Walk-Off Talk 1.10: The Search Committee

Walk-Off Talk 1.10: The Search Committee

(Walk-Off Talk is an informal series of responses between members of the Walk-Off Walk family. Today, we talk about who should be the manager in 2018 with Ryan Cothran, Stephen Tolbert, and me – Tommy Poe.)

Okay, guys, I think we’re ready to decide the manager of the Atlanta Braves for the 2018 season and, with any luck, the many years to follow. Why John Coppolella trusted us with this responsibility remains unknown, but we cannot let him down. We got our list of in-house candidates that the powers-that-be are pushing and I know you guys are considering other options so let’s dive right into this mess.

Candidate #1 – Brian Snitker Survives

By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff

Tommy: Well, I’m sure many people won’t like this option. Even his long-time supporters have resigned themselves to accept that the dismissal of Snitker after the 2017 season may be inevitable, but there might be a chance he stays for 2018. Just yesterday, the AJC’s Mark Bradley indicated the front office might be leaning that way. Regardless of how that plays out, the case for him returning is very thin. It seemingly boils down to the old stand-by – “the players love him.” Freddie Freeman certainly does and if Freeman wants to play shortstop, I’m fairly convinced the Braves will let him. Snitker’s obviously a good foot soldier and a player’s manager, but when it comes to management skills, I’m just not seeing it. Does he put players in the best position to succeed? Does he think several steps ahead to consider all possibilities while also making a quick decision? Does he use all of the information available to him to help influence his decision or fall victim to old habits? Does he help the players progress as professionals? When it comes to each of these questions, the best grade I could give Snitker is average, though below-average is more likely in most cases.

To be fair – something I rarely care to be – Snitker was given a roster in which everything had to go right for this season to have turned out much better than we have witnessed. Bartolo Colon transformed from the rotund ageless wonder to the rotund aged failure. Jim Johnson taught us the value of FIP. Freeman got hurt. Dansby Swanson struggled massively. Matt Kemp was Matt Kemp. Emilio Bonifacio, Eric O’Flaherty, Chase d’Arnaud (for about five seconds) had roster spots. The deck was stacked against Snitker. Still, throughout the season, Snitker made matters worse. He called on the wrong guy to pitch out of the bullpen or pinch-hit many times in 2017. He seemed totally incapable of predicting what other managers would do. He played veterans over rookies even though the team needed to find out what they had in the younger guys. For all that Snitker couldn’t control, the things that he theoretically could too often showed Snitker to be a man under-qualified for the job at hand. While Freeman may love Snitker, this is a results-driven business and even if you accept the win-loss record for a roster this inept can’t completely fall on the manager, it’s hard to be excited about the decisions he did make.

Stephen: Yeah, of all the scenarios, this one seems like the least likely. I’ve argued both in a post and on Twitter, that the Brian Snitker problem pales in comparison to the lack of talent problem facing Atlanta. This argument I think has led some people to think I’m in favor of keeping him. Let it be clear – Brian Snitker is not a major league caliber manager. His contract should not be renewed. Even if I’m right and managers only contribute +/- 3 Wins, Snitker is still at the bottom of that range. I’ll take +3 Wins over -3 Wins any day and Atlanta needs to get a real manager that can be a daily asset instead of a constant liability. Tactically and strategically, Snit is playing checkers and while he’s been an important part of the Braves past, the future requires a new voice. A better voice.

The committee appreciates everything you’ve done for the organization over the years Brian, here’s a nice, cushy front office position. As for the rest, we’ll take it from here.

Ryan: The problem that I have had this season with his roster is his bizarre usage of abysmal players over competent players. I discussed a stat on Twitter the other day that Emilio Bonifacio and Danny Santana received nearly 200 combined plate appearances with 45 coming in high-leverage situations. Add Jace Peterson’s 190 to that stack, and then compare it to the Adamses (Matt and Lane) and it’s a downright abomination. Yes, there is an excuse that can bail out Snitker and it’s the fact that this was the roster given to him and he had no say so in it…but do we believe that? I don’t. It was alluded to by Coppy, after Bonifacio’s DFA, that he was Snitker’s choice to fill out the roster. That sounds about right. Knowing Coppy’s mindset, it just doesn’t make sense that he’d make that same mistake again if it was his call solely.

