I am known to dislike Fredi Gonzalez. I don’t dislike the man because I’ve never met him. I don’t dislike him as a clubhouse manager because I have never seen that in action. The only thing I can dislike him for is what I see--lineups, game decisions, quotes in the paper, etc. Unfortunately, I hate those things about him. Now, does that mean I think he’s a bad manager? No, actually. The team seems to like him okay, but then again, the team is winning and those clubhouses generally stay positive. Regardless, he manages the players well, and that’s the main part of a manager’s job. The tactical decisions, being the rest of what managers do, are significant, but considering most managers make similar decisions, the difference between one manager and another tactically probably isn’t much. If I had to make a decision to fire him or keep him, there’s at least a decent chance I’d keep him, but decisions like this make it difficult.
Originally, the idea was to platoon Jose Constanza and Jason Heyward, with Heyward playing against RHP, and while that’s still a serious folly, I could at least see some merit in it. Constanza has hit .421/.436/.579 in his 10 games in an Atlanta uniform, and considering that and my belief that players can be “locked in” for periods of time, I’ll grant that Constanza can play more. Does that ultimately mean I think he should be playing a lot or taking time away from Heyward? No. Heyward’s the superior player, and he needs to be hitting every day to gain experience. Sitting him against lefties only inhibits his development against them, but when a team is in a playoff race, you gotta do what you gotta do. Sometimes that means putting development behind winning.
That would be fine if Constanza had any sort of track record or reason to believe the talent was actually there. His .290/.364/.356 career line in the minors tells me that he’s not this good. But that’s not the big issue. While he has the “hot hand”, why not play him? It certainly sounds good. Constanza produces, and when he does, he helps the team. But when is that “hot hand” no longer hot? That no one can explain. Is it one game? Probably not because everyone has off games. Is it two? Maybe but one could argue that two rough games isn’t it either. Just remember that the more games you go out the more time Heyward sits, and remember that a hit here and there will make it seem like he’s still hot or heating back up. So how long will Constanza’s stint last? That’s tough to say if Constanza doesn’t outright collapse, which he may not immediately. He might just be worse than Heyward but with the perception of being slightly better because his hot start superficially bumped up his stats. Meanwhile, you’re sitting the superior player on the bench.
And I don’t think that’s an argument. It’s a statement of fact. Heyward is a better player than Constanza. And Prado. I don’t think anyone wants to dispute that. But let’s take this “hot hand” thing and finish it off. Constanza certainly wins there, but we all know he won’t continue this. Heyward (.217/.379/.391), however, is doing better than Prado (.294/.345/.373) over the past two weeks. Even if the “hot hand” argument made sense, Prado is the one that should be sitting. If you want to platoon, Heyward (.244/.339/.440) is better against RHP than Prado, and there’s no reason to think Constanza should be better than Heyward against lefties as Heyward was always strong against lefties in the minors and was last season as well. This situation sets up to be a perfect platoon, but Heyward has no part of being in that platoon. It should be a platoon of Constanza and Prado.
But that shouldn’t happen, either. Prado is the better player of the two regardless, though it is closer. Though Prado has his faults, he remains the third-best OF on the team, and giving Constanza the lion’s share of the ABs is a bad idea. Constanza might be a nice 4th OF option, but that’s it. Listen, the “hot hand” argument might work if we knew when people were hot and cold, but we don’t. Sometimes, hot players hit hard balls right at defenders, and sometimes, cold players hit bloops that fall in. WE DON’T KNOW WHO’S REALLY HOT AND WHEN THAT WILL END. The best thing to do is to thank Constanza for all his hard work and play Heyward and Prado anyway.
What worries me the most, however, is what this means for the organization. I really don’t care that Constanza is getting more playing time this week or last over Heyward. It won’t make that big of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Constanza will cool, Heyward will play, he’ll hit, and we won’t care anymore. But the thinking behind it gets applied in a much wider manner. Some say actions speak louder than words, but ideas put them both to shame.
When I taught students or helped classmates in history class, I would always ask them to think deeper. What does this mean? Why is this significant? Here’s what I see here. One possibility is that the Braves are hiding another Heyward injury by giving him frequent time off without DLing him, and if that’s the case, then the Braves are being stupid again by threatening Heyward’s future. But at least it would be an explanation of events. If that’s not the case, then we have more problems. One, the team values batting average too much. Heyward and Prado have nearly identical OBP, SLG, and OPS, but Prado’s BA is way higher. Prado should actually see a better batting average considering his BABiP on the season is just .276, but Heyward’s is just .243. If Heyward’s healthy, that should get better, and if he’s hitting, drawing walks, and hitting for power, he’s way better than Prado. And they’re both way better than Constanza, whose BABiP is through the roof with no secondary skills to speak of. Two, it tells me they don’t value Heyward properly, which is dangerous. He draws tons of walks, and the Braves should be encouraging that. He’s also the 2nd best defensive OF they have. Three, it continually reminds me that Fredi focuses on the wrong things. He wants speed and batting average, and while each of their virtues, other things need to be taken into context, none of which Fredi seems to do whatsoever. Four, it tells me the front office agrees. If it keeps happening, the bosses must at least believe it’s okay. Maybe they don’t want to meddle in the day-to-day affairs of the team, which is admirable, but with everything Fredi has said and done, someone should have talked to him about it by now. They need to explain it to him and have him follow through. Five, if Wren actually does understand that something is wrong, either he isn’t saying anything or he isn’t in charge enough to say anything, both of which are bad. If he isn’t saying anything, then he needs to realize that he’s the boss. If he isn’t in charge, then who is? Schuerholz? Fredi? Is Wren just the transactions man? These are questions that need to be asked.
Listen, as I said, I don’t really care in the moment that Constanza is getting playing time. It’s a nice story, and he’s producing. What I care about is the thinking behind the decisions, and that’s what gets me. Fredi seems to value certain things without really thinking about them, taking orthodoxy for truth. Listen, tradition, etc. have their virtues and their sense, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be questioned. If your claim is legitimate, then the questioning will only reprove your point. If it’s not, then your point is gone, and the world has been improved. Don’t fear questioning. Embrace it. Fredi almost seems to be making a point that what he thinks is the only thing that matters, and he doesn’t give a damn about what anyone else says. And that’s dangerous. It’s ridiculous. Wren put an excellent team on the field despite the difference in payrolls between him and many other teams, and he filled it with depth to absorb the injuries the team is faced. Fredi was charged with deploying it, and instead of doing it correctly, he taking the organization backward. Heyward and Prado are the better players from a scouting and statistical perspective, and they need to be the ones in the game.