Yesterday marked one of my favorite days of the year…Atlanta Braves Opening Day!
There are high, yet realistic hopes for this Braves’ team. Most MLB evaluations have the Braves somewhere around 72-78 wins for the year with a huge asterisk that is the unknown of young players like Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Luiz Gohara, A.J. Minter, Preston Tucker, Dansby Swanson, and more to come. Like every season in the past 4-5 years, there’s a whole lot of ifs, but man oh man, aren’t the ifs this year so much more fun than the ones in the past?
Like most games, there were ups and downs with the climax coming in the bottom of the 9th. The ever-criticized cleanup hitter Nick Markakis stepped up to the plate and did the unthinkable. For many that know his play, no one would’ve been surprised had he singled or doubled in the game-winning run. However, Nick shocked the Braves world, went yickety, and the rest is Opening Day history. It was Markakis’s first walkoff homerun in his 12-year career. At the end of the day, we are all Braves fans here, so whether or not we enjoy Markakis has little to do with the feat. It was extraordinary and, for a little while, Kakes is our hero.
As was with 2017, Brian Snitker made some moves that made Braves fans explode all over social media. But Snitker wasn’t the only one being heavily criticized as new manager of the Phillies, Gabe Kapler, also made Phillies’ social media explode in rage. Let’s take a look at their decisions. I’ll give my opinion and I’d love to see some respond in the comments on their takes.
Brian Snitker‘s Management Decisions
- Nick Markakis batting cleanup- Many looked at the lineup last night and had a mini-freak out when Nick Markakis was batting cleanup. While I won’t get into too much of a lineup construction argument, it’s really not that big of a deal. Yes, aside from 1 at-bat against Hoby Milner, who was deemed FF5’s arch-nemesis when he entered (then Freddie planted one in the RF stands), Freddie was pitched around all night (and I tweeted about that). But with Tyler Flowers receiving only a handful of Spring Training at-bats, I’m not sure what choice there was unless Nick Markakis and Freddie swap and that’s too debatable to discuss. The bigger problem is obviously that Markakis or one of the catchers seem best choice for the spot and that is disheartening. The move? Defensible
- Julio Teheran pitching in the 6th- Some were a bit upset about Julio going out for the 6th inning and then were really triggered when the leadoff guy hits a dinger. I’m not one of them. He had looked great and I do believe in the empowerment of a starting pitcher to try to get the win. Defensible
- Rex Brothers 1st up in relief- This is where Snitker’s judgment really starts to falter. The Braves have 8 fresh arms in the bullpen, 2 of which had awful springs in Rex Brothers and Dan Winkler. Compounding that point, Rex was awful last year. Until he proves trustworthy, he should be mop-up specialist and work his way into higher leverage innings. It’s my opinion in that situation where a game can quickly get away, the best choice is to bring in a pitcher that throws high quality strikes. It just so happens that pitcher is a lefty for the Braves. This was a clear cut situation for A.J. Minter. Some argue Sam Freeman. Sure…if your opinion is of the old school approach and think it’s necessary for AJ to pitch in the 8th or 9th, whatever. This was a bad choice, but Rex has been known to get LHHs in the past so….Barely defensible
- Rex Brothers facing a RHH in a bases loaded high-leverage situation- Nope…not one part of this should any fan be okay with happening. First off, Rex had a 7.23 ERA in 2017. A 7.20 ERA in Spring Training, and RHHs have lit him up. Midseason when pitchers are taxed? Maybe. But first game and first Opening Day at Suntrust Park? I was mad. Really mad. Really, really mad. Indefensible
- Dan Winkler brought in with bases loaded- Dan was really good last year. He was less good this spring, and while I don’t put too much emphasis on spring training numbers, he really struggled with walks this spring. A bases loaded situation is a tough 1st assignment to a guy that walked 8 batters in 7.1 innings during spring. With Knapp being a LHH, maybe Sam Freeman makes the most sense, but point being is that it doesn’t seem wise to bring in a guy struggling with control. Barely defensible
- Peter Moylan facing a LHH with a man on- With 1 out and Braves down 3, Moylan was left in to pitch to a LHH with a runner on 2nd. It worked. Moylan is an effective reliever, but he should not be facing LHHs in big situations. Sure, it’s going to happen but there’s a career .300 points difference in his OPS against LHHs and RHHs. Still, a RHH was next…a good RHH. Somewhat defensible
- Emptying out the bench in the 8th in a tie game- Snitker gets in a bit of trouble with his bench as he really likes the usage of a pinch runner. Since Kurt Suzuki had to come on in the 2nd inning due to Tyler Flowers’s injury, there’s a bit of a pass here. Still… this is riverboat gambler type-stuff and the safe move is to let Suzuki run. It worked out so there’s that. Somewhat defensible
Gabe Kapler‘s Managerial Decisions
- Not starting Odubel Herrera– Unless he was hurt or was sitting for disciplinary reasons, this seems bizarre. Herrera has been the best player for the Phillies the last 3 years. I’m not a Phillies’ fan but this one is a real head-scratcher. Indefensible.
- Removing Aaron Nola– The starting pitcher hasn’t broke 70 pitches and hasn’t given up a run. No matter what your metrics tell you, let him pitch Gabe. Personally, I’m thankful you didn’t. Indefensible
- Allowing Edubray Ramos to pitch to Preston Tucker- Dude was legit good last year and year prior, but has bad splits against LHHs. I only give this grade due to the bizarre happenings above which had to be plans of “playing the odds”, yet didn’t happen here. Why? Indefensible
Walt Weiss is here as a bench coach, but really his job is to prevent Snitker from making decisions based on “gut”. Unfortunately, there were at least 2 moves last night that showed 2017 Snitker is no different than 1 game sample 2018 Snitker. If Snitker stays married to the idea of pitching his relief core in particular innings rather than situations, I’ll go bald. Wait a minute…
Kapler was brought in as a bit of a new-age manager infused deeply into analytics. He chose to use those analytics when his SP had his first big hiccup in the 6th inning and seemingly ignored them when filling out the lineup and leaving in Edubray Ramos to face a LHH. If analytical is going to be the approach, stick to it.