There are others that I could point to but now we’re just swatting the flies off of Snitker’s career. He doesn’t keep his players healthy, is a poor tactician, and that’s enough for me to look to others.


Candidate #2 – Ron Washington 

By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Stephen: As it’s become more and more apparent Brian Snitker won’t be retained, the most popular name mentioned as a replacement has been Ron Washington. And there’s some logic behind it. Washington not only has big-league experience as a manager but a significant amount of success as well. He was the man at the helm of the Texas Rangers from 2007-2014, taking them from perineal basement dweller to back to back World Series in 2010 and 2011. Overall, he had a .521 winning percentage in Texas in his 8 years and established himself as one of the better managers in the league. Add that to the fact that he’s already on the staff, already has a relationship with the players, and it’s easy to understand why he’s so high on the list.

Washington isn’t the perfect candidate though. For one, he’s had some significant personal issues. During the 2009 season, Washington tested positive for cocaine and later confirmed he had indeed been using. After the 2014 season, Washington somewhat surprisingly resigned as manager of the Rangers citing personal reasons. A week later it was widely reported the resignation was due to a sexual assault allegation against a reporter and a week after that Washington confirmed he had been having an extramarital affair. We’ll probably never know the full story but these lapses in judgment are real concerns when deciding whether to make a guy the face of your organization.

Another issue is Washington is considered an old-school manager. And while that has been shown it can work given the right talent, it would be nice for the organization to consider a more analytical guy. Less bunts, more creative bullpen use, a progressive approach to platoons or bench usage, etc. That’s not Washington so Atlanta needs to be clear on what type of guy they want before going back to the old-school well.

Ryan: In looking at Washington’s years at Texas, the one thing that I noticed was that he rode players HARD!  Numerous guys year after year were getting upper-600 and 700 plate appearances. In today’s game, I just don’t like this mindset. I want to see the usage of super-utility outfielders and infielders rotating around the field to provide rest. While I’m not going to speak in depth about the personal issues Washington has faced, I’m not going to deny that it worries me, as managing a baseball team isn’t exactly a low-stress job. He’s not my guy, but it lies more with the first reason rather than the latter.

Tommy: What you said in regards to his old school approach sticks with me, Stephen. Ron Washington once said about bunting that, “you can take that analytics and shove it.” He then added, “I do it (bunting) when I feel it’s necessary, not when the analytics feel it’s necessary, not when you guys feel it’s necessary, and not when somebody else feels it’s necessary. It’s when Ron Washington feels it’s necessary. Bottom line.” Apparently, Washington 3:16 means I just bunted on you in the third inning because I thought it was necessary. I have to say it’s that kind of thinking that scares me about Washington. He had success, there is no doubting that, but if you, as I do, subscribe to the Three Tiers of Managing Jim Leyland laid out that Joe Posnanski refined, the most important skill for a manager is the actual act of managing a game. And when it comes to that, Washington concerns me. I don’t want a manager who shuts himself off to the idea that there is new thinking – supported by analytics – that bunting and being hyper-aggressive on the bases depresses run production. Now, maybe that’s changed since his 2014 spring training interview I referenced. Maybe. But I have my doubts.


Candidate #3 – Bo Porter

By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ryan: If I’m going internal, Bo knows he’s my guy. I was very hesitant and vocal about Bo before as I saw him make some excruciatingly painful managerial decisions, but knowing that Bo has managerial experience and has gotten his feet wet tells me that he could be the only forward-thinking baseball guy in the internal candidate discussion, as Eddie, Terry, Snitker, and Washington are likely Bobby Cox guys (old school) and will coach similarly to the legend. Bo’s been quoted that he looks much deeper than the superficial statistics and keeps his own chart of advanced metrics.  This quote was found by a great twitter follow in @JawnCoppolella and it provides the majority of my opinion.

