Hello Sports fans,
Welcome to the therapeutic space of pulling one’s hair out and cussing at the television for Braves fans everywhere! No, seriously, this space will be dedicated to managerial (GM included) analysis. And I hope you’ll find it interesting while also providing that needed release to deal with the stress of Braves baseball.
First, let’s talk a bit about myself in the baseball ideology scale. I consider myself an analytical old-school baseball guy. It’s either a paradox or an oxymoron, I suppose you can decide. I still believe there is a place in the game for the eye test (for the scout’s opinion). And I paradoxically believe SABERmetrics. I am just starting to peel back what this new data can tell us, but there’s no denying its predictive and evaluating power.
That said, when it comes to managing the Braves I believe it is to be done by the numbers and probability absent the “gut” managing we’ve all been subjected to as Brave fans.
Some argue that the manager plays a small role in outcomes of baseball games. I think this is faulty logic. Sure, the players play, and the result is decided on the field. But decisions made by the manager influence game outcomes every night. On some nights, the manager doesn’t affect the game much. Other nights? He impacts the game in major ways. Case and point: The manager’s impact on a game varies widely from game-to-game.
All that is to say: managers do influence game outcomes. In the years prior to 2011, Braves fans were spoiled by the steady hand of Bobby Cox. Some fans have stated Bobby wasn’t a great in-game strategy man. That his whole (or large part of his) value was his ability to manage a clubhouse. This is revisionist history.
Here’s the thing, in Bobby’s long career as a manager, he definitely had moments where he made a move and it didn’t work. That happens. Occasionally it was a move he failed to make… like replacing Brooks Conrad with Diory Hernandez in the 9th. But in the large sample of Bobby’s career, he proved able to get the matchups he wanted in crunch time. And that is what managing in the NL is about in my opinion. I bold those words because that is what managing a late game is. Getting the matchup we want.
Brian Snitker and his predecessor have had problems with decision making. Now, this year, Snitker has improved his management in some areas. We’ll talk about those. But first I want to go through a few scenarios thus far that have raised my ire. Keep in mind, result in a few of these cases are irrelevant. The goal of managing a late game is to get the best matchup for the Braves. When that doesn’t happen, the management has failed result be damned.
The situation: Braves 5, Nationals 1 in the Top of 6th at Sun Trust Park.
The Nationals have Ryan Zimmerman available to pinch hit since he was given the day. The lineup card should have reflected this. With Moylan on the mound, Nationals skipper Dave Martinez sent Brian Goodwin to pinch hit for Pedro Severino. The hope for Martinez is that Snitker takes down Moylan and goes to a left-handed reliever, in this case, Sam Freeman. Zimmerman, if you were curious, sports a .944 OPS against lefties over the last three years. For comparison’s sake, Zimmerman has a .748 OPS against righties.
Snitker appeared to immediately realize his mistake. His body language said worry and agony as Sam Freeman was forced to deal with notorious Braves killer, Ryan Zimmerman. Fortunately, Freeman struck out Zimmerman and the Braves went on to win. But a managing mistake like that cannot go unnoticed or without criticism. This was a blunder. Now you must be saying, “what would you have done smarty pants?” Glad you asked.
What Snitker should have done: Once Goodwin is announced, Snitker should have gone to the mound and called for Dan Winkler. Winkler insures that Zimmerman stays right where he is (the bench), and Winkler would face the much less dangerous Goodwin.
Bench bats and double switches: The struggle is real.
It’s been noted by good Braves twitter scribes that our inability to pinch-hit our best bench bat is notably bad. Here are a few examples:
Series Finale, Cincinnati Reds
The situation: Game tied at 4 in the 6th, after Joey Votto went boom in the 5th.
Ryan Flaherty is facing a left-hander with 1-out and Ronald Acuña Jr. on first. Flaherty has hit .202 against lefties in recent years. His OPS over that same sample size? A meager .570. Last year, Johan Camargo crushed lefties hitting .403 with an astounding OPS of 1.128. With one out in the 6th the score tied at 4, we let Flaherty face the lefty, and he hit a harmless looping liner that ended in a double play to end the inning.
Note: A pitching change had been made here so the lefty would have had to face Camargo with Acuña Jr. on first. We could have pinch hit Charlie Culberson after Camargo’s at-bat.
The Reds wouldn’t have removed the lefty, most likely, because Ender Inciarte would have been on deck. We could have generated two favorable matchups in a tie game. Inexplicably, Culberson was the only bat that got used that day, and he saw a right-hander (OPS .499, sad face).
Using Peter Moylan, a final gripe
Lastly, let’s look quickly at Peter Moylan’s usage. Over the last three years, lefty hitters carry a 1.033 OPS against Moylan.
