On November 12, 6:00 PM EST, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America will present their annual major awards, and among several names we hoped to see as finalists from the Atlanta Braves’ Organization, only Fredi Gonzalez is among the finalists. Braves’ fans hoped that Freddie Freeman would be a finalist for NL MVP, and it was hoped that Craig Kimbrel might be the first closer to win a Cy Young since Eric Gagne did so with the Dodgers in 2003. Alas, for Freeman and Kimbrel, it wasn’t to be, but Fredi Gonzalez will be a finalist for NL Manager of the Year!
I support the Braves, and so I support and hope for the success of Fredi Gonzalez as manager of the Braves. Having said that though, no one has been more critical of Fredi Gonzalez than myself. All season long I was frustrated with some of the decisions that were made, but I realize that many of those decisions were made by higher powers than Fredi, and in the end, when you look at the amazing job Fredi did with this club in the midst of all their struggles, Fredi is certainly deserving of being a finalist for the coveted NL Manager of the Year Award.
In three seasons as the manager of the Atlanta Braves, the team has improved each season. Fredi led the Braves to 89 wins in his first season with the club in 2011, improved that record in 2012 to 94 wins, and this past season – 96 wins and a divisional title! What’s even more impressive was Fredi’s ability to lead the Braves to that sort of success in 2013 while juggling a myriad of injuries, some that were season-ending injuries to key players, and dealing with other key players’ continuous struggles.
The Braves’ paid dearly for B.J. Upton, and then paid dearly at times by continuing to play him when he couldn’t make contact with the broad side of a barn! Playing B.J. Upton as often as they did was one of those decisions I mentioned earlier, that game-in and game-out I took exception to. Another was waiting almost all year to finally decide to sit Dan Uggla for the playoffs, when he’d struggled mightily all season long. As bad as all that seemed though, Fredi juggled players, platooned like a season pro, and made difficult decisions when he needed to. We can debate forever how far the Braves might have gone if some decisions had been made differently, or earlier, but it’s difficult to argue with the success of a division title, and 96 wins.
It wasn’t just the decisions that had to be made with struggling players though, as Fredi Gonzalez also had to be decidedly creative and strategic when losing, for the season, Tim Hudson, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and Ramiro Pena, as well as dealing with a literal ton of other injuries with other players. It’s difficult to be too critical of Fredi for continuing to play the struggling Uggla in light of the loss of a solid second baseman like Pena. The Braves also lost solid relief pitchers in Venters and O’Flaherty, but Fredi weathered those storms, filled their spots admirably, and the bullpen remained much stronger than anyone thought they would. The loss of Tim Hudson to a fractured ankle was a huge blow, but again Fredi made good decisions, asked a number of young starters and veterans alike to step up in starter roles, and the Braves got the job done!
Despite the season long criticism of many of the moves the Braves made, you don’t win 96 games and win your first division title since 2005 unless you know how to manage a team. Fredi’s stoic position at the helm of every game, his stalwart ability to stick to his guns amid all the criticism, and his continuing improvement each season amid epic struggles set him apart. Fredi might not win the NL Manager of Year Award, but if not, it certainly won’t be because he doesn’t deserve it.