“Batting average to me is the most overrated statistic in baseball,” said Porter, whose Astros rallied to defeat the Rockies 3-2 in 12 innings Monday.

Like most players, Porter barely paid attention to advanced stats when he roamed the field. But since becoming a coach, the youngest manager in MLB has started to delve deeper into the inside-baseball side of the game.

“When you’re trying to make a decision and place value to how important is this guy versus the importance of this guy, you have to go beyond the surface,” Porter said. “For me, I can give you my eye-test opinion. But when you’re trying to really get to the (bottom) of it, there’s information that will let you know.”

Porter keeps a chart of hard-hit balls and the numbers factor into lineup decisions. He pays attention to hitters who clean up only against poor pitching. He understands the value of batting average on balls in play.

“I have my own theory when I’m talking about (signing) a free agent,” Porter said. “The first thing I’m going to do, I’m going to eliminate all his numbers against my team. … People make this mistake a lot. They go, ‘Well, this guy kills us.’ And then you get him on your team. Well, you know what? He did 40 percent of his damage against your pitchers.”

Asked if he has a Sabermetrics card, Porter said yes. He appeared to be joking. But he sounded like a proud member.

“It’s easy to look at batting average, wins-losses, ERA,” Porter said. “I mean, that information is available to everybody.”

Tommy: Man, I hope that’s how he thinks now. I’ve been all over the map with Porter and one of the biggest reason comes down to analytics. Reports out of Houston at the time he was relieved suggested that Porter didn’t embrace analytics, but he disputes that and the amount of shifting done in Houston while he was the manager supports his contention. He’s described as fiery and very protective of his players. What happened in Houston may have simply been a case of a relationship between manager and general manager that simply couldn’t work. Considering he’s worked under John Coppolella this year, it would seem that Porter should have a good relationship with this general manager and that could help him move forward.

Stephen: If, as the committee, we decided to go internal for this decision, then Porter has my vote. Porter’s positive views of analytics as well as his history and experience being a player’s manager are enough for me to feel comfortable with him being the guy. Porter has spent the last year working in the organization so a relationship with the players and the front office is already present. That last part is especially important given the reported rocky relationship the current manager has with the higher-ups. To be clear, I think an outside hire is still preferable but I understand the desire for stability and familiarity in this decision so if this is how we go, I can live with it.


Candidate #4 – Eddie Perez

By Alex Brady (Hatmatbbat10) (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tommy: As we continue to cycle through the in-house options, there’s Eddie Perez. It’s hard to get overly excited about Perez. He’s just kind of there. That said, he does have a legitimate argument to be included in this discussion. He’s led a team to a Venezuelan Winter League title and brought the squad all the way to the Caribbean Series finals, where they lost to Mexico. On that team was Adonis Garcia, but we won’t hold that against Perez. The former personal catcher has been part of the Braves’ coaching staff since 2007 and is a Bobby Cox disciple. Last winter, the Rockies flirted with Perez before choosing Bud Black. It was also reported that the Diamondbacks had interest in him as well. Last winter also had the strange situation where Perez was reportedly going to take over as the manager of Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic only to have players already committed to the team threaten to bolt over the possible dismissal of Omar Vizquel, the current manager. That’s probably not something about how the players felt about Perez, but about loyalty to Vizquel. Still a weird event.

Notice I didn’t mention anything about his managerial abilities when it comes to strategy because it’s so hard to get a read on that. One problem we have seen from Bobby Cox disciples is that they try to manage just like Cox. It’s worth mentioning that Cox is in the Hall of Fame so there are worse people to try to manage like, but can you really be a successful manager when you keep looking down at your “WWBD?” bracelet? All that said, Perez does have some experience helming a club, even if it’s only the winter leagues, and has served a few different roles in Atlanta. He knows the players, he knows the system, and he would be a strong Latino presence on a team with a number of young and hungry players from Central America and the Caribbean.

