Since Bobby Cox retired at the end of 2010, Fredi Gonzalez has had a controversial tenure as the newest Atlanta Braves manager since Cox took over in 1990. No one said filling his shoes would be easy, but Gonzalez took the role and has done his best.
Some would say that his best hasn’t been good enough. At times, I would agree with that assessment (especially in 2011 and 2012) but if there’s one thing that you can’t say about him, it’s that he doesn’t learn.
Since his first day as the Braves’ manager, Gonzalez has made huge leaps and bounds in managerial prowess. In 2011, his biggest mistake was misusing the bullpen. He overworked the Braves’ relievers as it was the easy option. They were dominant, and getting them into the game early gave the team a better chance to, win but he wasn’t aware of what he was doing.
The relievers struggled down the stretch; they had been worn to the bone and the Braves ultimately collapsed in historic fashion.
In 2012 though, he returned with a new philosophy on bullpen management and trusted the starters to go deeper into games. He mixed and matched the relievers so as to not use Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty as much (Venters had 88 IP in 2011, 58.2 in 2012; O’Flaherty had 73.2 in 2011, 57.1 in 2012).
2013 brought on new challenges with the Braves’ roster enduring many injuries throughout the season, including the loss of three bullpen relievers for the entirety of the year. He demonstrated knowledge and experience as he managed his way through the obstacles set before him and brought the Braves to their first division title since 2005.
Gonzalez’s mistakes this year came in the playoffs. While the rosters and lineups were set appropriately, he seemed stuck in his ways over bullpen use. He had been taught time and time again how to properly use his bullpen, and he wasn’t about to mix things up under the pressure of playoff baseball.
But that’s where he went wrong. He didn’t understand that in the playoffs, you have to do things differently. Do you think Jim Leyland would have brought his starter Max Scherzer in a game in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and no outs? Of course not, but he was smart enough to do it in the playoffs, and it turned out to be one of the smartest decisions I’ve seen.
There’s one thing we know about Gonzalez, and that’s that he learns from his mistakes and does so rather quickly. I don’t think we’ll see him let his best reliever sit and wait during high-leverage situations like he did in Game 4 of the NLDS. If he keeps up his learning ways, Gonzalez could one day be one of the top managers in the game and I’ll be honest, I’m excited to see him back in a Braves uniform next season.
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