If Gonzalez were given another chance, the 2014 season should have sealed his fate. Coming off the 96 wins and his playoff debacle, his Braves led the NL East for most of April and May. They were tied for first as late as July 20. After a win on July 28, they were 10 games over .500 and holding the top NL wild card spot.
They then lost eight straight.
Things temporarily got back on track, as they won seven of eight soon thereafter and inched to within 1.5 games of a wild card spot, but they would go an awful 11-22 the rest of the way. Going back to July 28, the Braves went 21-35 after that point in the season. Only Arizona was worse among all 30 MLB teams.
That is unacceptable under the circumstances.
The Braves were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, Sept. 21. Firing Gonzalez the following morning would have been fine timing.
The Braves went through a rebuilding season in 2015 and finished 67-95. If Gonzalez wasn’t in the plans to be the manager of the future and Braves don’t mind firing him on Tuesday, why didn’t they just do it the day after last season and start the process anew in 2016 with a new manager? They haven’t yet promoted many of the youngsters, but there are a few (Mallex Smith and several pitchers).
The timing is just a bit of a head-scratcher. The Braves had to know they were going to be terrible this season. If they didn’t like Gonzalez, why did they start the season with him? It’s weird, that’s all.
Still, plenty of Braves fans are likely happy right now. Gonzalez should have already been gone and I count at least three specific dates going back to the Kimbrel incident in L.A.
The Braves on Tuesday parted ways with manager Fredi Gonzalez, who’d been on the job since 2011. The Braves, who are in the midst of a deep rebuild, were expected to be a bad team in 2016, but a 9-28 start has “surpassed” even the most bearish of forecasts. As the team gets set to reboot in a new suburban ballpark starting in 2017, they’re likely ready to enter the next phase of the cycle and, ideally, move toward contention, possibly as soon as 2018. The question for the front office is thus: Who best to lead them in the dugout?
Let’s take a look at some potential candidates to fill the job in Atlanta on a permanent basis …
Snitker, 60, was named interim manager on Tuesday and reportedly will manage the team for the remainder of the 2016 season. He’s been the manager of Triple-A Gwinnett since the start of the 2014 season. Prior to that, Snitker spent seven seasons as the Braves’ third base coach. Snitker knows the system, obviously — including many players presently on the roster — and as a minor-league manager in that very same system, he’s accustomed to handling young and untested talents. On that point, the Braves have a lot of young and untested talents on the way. The next permanent manager’s most important job will be helping all these high-ceiling prospects that the Braves have compiled transition to the highest level. Snitker for the rest of 2016 has a chance to prove he can do that. Maybe he’s not the favorite, but let’s recall that Pete Mackanin recently rose from interim to permanent choice in Philadelphia under similar circumstances.
Given where we are in the season, there are certain to be more pitchers set to regress than those who look primed to maintain an extremely low or high BABIP. Yet there are a few who have the defensive backing (or lack thereof) to defy the gravitational pull of a .300ish BABIP. We will get to those select few pitchers, but not before we first direct our attention to pitchers whose BABIP rates are out of whack with the level of help they are getting from their defenses.
Due for Better Times
The Giants, Mets and Twins are below-average defensively, but each staff has a composite BABIP above .320 that is worse than what their UZR/150s would suggest. Johnny Cueto is having a fine season, but his .342 BABIP and 1.16 WHIP are suspiciously high for someone who has excelled at avoiding hits on balls in play over the years. Neither Matt Harvey nor Steven Matz are known for pitching to contact, but both have been penalized by BABIP rates above .330. While Matz’s mark looks fluky, Harvey’s .384 BABIP has been inflated by a 34 percent line drive rate, so owners should be cautious about expecting a full rebound. On the other hand, as long as Matz can put his elbow issues behind him, he could be set to improve on an already strong season.
Ervin Santana has done a good job of getting strikeouts and inducing soft contact, but a .341 BABIP has left him with a 1.50 WHIP. That mark should shrink with time, though whether he can get more run support is another question.
Only the Rangers have a higher outfield UZR/150 than the Astros, yet batters have been hitting .222 against Collin McHugh on flyballs in play. In each of the previous two seasons, McHugh has posted rates below .090, which put him more in line with the major league norm. Especially since McHugh has been pitching to contact more often this season, he has been particularly hurt by his high BABIP, but it also makes him an excellent buy-low candidate.
Rough Roads Ahead