Stephen: The kind way for me to say this is I have zero interest in Eddie Perez being the next manager of the Atlanta Braves. I could make a whole argument as to why but the easiest way to say it is he doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table. Just another old school, old guard, Bobby Cox disciple and that well dried up long ago. Hard pass.

Ryan: I really have no opinion on Eddie Perez as it seems to me he’d have been given a shot to manage somewhere by now, which might be telling. There’s no doubt he’s beloved in this organization and rightfully so, and he’s also beloved by his fellow countrymen. I also really like Eddie, but in my opinion, there’s likely the same mentality that’s been present for 3 decades in his approach and I’m ready for different.


Candidate #5 – Terry Pendleton

By Bryan from Florida (Terry Pendleton) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Stephen: No list of managerial candidates for the Braves is complete without at least mentioning Terry Pendleton. It’s almost impossible to believe but 2018 will be Pendleton’s 17th year as a coach for the Atlanta Braves. After a distinguished playing career, Pendleton spent nine years as the hitting coach under Bobby Cox before being moved to 1st base coach when Fredi Gonzalez was hired. After six years there, Pendleton was transitioned to full-time bench coach when Brian Snitker was hired and has remained there since.

While Pendleton was gaining all this experience in Atlanta, his name was being mentioned for manager openings not only with the Braves but other organizations too. Both Washington and St Louis at separate times had Pendleton on a short list of candidates to fill a vacancy and while it still hasn’t happened for him, his experience coaching in a major league dugout is unimpeachable.

My biggest issue with Pendleton mirrors my issues with Eddie Perez. He’s one of Bobby’s Boys from the good ole days. It’s just retreading the same idea over and over and frankly I have zero interest in traveling down the same road for the 100th time. Time to pave a new way. I think Terry deserves a chance to manage somewhere, sometime. Just not here. Not now.

Ryan: I’ve liked Terry Pendleton for a long time. It has a lot to do with his time with the Braves, but it likely has more to do with family connections and the fact that he nearly kicked the living crap out of crybaby Chris Johnson. Of the guys currently on the bench, Terry would be my choice as I feel he’d do what’s best for the team, not the individual. Still, this is a gut feeling as there’s no real proof that he’d be any different than the last three, and going with the ol’ gut seems cliche for “I really don’t have any proof that this could work, but what the heck!”  That’s not good enough. I want a proven, unique manager that will use the entire roster.

Tommy: Honestly, there’s little more than I can say. It is striking that Pendleton used to be a bit of an interesting candidate out there who interviewed for jobs or at least was considered, but over the last several years, that interest has dried up. I wonder if the Chris Johnson situation Ryan spoke of had something to do with that or maybe Pendleton doesn’t interview well. Whatever the case, it seems Pendleton is a lifer in the coach role – much like Snitker. If someone really felt he was a manager, he would have already gotten a shot by now.


Candidate #6 – Outside Hire

Ryan: Dave Martinez is my man.  He’s been Joe Maddon’s right-hand guy going on a decade and has been groomed to study deeper to create a winning ballclub. Hopefully like Maddon, Martinez will be a manager that utilizes the entire roster to maintain camaraderie and health for a season. If the Braves go into 2018 not able to shed Nick Markakis or Matt Kemp, someone has to come in and be bold enough to play both in part-time roles so they can be healthy for an entire year. Even if the more likely of the 2 in Markakis gets moved, someone has to have the cojones to sit Kemp regularly and utilize a platoon in left field.  It just feels like it’ll be more of the same if Braves stay internal, and I want a manager that aligns more with Coppy and his crew rather than Schuerholz and company. For me, that guy is Martinez.

