Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Brian Snitker retained as manager for 2017

The Braves announced this morning that they will retain Brian Snitker as the manager of the team for the 2017 season. But not only that, they've hired Ron Washington to be the 3rd base coach for the team. You may remember Ron from his stint as the manager of the Rangers, but he had some personal issues that cost him his job, and the Braves saw fit to give him another opportunity.

The rest of the staff should remain relatively intact, with the exception of Bo Porter who will move from being the third base coach to the front office as a special assistant. Also because the Braves released Roger McDowell from his pitching coach contract, they decided to go with Chuck Hernandez as the pitching coach for the team. The Braves picked up Chuck in 2015 to oversee the minor league pitching operations, so it makes sense they've move him to pitching coach now that those prospects are coming up to the major league level.

Honestly, I love the move. I didn't want Bud Black as my last article indicated, mainly because I thought that Snitker proved he understood the psychology of this team. John Hart admitted openly in the announcement on 680 The Fan in Atlanta that he didn't expect to hire Brian when they gave him essentially a placeholder position in May. The goes to show you how the plans of mice and men work out in real time. Everything I've heard suggests that the players lobbied hard for Snitker, and the front office listened to their young team. And why not? You need a focused team heading into a new building for your big $$$ fans that decided to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on seats up close.

This also goes to show you how the Braves front office really like to promote from within, and how they love to retain talent even when it gets displaced. Snitker has been in the organization for almost 40 years now, and guys like Eddie Perez, Bo Porter, Kevin Seitzer, get to keep their jobs even after the manager change. That's important because I honestly believe in continuity at the MLB level since the management staffs job is primarily to help keep the players mentally focused more than it is about mechanics (although those still matter, you can't ignore the fundamentals).

Snitker makes sense for this team because I think the players respect him, he's not going to be an expensive hire for the team, and his personality seems to be very calming. He doesn't get too high or low. He's seen this game forever and he's not going to let streaks get to him. He will protect his players and argue calls with umps so his guys don't have to. He knows the game inside and out, and he also seems flexible because this is his first managerial job at the MLB level. Also, he said that he wanted the job, he wasn't reluctant, and he is in my mind a quality human being with a good head on his shoulders.

Hopefully it continues to go well in 2017, and we see the first winning Braves teams we've seen in a long time.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Potential Braves Manager in 2017

By now you've heard two names surface for the managerial job for the Braves when they move to the new ballpark in 2017. On one side you have Brian Snitker, who took over the sinking ship of morale that was the Braves under Fredi Gonzalez. On the other side you have Bud Black, a man who managed the Padres for 8 seasons, played in the league for the Angels, and won 2 world series as a player for two different teams, and won NL Manager of the Year in 2010.

I make no bones about this, I do not want Bud Black as the manager of the Braves. While I'm certainly not in love with Snitker's decision-making, ultimately I believe the manager of a baseball team has one job: manage the psychological and morale issues of his players. That's it. All the other spreadsheet up and down bullpen and lineup decisions don't really have a major effect on an MLB team over 162 games. However, being a good leaders, setting a tone for the team, and giving the players the mental support they need to succeed? That's the non-quantifiable part of true leadership I think matters most in a clubhouse.

Here's an article I reference all the time about how most managers don't matter. It's from your favorite analytic crew over at fivethirtyeight: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/most-managers-are-headed-to-the-hall-of-mediocrity/

People argue with me on this all the time. People that especially think they know the game better through charts think this is crap. They want managers to follow the data and nothing else. But consider this point I saw on Twitter today: In both Wild Card games, two managers made different bullpen decisions and both lost. One manager didn't use his best reliever, stayed with his current guy, and lost to a 3-run homer. The other manager DID use his best reliever, and lost with a 3-run homer. Why? Because players executing plays matter way more in baseball than the statistics when you take into account one play. And one play can be all that matters in the playoffs.

 So why don't I want Bud Black? Mainly because he failed to ever get to the playoffs in 8 years with some pretty good Padres teams by talent, and because he presided over the worst September collapse in Padres history. I lived through that already with Fredi Gonzalez, who presided over the worst September collapse in Braves history. Also, I have a known quantity in Brian Snitker, who has already proven he knows how to motivate, educate, and promote a team that had no business winning 68 games after a 9-29 start under Gonzalez. Think about that. This Braves team went 59-65 after Snitker showed up, and most of that was still before they called up the real talent like Dansby, Mallex, and traded for Kemp.

But even more than not wanting Bud Black because I don't think he's an advantage over Snitker, I don't want him because it would prove to me that the Braves made a back-door deal with Black long before the season was over. If Bud Black gets the job after what Snitker did for the this team, it tells me that he never had a shot at this job, and they picked him to manager specifically because they thought he'd be a nice placeholder who would suck in the position and allow them to let their hand-picked guy ride in on a white horse.

Except that didn't happen. Snitker's team has prospered along with the prospects, and it tells me a lot about Bud Black that if he wasn't willing to step in mid-season and take the slings and arrows along with this team, he's not the right man for the job. I want a manager who can come in for the worst of times in an organization, and get those guys ready to play every day with a mindset of winning. I don't want a guy who sits on the sidelines for a bad season to end so he can come in with a pristine record and a whole new set of players.

