Boy, those Fredi Gonzalez-about-to-be-fired rumors are screaming these days. It is sometimes hard to remember that he is, in fact, still the man in the dugout. For how long, who knows. The Braves are gearing up for a move to a new stadium in 2017 and are trying to develop prospects into bona fide major leaguers. This season was never about the wins and losses. However, there is still a product on the field, and that product is bad. Someone has to be axed. Fredi Gonzalez is number one on that list.
My first thought was, "Why? Does it matter? They'll be bad anyway." To some degree, that's true. The Braves' new manager, in all likelihood, will not be a miracle worker sent by the baseball gods to send central Georgia into a summer frenzy. There are two points to be made here on why this decision is likely to happen now, though.
First, Bud Black is a manager on the market; he is seen as the leading candidate for the job. Black did not lead the Padres into a golden era of competition (only two winning seasons from 2007-2014, partial 2015 season), but he is a capable manager who is well-regarded. The Braves could do a lot worse, and they probably want to get a jump on Black. The situation calls for shepherding young players in a new environment, and that Talking Chop article linked above noted that Black worked with John Hart while a member of the Indians' front office. There seems to be a fit.
The second point is the more important point, and one mentioned in the first Talking Chop article linked above. Fredi Gonzalez is perceived to have shortcomings as a manager. The famous NLDS game 4 in 2013 in which Gonzalez did not bring in Craig Kimbrel late against the Dodgers will live on as a defining moment in his managerial career and represents a consistent gripe - bullpen management. Kimbrel sat (or stood unenthused, rather), and the Braves blew the lead and lost.
Bullpen management, however, is not the only thing a manager does. Royals fans have very common gripes with Ned Yost regarding his insistence to assign relievers to innings. In fact, and I do not think this is a stretch, most fans have problems with how their managers handle their bullpen. Buck Showalter with the Orioles might be the exception. What Yost does very well, however, is keep a cohesive clubhouse. This is really hard to say with any certainty, not being in the clubhouse, but players talk very highly about Yost letting them play and letting them be themselves. Supposedly this brings out the best in themselves. Gonzalez was/is well-liked in the clubhouse, so it is possible that he had the "leader of men" quality.
On a more quantifiable level, Gonzalez did not really do any better or worse than expected given the rosters he had. A commenter on the first Talking Chop article, JamaicanJasta, posted exactly the thing for which I was looking, so I'll just show it again here. Thanks JamaicanJasta.
Only in 2014 did the Braves underperform their PECOTA projections, and the team was not any good last year to begin with. From 2011-2013, the Braves overperformed their projections. There is a lot that goes into this, but the Braves certainly did not just fall apart. They were projected to be pretty good, and they ended up really good. Gonzalez could have been a factor.
It is difficult, nigh-impossible, for us to quantify the value a manager brings. There's bullpen management and lineup construction, sure, but many other managers have their problems with those things (see Ned Yost batting Alcides Escobar leadoff). Is Gonzalez any better or worse at those things than other managers? Maybe so. Leaving Kimbrel in the bullpen in an elimination game is pretty egregious.
Can the Braves find anyone better? Again, it is hard to say. We are privy to very little information regarding clubhouse management, which is such a big part of the manager's job. What we can see is a mixed bag. Almost every manager is a mixed bag.
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Kevin Ruprecht is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.