People misunderstand my hatred of Fredi Gonzalez. Overall, I don’t hate the man, and while I do think there are and could be better managers, I’m not sure I would even fire him. Thinking about the manager in totality, their job priorities go clubhouse management and (massive gap) strategy. I will remind you that filling out the roster really doesn’t come into play at all for managers, though they do get some input, so while the Braves have handled injuries quite well, that has more to do with Wren maintaining pitching depth, keeping Prado around to fill in where necessary, trading scraps for Bourn, and having some voodoo magic to keep David Ross and Eric Hinske as important bench players. None of that has to do with Fredi, so stop giving him credit for the Braves’ record.
But what can we give him credit for? As I said, maintaining the clubhouse is Fredi’s, and any manager’s, top priority and most important duty, but it is, unfortunately, the one thing we have zero access to. We don’t know what happens in the clubhouse, what Fredi does to maintain it, and whether or not it has any efficacy. We just don’t, and neither does DOB or Bowman. All the good stuff happens behind closed doors and away from curious eyes. But let’s try to piece a few things together. The fact that we haven’t heard anything from the clubhouse is probably a good sign, but is the happy clubhouse because of Fredi or the winning record?
Winning teams rarely have problems, but it’s also irresponsible to hold it against Fredi that he has a good team to manage. The one exception might be Chipper calling out Jason, but I’d argue it wasn’t a big deal and may be a point in Fredi’s favor. Chipper obviously just says things now and has given up keeping his mouth shut, but he’s the team leader and more harm than good might be done by telling him to shut up. And Heyward still likes Chipper. Parents scold children all the time, but it doesn’t mean the children now hate the parents. Heyward and Chipper have obviously worked things out, if there was something to work out, and Chipper’s been feeding Heyward batting tips. He could have gone to McCann, but he went to Chipper. Problem over.
The next biggest issue is this thing with Heyward and his playing time. We’ll talk about strategy in a minute, but let’s focus on the clubhouse right now. In no way has Heyward moaned and groaned about what has happened. Sure, that might be a point in Heyward’s favor, but that he showed no surprise or anger tells me Fredi sat him down and explained the situation. Communication is key, and I applaud Fredi if this is common practice. That no one else has said anything is another point in Fredi’s favor. It could be that everyone was just on board, but it also tells me that the players are behind his decisions, which is crucial for a manager who must have players obey him. Overall, if I were to say managing is 80% clubhouse and 20% strategy (I have no idea if that’s close to the truth, but I’m trying to be conservative), Fredi already has an 80/100 from me.
Now comes the strategy part and where Fredi and I part ways. Right off the bat, I’ll give Fredi a few points of credit for generally yanking starters on time, but that’s about it. His lineup construction has seen Jordan Schafer and Alex Gonzalez high in the order for significant periods. He pigeonholes his best relievers into the 8th and 9th innings. He bunts early in the game, restricting the potential for multiple runs when no one has any idea what number of runs will win the game. He refuses to pinch-hit with his best right-handed bench bat Ross, and he refuses to pinch-hit for Alex Gonzalez in critical situations. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Fredi’s a poor tactical manager.
But so are most managers, and I think it’s part of the process. These managers were brought along in the game during a time when speed was your lead-off man, middle infielders hit second, and closers were becoming the cool thing to have. Most managers are simply going to make similar decisions because it was taught that way to them, and that’s hard to break. But it’s also why Fredi’s a poor tactician. He understands the behind-the-scenes macho culture of baseball and has baseball cred, and that’s why he does well in the clubhouse. But his inability or refusal to actually think for himself is troubling. His responses to strategy questions are known before he gives them because they are so stereotypical. And they’ve been proven wrong by people curious enough to look. But the difference between Fredi and most other managers is the difference between trying to sweep dirt off a carpet with a normal broom and a Swiffer. Both are ineffective, but the Swiffer might get a little more.
To give Fredi his final grade, I’ll give him 4 points out of 20 for strategy. Overall that’s an 84/100, but a few people might give him a couple extra points in the strategy department. In any case, Fredi earns a B/B- for his overall managing prowess, which is about what I would have expected. A B/B- is fine and certainly enough to let him continue on, but it’s certainly nothing special.
Now about that Manager of the Year Award, it’s the hardest award to award correctly. As I’ve already said, the most important thing they do is also the most opaque to our eyes. There are also tons of myths surrounding the award. For one, managers get credit when the team vastly outperforms projections even though projections are not certain and the improvement probably has nothing to do with the manager and more to do with the general manager (I find it funny that a lot of people know who the manager of a team is but not the general manager, when the general manager is probably the most important man in the organization). For another, the manager gets credit when he deals with injuries or hardship, even though the virtue is probably (again) the general manager’s and not the manager’s. Picking the right one is extremely difficult, but I don't think Fredi's your man. It’s not that I don’t want to give Fredi credit. I’m fully willing to give him credit where it’s due. But I won’t give it to him because I’m told to or because baseball tradition tells me to. I expect him to make moves that are beneficial to this club, and when he does not, I will point it out.