Peyton Manning and starts dominating playoff games after an 0-3 start is a little bit of a strech

Three Jack

May 9th, 2012
12:56 pm

Differences between Braves and Falcons:
1. Good Braves players had off years and the team did not make the playoffs. Good Falcons players had maybe their best year statistically speaking (Ryan, Turner, White, Gonzalez, et al), yet lost in the first round again. How long can Turner, White and Gonzo keep having big seasons?
2. The Braves play a fairly consistent schedule year-to-year. The Falcons have an extremely tough schedule in 2012 vs. the very weak opponents that let them struggle to get to 10-6 last season.
3. Braves stood pat because they are relatively young. Falcons stand pat with older players in key positions…big difference!
Lastly, how can you possibly compare Matt ‘Melting Ice’ Ryan with Hall of Famer Peyton Manning? Come on Mark, I’m sure there are other QBs who started 0-3 in the playoffs and never amounted to anything which would be a much better comparsion with Ryan.

Stank Wren

May 9th, 2012
12:56 pm

Though we disagree sometimes, MB you are far and away the best sportswriter the A J C has. Keep up the good work

Caleb

May 9th, 2012
1:00 pm

Great article Mark! I like the Falcon’s “process.” Although they have not won big in the playoffs yet, they are very competitive annually and should be for a long time granted Dimitroff and Smitty remain in charge.

Falkor

May 9th, 2012
1:03 pm

Good article MB.

It still baffles me a bit that no one ever mentions the way Peyton Manning started his playoff career. 0-3 in the playoffs in his first 4 seasons, and the third loss was 44-0 against the Jets.

I remember it was all about his inability to win the big games, and after 2 SuperBowl appearances, several League MVP’s and a Hall of Fame career, I’d say that argument was forgotten fast after he broke through winning in the playoffs.

Matt Ryan is NOT Peyton Manning, but the circumstances are very similar…

I dropped my fried twinkie

May 9th, 2012
1:03 pm

When will we get an article about GaState going the big boy league and starting to have players arrested?

coach

May 9th, 2012
1:10 pm

the hawks need to be ripped up and started again.

DePort

May 9th, 2012
1:14 pm

Finally an article to support what I have been saying on here for months!

Steve

May 9th, 2012
1:26 pm

CBSsportsline online came out with their power rankings and has the Falcons 7th. Seems a little high to me.

bfred

May 9th, 2012
1:32 pm

@todd grantham – Matt Millen. Oh, wait – bad example.

todd grantham

May 9th, 2012
1:49 pm

GM Dimitroff looks like he’s trying to decide whether to dine at ruth’s chris or morton’s.

Dr. Warren

May 9th, 2012
1:50 pm

Solid writing, MB. And seems you’ve been reading Learned Optimism, of late. A positive and realistic take on these two franchises.

todd grantham

May 9th, 2012
1:50 pm

Mark, everytime i get kudos an angel gets his wings.

Sonny Clusters

May 9th, 2012
2:04 pm

“Movement for the sake of movement can be counterproductive.” Then, again, in the case of Michael Bourn, a movement before going back on the field may make the difference in how you are going to play. In that case, we say go on.

Sonny Clusters

May 9th, 2012
2:07 pm

We think it is verrry interrresting that there is a deer doing a commercial on the Braves broadcasts and that the deer is outsmarting the hunter. What’s up with that? Can’t we let the man retire with a little shred of dignity? The only thing worse would be if the deer had a ballplayer tattooed on him somewhere.

Sonny Clusters

May 9th, 2012
2:09 pm

And another thing . . . did a deer do the engineering on this meebo thing that’s on the blog now? The way the page jumps around you’d think the ajc used the low bidder on this website. We remember when the paper cost a dime and you could put it on the table and read it and it just sat there with no movement at all. Uh oh, there goes that movement talk again. We are sorry but Mark started it.

Sonny Clusters

May 9th, 2012
2:11 pm

Three posts in a row could be called clustering. We are going to go do something else for awhile until this blog picks up some steam.

GT

May 9th, 2012
2:11 pm

The hitting coach is the wake up call for the Braves. I think the Braves have had the most consistent front office and management, for two decades, of anyone in baseball. This is the best I have seen them as a team hit in a long time.

The Falcons are much newer at good front office and management. The jury is still out. Even so this is the best stretch of four years this franchise has ever endured. I think they are getting there and will be very interested in this new offensive coach they have hired.