Is that completely fair to Bud Black? Probably not. I'm not privy to all the facts and I'm assuming a few things that could be inaccurate. But Black didn't have a job all year, and if they really wanted to make him an offer, he easily could have taken the job mid-season. And if they hire him now, either the front office didn't want that option, or he didn't. Neither would make me happy, especially since these younger guys have gotten used to Snitker and they seem to be playing like one of the best offensive team in the NL at the end of the year. Why would you sacrifice that for the unknown when I think we all know the managerial decision-making (which is probably where Black would have an advantage by experience) really isn't that critical.

Personally, I say give Snitker the job on a year-by-year deal. He's got no other options, and honestly I don't think Bud Black is right for this team. If you don't like Snit after a year, go a different direction, but at least you are sticking with something that was working. Nobody can second guess that. They CAN second guess you switching managers after one of the best offensive months in baseball for the Braves in the long time.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Goodbye Ted, Hello Predictions: Braves 2016 Recap

You won't see me get misty over saying goodbye to Turner Field or this version of the Atlanta Braves in 2016. Some fans get nostalgic over buildings, but I think of the Ted more as a house of horrors than an actual friend we're losing. It was never a true baseball stadium. It was too big, retrofitted, and essentially formless in terms of defining features. The best thing that most people can say about it is that they spent times with family there so they have memories of those times. Which again, those can happen anywhere. It's the family and friends and teams that make those memories, not the building. So I don't weep for the loss of the Ted. Frankly, I've hated its location forever even though I have season tickets.

With that said, I think we're all excited about how the Braves played in September. I didn't cover it much because I rarely write about this team once we're eliminated until the final recap. But I will say that we saw some signs of potential greatness in this squad late in the year. Offensively, it was one of the strongest months in all of baseball, with the Braves finishing 1st in the NL in runs for September. We saw Freddie Freeman have his best second half of the season of his career, and we say Dansby Swanson make his debut. We saw Ender Inciarte become a possible staple in the outfield and Mallex Smith return from injury. We saw Matt Kemp join the team and change the complexion of the lineup. All in all, we saw a lot of positive things that can give us hope that the future is bright.

Also, the team won 68 games. Last year they won 67 games. For months I've heard whiner fans tell me that John Hart and John Coppollela lied to us, saying the team wouldn't be worse than 2015. Well guess what? It's not. It was one game better, and that makes their statement true. But even more than that, the team as constructed looks like a functional baseball team now with offensive firepower. The best part is the young pitching isn't even really sorted out yet. We were winning games in September with mostly bigtime scoring. If we can train up the young staff to form a killer rotation, this team is playoff bound again.

But let's look back at my bold predictions from the beginning of the season shall we?

1 - The Braves will finish with more than 100 home runs - TRUE! They finished with 122 after an awful start to the season hitting the long ball. The real hero there was Freddie Freeman with a monster 34 on the season and his career high. He hopefully can carry that momentum into next year.

2 - The Bullpen will be better than 2015's greasefire - TRUE! The bullpen finished with a 3.95 ERA on the year, which isn't stellar but still way better than the 2015 finish of 4.69. Blech.

3 - Jason Grilli won't be on the team in the second half of the season - TRUE! Jason Grilli was traded on May 31st to the Pirates. Most of you can barely remember he started with the team, so this one was probably a reminder.

4 - Hector Olivera will lead the team in batting average - FALSE! Way false. He was a disaster, and he wasn't allowed to finish the season with us due to a domestic violence charge and suspense of 82 games. Then we traded him for Matt Kemp who turned out to be awesome. And slightly fat but still awesome. The actual batting average leader for the team with over 200 ABs was Freddie Freeman at .302. However, Dansby Swanson also hit .302 in 129 ABs, so look out!

5 - Defense will be a major problem for this Braves team - TRUE! Man, it was a mess in the first half of the year. Bigtime. Going by defensive ratings on Fangraphs, the Braves finished the year with a -29.6, which puts them 23rd in the league. And that's having improved some in the second half of the year.

6 - Julio Teheran will have his best season so far - TRUE! Julio Teheran finished the year with 188 innings, 30 starts, and a 3.21 ERA. Baseball reference gave his WAR on the year a 4.8 which is the highest total of his career. The key was that his H/9 was the lowest it's ever been, and his BB/9 was the lowest it's ever been as well, while also increasing his K/9 along with it.

7 - Braves will have their first no-hitter since 1994 - FALSE! Not with this pitching staff. We didn't really even get close to this because of the issues with the rotation. Oh well, that was a long shot.

8 - Much fewer shutout losses in 2016 - TRUE! We had 17 shutout losses in 2015. In 2016 the Braves only lost while scoring zero runs 12 times. That's a 29% reduction on shutout losses, and that's a good thing, because those are unwatchable. And when it was over 10% of the games last year, that sucked.

9 - Three All-Stars for the Braves in 2016 - FALSE! We only had one, and it was Julio. We should have had two based on Freddie's total year, but he didn't turn on the jets until the second half so there's no way he was going to win the vote.

10 - The Braves will have the highest team OPS since 2010 - FALSE! The Braves OPS in 2010 was .740 on the season. It was the highest total over those last 5 seasons leading into this year. The Braves finished this 2016 season with a .705 OPS so it wasn't even close. But I'll blame most of that on the fact the team struggled to score at all for about 60% of the season.

And the final prediction, I picked the Braves to win 72 games. Close, but they only won 68. Still, the win total for the team in Vegas was 65, and I was taking the over. And you know what? We won that bet.

SEVEN predictions right, FOUR predictions wrong. And another baseball season behind us. Here's to the new season in SunTrust park in about 5 months, Braves fans. Can't wait.