Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez Shuffled the Lineup again and the result was a Braves loss. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Charge Braves Loss to Fredi Gonzalez

As you know by now, the Braves were beaten by the Reds 1-0 on Saturday night. They nearly lost the night before but Justin Upton once again put the team on his back and carried them to the win.

In the past I’ve said that the losses weren’t all Fredi Gonzalez fault. He’s been given an unbalanced roster burdened with bad signings and poor trades. That remains true. However, tonight proved that the Skipper, for now, stumbled on getting the lineup to click and that he can bumbled his way into breaking it too. Because of that, this Braves loss belongs to Gonzalez.

What did he do?

Glad you asked. Earlier today he said he had a checklist for no-hitter management. Well, he should look around for the one on reaching the post season, then perhaps this Braves loss wouldn’t have happened. Here are just a couple of those items….

1.) The players can rest in November.

Tonight he “rested” Jason Heyward. Heyward wasn’t hurt nor did he ask for a day. Gonzalez decided to rest him because he played hard the night before when a Braves loss didn’t happen. Removing Heyward from the leadoff spot and replacing him with Bonifacio contributed directly to this Braves loss.  If you’re 10 games up with five to go, they get rest. Key players get little rest until a berth is clinched and that rest comes on off days and blow outs; they can rest in November.

2) Play your best players.

Tonight and most night’s Gonzalez plays B.J. Upton.  BJ is one of the worst hitters among everyday players in MLB today. I wrote a lot of detail about it two weeks ago and that’s worth a look. Tonight, in a game crucial to any chance of the post season, he rested Jason and played BJ. That led directly to the Braves loss.

I know that you are aware that Jason’s a better offensive player but I haven’t included a table yet so here’s a comparison of offensive metrics from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. There are 152 players qualified for the batting title, a lower numerical rank is obvious better.

  K% BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
B.J. Upton 150th 151st 144th 148th 148th 148th
Jason Heyward 57th 78th 40th 65th 82nd 79th
             
  wOBA wRC+ RC rWAR fWAR WPA
B.J. Upton 146th 146th 132nd 149th 132nd 145th
Jason Heyward 79th 75th 43rd 4th 10th 24th

Was he perhaps playing him for defensive purposes? Well no.

This season BJ has seven errors, more than any center fielder in the MLB and contributing to many of Braves’ losses. Without BJ, Emilio Bonifacio would play in center so here’s a glance at defensive metrics. I’m not a fan of UZR but some are so I have that shown below and defensive runs saved.

  DRS UZR
B.J. Upton -12 -5
Emilio Bonifacio 5 3.8

In 148 games in center since 2009 Bonifacio has a total of four errors. Did I mention BJ has seven this year? I did? Okay just wanted to be sure.

Just to be clear, there is no instance save injury or elimination from the post season when a manager intent on winning would  start BJ again this year. NONE.

3) If it isn’t broken don’t fix it

Moving Jason back to leadoff was a key to the winning streak, even Andrelton Simmons – whose swing is rapidly becoming the laughing stock of baseball – hitting second couldn’t keep the three and four hitters from doing early damage. The pressure on opposing pitchers garnered better pitches for those that followed them, resulting in more scoring. Home runs came like the rain that delayed the start of Saturday’s Braves loss. Gonzalez insistence on fiddling with the lineup he fixed, just as surely as broke it.

Bonifacio is at his best facing LHP yet Gonzalez – who is vaunted as a new era statistics oriented manager – invariably starts him against RHP.  While his numbers are better than BJ’s,  the leadoff spot against a RHP isn’t the right place for him

Split PA AB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
vs RHP 261 243 43 .235 .276 .288 .564
vs LHP 86 79 18 .380 .417 .544 .961
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2014.

Even before sabermetrics, managers knew who hit RHP better than LHP. Maybe Gonzalez has a new metric I’m not aware of but aren’t managers supposed to put players in positions to succeed?

4) Just because a player was signed to do something doesn’t mean he can

The last time Ryan Doumit had a good year as a pinch hitter was 2010, when he had four hits in eleven trips to the plate. As a full time, one tool, ball player (also called a DH) last season produced a slash of .220/.273/.351/.624 with five homers.  That’s with about four PA a game, not coming off the bench cold. His OPS dropped 200 points from the previous season. What happened? He got older and the bat stopped being potent.  This year he’s .186/.246/.273/.519 with one homer, not as bad as Greg Norton in 2009 but bad enough to end. The Doumit experiment failed. It’s time to try something else.

When you have Jason, Gerald Laird and Philip Gosselin on the bench, Doumit only comes up after them. Ramiro Pena fell off the cliff at the plate this year as predicted, so maybe they can share 19th inning heroics duty.

In the eighth inning of the soon to be Braves loss BJ, the pitcher, and Bonifacio were scheduled to hit. Gonzalez let BJ hit (WRONG) and sent Doumit up (WRONG) to strike out before Bonifacio got his double. Why not send Jason and Goose up? What was he saving them for? A day off isn’t as important as winning the game unless there’s injury involved. It’s called priorities.

Saturday’s game was a disaster from the time Gonzalez put together the lineup card. This Braves loss is charged to Ervin Santana who pitched well and gave up just one run in seven innings. But it should really be charged to the man responsible for dismembering a lineup that had been firing on all cylinders;  Fredi Gonzalez.

That’s A Wrap

Fredi Gonzalez is not to blame for the poor structuring of this roster. It isn’t his fault or that of the hitting coach that BJ is so bad at the plate or that Simba can’t learn to swing without falling down like a klutz. Gonzalez is however responsible for using the players he has efficiently. He’s responsible for understanding the difference between resting an uninjured key player in July and resting one with five weeks left in the season when every game is critical.

The Braves loss on Saturday night showed that he hasn’t realized there are no more “we’ll get them tomorrow games.” That’s particularly true against a team like the Reds with a decimated lineup and a shaky bullpen.

In an interview Saturday  Gonzalez spoke about Mike Minor’s near no hitter.

“The interesting [scenario] would have been if he walked Hamilton. Now it’s first and second and you’ve got Todd Frazier. To this moment, I don’t know what the answer is. I could say, ‘Yeah, I would have let him pitch,’ or, ‘No, I would have taken him out.’ But I can honestly say, ‘I don’t know.'”

Well see that’s the problem, after all this time managing and watching the whole game, he doesn’t know.

I’m told Gonzalez is a good baseball man and well liked in the clubhouse. Neither of those in and of themselves, qualify him to manage. Fredi Gonzalez was a good third base coach for Bobby Cox  but Cox was wrong about Gonzalez being ready to manage. I’m sure Bobby will give him a good recommendation so that someone will hire him as a third base coach again. . .  soon . . . next year sounds really good.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Post Season

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