It’s not easy managing a team as bereft of talent as the Atlanta Braves, so my first impulse is to feel bad for Fredi Gonzalez, who has steered his garbage team to an 0-7 start. But the Braves have been in some very winnable games, and Gonzalez hasn’t been doing much but tripping over his own feet in the early going.
Last night’s loss to the Washington Nationals saw Gonzalez make a few bad decisions, which he later defended with some particularly cringeworthy quotes. The Braves got a surprisingly strong start from reclamation project Jhoulys Chacin, who held the Nationals scoreless through six innings and needed only 69 pitches to do so. In the top of the seventh, with the score still 0-0, Braves second baseman Gordon Beckham hit a two-out double. Chacin was due up next, but Gonzalez decided to yank him for pinch-hitter Jace Peterson, a career .224/.296/.310 hitter. Peterson struck out on four pitches, and Gonzalez later justified the decision to pull his lights-out starter thusly:
“[Chacin] was pitching some kind of baseball,” Gonzalez said. “I think if it’s one of those decisions later in the summer, where you’ve got a winning streak going and you’re rolling, you maybe let him hit there. But he was pitching some of the best baseball I’ve seen this year.”
There are a lot of factors managers need to consider when making in-game decisions. “Are we on a winning streak?” really shouldn’t qualify.
Gonzalez continued boning things after Chacin was pulled. The Braves loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth, and had Jeff Francoeur due up. Gonzalez could have brought in Kelly Johnson—a career .333/.361/.623 hitter with the bases loaded, incidentally—but he left Francoeur in there to ground into an inning-ending double play. Again, he didn’t have a great explanation:
“I thought about [pinch-hitting Johnson], but Frenchy has been in the game and he’s been swinging,” Gonzalez said. “He comes up with those big hits in those situations. The matchup wasn’t one of those matchups where it was crazy one way or another. I kind of felt good about that.”
Jeff Francoeur is, incidentally, a career .240/.270/.320 hitter with the bases loaded. Also, Jeff Francoeur sucks.
The Braves have now lost four games in which they’ve held a lead in the seventh inning or later, but it’s not the results or even Gonzalez’s decisions that should worry Braves fans as much as Gonzalez’s reasoning.
It’s hard to effectively manage a team this bad. Every night, Gonzalez is going to be faced with what are essentially lose-lose decisions. Do I bring my bad hitter off the bench, or let my worse hitter swing away? Which of my not-very-good relievers should I use in this situation? But those moments become even bigger minefields when the guy making the decisions is starting from a false premise such as “Jeff Francoeur comes up with bigs hits in those situations.” If Gonzalez keeps going like this, what was already going to be a bleak season for the Braves is going to be that much harder to watch.