Granted Moylan hasn’t been good against anyone this year, but he’s faced 18 left-handers so far. That number should be very close to 0. Moylan faced three lefties in the disastrous 5th inning last Monday that led to a bases-loaded nightmare that ended in five runs for the Reds.
To double switch or not double switch…
We’ve seen some seriously questionable double switches by Snitker in his career. I won’t rehash those for the sake of us all. However, I was slightly annoyed that he didn’t double switch on Friday after Julio Teheran left with a shoulder issue.
In the top half of the 4th, Ryan Flaherty made the final out. And with Julio done for the day, I thought a double switch moving the pitcher spot to the 8-hole made some sense. Johan Camargo could have come on to lead off the 5th. But alas…. We did not double switch. Max Fried led off the 5th with a grounder to short.
Flaherty has been a nice find. I’m not understanding, however, why he’s entrenched at third to the point that we can’t even get Snitker to do his favorite thing ever: double switch.
Right now, it feels like that time we won a game with Nick Markakis hitting leadoff under Fredi Gonzalez…. And Markakis hit leadoff for two months results be damned. Why can’t we get Johan Camargo into the lineup? Flaherty has lost 60 points on his average over the past week or so… This I do not get.
I saw an opportunity to not let the pitcher lead off an inning, a simple managerial move…. And we didn’t do it. But I digress….
Not all hope for Snitker is lost? But it probably is…
Look, I’m not a Snitker fan. And I don’t want him to be manager after 2018. It would be wrong of me not to point some of the good things he’s done. He’s made some adjustments from last year that have helped big time.
The Situation: Mets 3, Braves 2 9th Inning 0 outs, Dansby Swanson on first
In the past, and in several cases last year, Snitker would have sacrificed to get the tying run to second. Needing two runs, we’d give away an out. This strategy really upset me. And faced with that situation here, Snitker let Camargo swing away. And he was rewarded. Camargo smoked a worm-burner into the gap for an RBI-triple. This was an example of real growth for Snitker.
This is a big shift in managerial strategy in my opinion. Giving up outs when you’re trailing is not a good strategy. Abandoning the bunting while trailing makes me happy.
Lineup change to ponder
The large majority of this piece was written for publication before Sunday’s game in Philly. I think we all awoke (at least I did, I still sleep in like I’m 18) to a surprise. Brian Snitker had done the thing none of us thought he would do. He dropped Ender Inciarte out of the leadoff spot.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ender. A lot has been written about his misplacement in the order. He’s an excellent contact hitter and is showing himself to be an elite base stealer. But, for a leadoff man, he’s never been strong getting on base. And he’s not a power threat. The leadoff spot ends up in a lot of RBI situations, so some thunder at the top is a plus.
The lineup he put forth on Sunday was opposite of the reasons I wanted to fire Snitker. I never thought he would fill out that lineup card. But he did, and he proved me wrong. He’s done some things here of late to raise his stock. I can be persuaded.
I am still not a believer for the reasons I outline above, and if he changes the lineup to its previous sub-optimal status? All of the goodwill shall be wasted. Everything about that lineup was perfect. If Snit can improve in late game situations? I don’t know. That lineup card really altered my view.
The Braves are thieves
The Braves of the last few years have been among the most conservative baserunning teams in MLB. So far this year the Braves are among the most aggressive team on the base paths in all of baseball. You can highlight that 19 team steals, with Ender Inciarte leading the team with 13.
The Braves have stolen 24 bases with nine caught stealing. Ozzie Albies has a caught stealing on a straight pickoff, Swanson was caught going on the first move against a lefty Sunday, and Inciarte got picked off in a bad situation last night. So, it feels like 24-and-5. Mad props to the Braves brass, and when I say brass, I mean more than management.
Steals aside, the team has been aggressive going first-to-third, Atlanta has put the pressure on with every chance. It’s exciting to watch. And I have to acknowledge the change because the Braves have been extremely conservative on the bases in recent years. I wasn’t able to find a great stat on steals in 2017, but I did see the Braves ranked 18th in MLB in steals per game. Ender himself is on pace to destroy his career high for steals. And if you haven’t noticed, Ender is getting in there with ease. Very few close plays at second especially.
The Braves sport four extremely athletic players that possess game-changing speed. The base running aggressiveness is a great chance to take advantage of a big strength. I feel it necessary to single out Braves superstar Freddie Freeman as well here. While not nearly as fleet of foot, he’s one of the smartest baserunners in the game.
We’ve seen Freeman’s aggressive base running create runs several times. Opening day is one example, Freeman’s play on the bases forces an error that opened the door for the Braves to tie the game.
To close out this diatribe, keep running, fools.