Lou Brock

May 9th, 2012
2:17 pm

Braves > Falcons

Tgr

May 9th, 2012
2:35 pm

Same bs every year with Bradley. One month into a 6 month season and you start the pom pom waving. You’d think you’d learn after the past two seasons. I guess some people are born idiots.

just sayin'

May 9th, 2012
2:38 pm

to answer your question, NO…the braves have multiple players who can be relied upon to ‘lead’…the current atlanta qb doesn’t have the necessary attributes to consistently lead his team…when he fails, who else is there to lead the team to a win?..based on their playoff history, no one….

Judge Smails

May 9th, 2012
2:41 pm

Though I rarely agree with Sonny Clusters, the Meebo thing is very annoying!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 9th, 2012
2:43 pm

CHOKE will always be the Falcants achilles heel :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 9th, 2012
2:51 pm

After watching the Hawks fight for a playoff win it made me ask this question…..

Since 2004, when was the last time the Falcants showed any heart in the playoffs?

Therefore I really am wondering what is the value of 72 million dollars to CHOKE. Why doesn’t he admit his failures and work on them. Look at his physique – does it look like a person that has dedicated themselves to the weight room?

Absolutely not. He is content with taking Blank’s money without any regret :)

Die Hard Falcon

May 9th, 2012
2:59 pm

Good article Mark.

A few observations in some of the comments I’ve been reading. First, I think the Falcons do have the best WR corps in the NFC South, I think we have the 2nd best QB, I think we have the best CB’s and best coaching staff IMO.

Secondly, the comparison to Peyton Manning is fair statistically, Matt Ryan is considered by myself and most “experts” that I see on TV, to be a top 10 QB, does that make it the gospel truth, no, but I don’t see why there’s so much baseless hatred towards him either.

Go Falcons!

Boo Brees

May 9th, 2012
3:02 pm

Ah yes, good ole 2004. The last time the “Great One” won a playoff game.

I can’t believe you remember that. It was so long ago :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 9th, 2012
3:13 pm

@Die Hard Falcon

Where is the link to that top 10 ranking?

A top 10 qb does not get BLANKED in the playoffs.

A top 10 qb does not go 0-3 in the playoffs.

If CHOKE is top 10 then Joe Flacco and his 5 playoff wins surely is top 5 based on your logics :)

CHOKE is not even top 15.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 9th, 2012
3:16 pm

Boo Brees

May 9th, 2012
3:02 pm

Ah yes, good ole 2004. The last time the “Great One” won a playoff game.

I can’t believe you remember that. It was so long ago

_________________________________________________

Also the LAST time the Falcants won a playoff game……….

Even more EMBARRASSING :)

George Stein

May 9th, 2012
3:18 pm

To give up on the 22-year-old Jason Heyward after one awful season would have been the height of folly.

Heyward, when considering his fielding and baserunning, was league average last year.

George Stein

May 9th, 2012
3:19 pm

A top 10 qb does not go 0-3 in the playoffs.

So Peyton Manning isn’t a top 10 quarterback?

Boo Brees

May 9th, 2012
3:20 pm

Actually, I think it’s hilarious the last time your hero won a playoff game was for the team you hate most :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 9th, 2012
3:20 pm

5 years in the NFL is an eternity for a franchise. That is how long Dimitroff/Smitty/CHOKE has been together and surely during that time there should be at least one playoff win.

5 years of failure.

It will take another qb to either get drafted or brought in via free agency before this town sees another playoff win :)

Back to 2007 is a lot closer than winning a Superbowl in this town.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 9th, 2012
3:23 pm

Boo Brees

May 9th, 2012
3:20 pm

Actually, I think it’s hilarious the last time your hero won a playoff game was for the team you hate most

_______________________________________________

Flacco…..5 playoff wins………30 million.

CHOKE …..Zero playoff wins……72 million.

Top 10 HA HA HA :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 9th, 2012
3:25 pm

George Stein

May 9th, 2012
3:19 pm

A top 10 qb does not go 0-3 in the playoffs.

So Peyton Manning isn’t a top 10 quarterback?

___________________________________________

Still waiting on the second coming of Peyton Manning……ha ha.

More like Ryan Leaf :)

Boo Brees

May 9th, 2012
3:30 pm

CONVICK….. 0 playoff wins last 8 years…… two 100 million contracts.

Not much return on the investment although the 2 contracts were pretty pimp on his part I’ll admit :)

AGTFan

May 9th, 2012
3:43 pm

Mark, you are correct. I think the Falcons are going to be better this year without making the huge splash, just as the Braves are better without making the huge splash. Of course, reading the comments here confirms a long held believe. A lot of Braves fans and a lot of Falcons fans are total idiots. Yes, “Choke” the joke, I’m referring to you. There are others who are complete idiots, but you definitely win the booby prize.