Hey Braves fans. Let me dream a little here. In a world where the purity of the greatest game ever played is perhaps slowly dying, and where we’ve all become a touch jaded by the politics and economics of baseball, I would just like to take a moment to dream. Perhaps that’s why I’m such a fantasy baseball junkie, because I can suspend reality and dream about what could be. Okay, the following won’t sound much like a dream at first, but bear with me…
All coaches tinker with lineups. Good coaches tinker a little, but figure it out quickly, while some coaches tinker too much, and never seem to figure things out. It’s obvious that Atlanta Brave’s manager Fredi Gonzalez is a tinkerer. In his career with the Atlanta Braves, he’s moved players in and out of holes more than a line boss on a graveyard crew, and as talented a roster as Atlanta has had each year during Fredi’s association with the Braves, the team always seems to come up a day late and a dollar short when approaching October. It’s frustrating for fans and players alike, and each month I just want to yell from the uppermost bleacher of Turner Field, “Stop it, Fredi!”
Editorial Dream Note: To be completely fair to Fredi, I would also point out here that it could well be Frank Wren (thanks to fellow writer Fred Owens for reminding me of this) calling many, if not all of these shots as well. So for the purposes of this dream, I’ll just use the name Fredi, but you can insert the name Frank in your own dream. This dream has enough venom to go around.
If Fredi insists on tinkering so much with the lineup, the question I’ve been asking for awhile now is, when will he figure it out? I have no problem with tinkering, but I’ve always believed a coach should play the players that are the hottest in the lineup, regardless of match ups, past numbers, or any other data rolling around in his often thick brain. Additionally, I believe that as long as they are hot, they should stay in the lineup and continue to develop their talent. Is what I’ve said so far seem dream-like? Wait, I’m not finished yet!
Bruce Bochy is a perfect example of a talented manager that likes to tinker, is often criticized for it, but produces results year-in, year-out, even when he may not always be fielding the most talented team around. Bochy has been criticized in the past for relying too much on small-sample sizes. In other words, he often goes with the hottest players, and he sticks with them as long as they’re hot. To be fair, some have rightly criticized him for giving up on a player too soon when they hit a slump. That said, no coach is perfect, and like Bochy’s style or not, he knows how to get the most out of his players. My friends have often heard me say, “I wish Fredi would go out and have a long lunch with Bruce Bochy.” What I mean by that is I think Fredi could learn a thing or two from the more experienced tinkerer.
If I had a nickle for every time I heard a fan say something like, “Wow, Johnson is white-hot. Why is Fredi playing Juan?” or “Really? Laird? Gattis is on fire right now!” or “I just don’t get it! Schafer is playing so well right now, and B.J. couldn’t hit a softball with a oversized driver”, I’d be a rich man. I know what some of you will say, because I’ve said it myself. You’ll say that it’s about the match-ups, handling the young pitcher, or he has to stay in long enough to get out of his slump, etc. All of that may be true, to a degree, but Albert Einstein was right when he said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to disrespect any player. I’m one of those that believe every Brave can contribute, and I support all of them. I just also believe that when you’re not contributing, and you’ve been given ample time to get out of a slump but haven’t, it may be time to give someone else the day-to-day opportunity, at least for awhile.
Bochy is sometimes criticized for taking a slumping, young player out of the lineup, and in the opinion of some not giving them adequate time to develop. In Atlanta’s case, Fredi might be better served currently to do the opposite, and take out veterans such as B.J. Upton in favor of a young, raw talent like Jordan Schafer. He might be well served to let Evan Gattis play every day in left as long as he’s contributing, and sit Jason Heyward, playing Justin Upton in right field instead. He might even let the younger Ramiro Pena play in favor of Dan Uggla, whose slumps, quite frankly, many fans have grown weary of.
Right now, in my opinion, Fredi would be well-served to have the following lineup on the field for the Braves, regardless of who the opposing pitcher is, or what the historical stats are on player vs. pitcher, or any other such data: Brian McCann (C), Freddie Freeman (1st), Ramiro Pena (2nd), Andrelton Simmons (SS), Chris Johnson (3rd), Evan Gattis (LF), Jordan Schafer (CF), and Justin Upton (RF). No, not all of those players are white-hot, but if you look at their numbers overall, in my opinion those are the best players Fredi Gonzalez can field right now.
I’m not saying that Fredi has to sit slumping players like Dan Uggla, BJ Upton, and Jason Heyward for an extended period of time. I agree with those who contend that they are being paid a lot, are talented, and should be playing. They should be indeed if they are playing well, but not if they’re in a funk from which there seems to be no immediate escape. Isn’t there something to be said any more for performance based evaluations of players? Baseball is about money, but it’s also about winning Fredi! Since you like to tinker so much, sit the struggling players for a week of games, and see how it goes. What would you really lose? You might gain some wins, and you might help those struggling players gain some perspective and realize that no player, however much they might be paid, is irreplaceable. I don’t expect Fredi (or Frank) to follow my advice, and I know I’m just an armchair manager like the rest of you, but I still have a dream, and I don’t think it’s that far-fetched.