Tommy: I have long been on the Dave Martinez train so I’m on board with your suggestion, but here’s one of my own – Don Wakamatsu. Similar to Porter, Wakamatsu took over a team in the middle of a rebuild in the Mariners back in 2009, but they finished over .500 with him at the helm. The next year, the wheels came off and the Mariners fired him. One more common theme with Porter – Wakamatsu seemed to be at odds with his former general manager, Jack Zduriencik. To be fair to Wakamatsu, everyone seemed at odds with the former Mariners’ general manager except for his high-priced – and often underperforming – player acquisitions. Zduriencik once took the side of Chone Figgins over Wakamatsu after Figgins confronted the manager during a game. In Atlanta, that would be unlikely to happen. Many suggested Wakamatsu lost the clubhouse, but how much of that was a front office that took his legs out?

Wakamatsu currently works under former Braves coach Ned Yost in Kansas City and according to Yost, he runs every decision by Wakamatsu. In his first season under Yost, the Royals nearly won a World Series before taking home a title the next year. He’s steeped in analytics from his time with the Mariners and seems to have worked hard to bring Yost into the 21st century as well. This quote from an article on how he was fascinated by the then-brand-new metric system of Statcast is required reading for anyone interested in Wakamatsu.

“To me, BABIP simply raises a red flag, one way or another, and tells you to dive into it more deeply,” Wakamatsu said. “Along the same lines, if we look at an opponent who is 0-for-5 on sliders low and away, and he has a BABIP of .000 on those, you might think that’s the way to pitch him. But if his average exit velocity is 105 mph on those balls and they were all rockets, you’re not going to pitch him that way. 

“The bottom line is we’re in an age where there is all kinds of data coming in. The key is being able to use it to win games, not just to sit around and admire it.”

Stephen: I would gladly take either of those gentlemen over any internal candidate we’ve discussed but for my suggestion, I’m looking at Joey Cora.

First and foremost, Cora has the resumè for the job. After an 11 year playing career in MLB, Cora has spent the last 15 years either coaching or as an analyst covering baseball. He was on the White Sox staff from 2003-2011, including their World Series year, ranging from 1st base coach to bench coach and was the man deemed to be interim manager anytime Ozzie Guillen was suspended (which was frequently).

Cora also has experience as a manager in the Venezuelan Winter League, as a bench coach for the Miami Marlins, and hired by the Pirates AA team, the Altoona Curves, as their skipper in 2016.

This past year, Cora was promoted to the big league club and served as a base coach. His time with Pittsburgh is especially interesting for me given they’re one of the most analytical teams in baseball. Cora has gone on record saying his time with them has opened his eyes to new ideas.

The other big plus for Cora is Keith Law has publicly and consistently lobbied for him as a serious candidate. Law and Cora worked together on Baseball Tonight and Law has frequently pointed out that, in his opinion, Cora has everything you need to be a successful manager. Law views baseball managing very similar to how I do, no bunts, creative bullpen use, shifts, analytics before tradition etc, and if he supports Cora as a candidate then that carries weight with me. Add that to his time coaching in a very progressive organization the last couple of years and I’m sold.


Final Recommendation

It is the recommendation of this committee that the Braves go outside of the organization for their next manager. While we have no true consensus among the three candidates we have provided, we each believe that any of those three are preferable to other in-house options. Martinez has interned under possibly the best manager in baseball and runs the day-to-day for Joe Maddon. Wakamatsu has experience on the hot seat and understands both the traditional mindset as Ned Yost’s sidekick and the more analytical side of modern baseball. Cora has done it all and is a database of knowledge that can be useful for the Braves moving forward.
Should Atlanta want to stay in-house, a consensus was reached that Bo Porter should be the manager of the 2018 Braves. He understands the metrics and has embraced their usage in baseball. He has both dugout and front office experience, which would help him to understand the entire spectrum of his responsibilities. Porter is also young, which is useful in providing a building ballclub with a manager they can grow under. 
While the choice is yours, John Coppolella (and possibly John Hart), we believe it’s clear that the Braves should move on from Snitker and if they are going to limit their search to who is already on staff, the best option is the guy who has already served you for a year as a special assistant. 


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