keyboard_arrow_uptop
Baseball Prospectus is looking for a Public Data Services Director. Read the description here.

When you have nothing to say, sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all. By firing Fredi Gonzalez earlier this week, the Braves simultaneously said something and, at the same time, implicitly admitted that it would have been far, far better to say nothing at all. Because what, really, was the point of what happened this week? When you choose to enter the year with a manager in place—particularly a manager who, as is the case with Gonzalez, has been around for a while—you’re making a statement about your confidence in that manager’s ability to see you through the season in the way you’ve designed the season to be played. If you weren’t confident in the same, you would have made a change in the offseason.

And yet, just a little over a month into a campaign in which literally nobody—least of all the people who drew up the godforsaken roster, who are the selfsame people who just made a move—expected Atlanta to contend, the Braves are making a change, and in doing so allowing Gonzalez to be the fall guy for a team that was always going to be terrible, and by design. Did he hit someone? No. Shoot them? No. Show up to work naked and run screaming through Fulton County? No, although to be fair to the Braves’ brass I haven’t finished checking the police blotter. In fact, Gonzalez just happened to be in the dugout while the Braves sucked on the field in front of him. Firing him changes nothing about the long- or short-term trajectory of this team. And yet it happened.

The only reason I can think of for the move isn’t too comforting: that the Braves’ front office made this move when it did to Show Its Fans That It Cares About The Team, and take some pressure off of the hapless players to win in the short term. Except, firing Fredi doesn’t do anything to help the team in any meaningful way. It’s just noise. With one fell swoop, then, the Braves unwittingly divided their fans into two camps: those actually too stupid, or disconnected, to understand what The Plan is all about, and who therefore genuinely believe that firing Gonzalez will help; and—on the other hand—those fans who the Braves believe are too stupid to understand what The Plan is all about. The team has thus appeased one group with a move that’s basically a placebo pill to wash down poisoned water, and condescended brutally to everyone else who supports their team.

That’s not a good look, and it’s especially not a good look when it comes hot on the heels of the team announcing, with great fanfare and an ineffable aura of rich condescension, that it’s leaving its not-old-enough-to-drink-yet stadium for a richer, whiter ballpark in the suburbs. Both moves speak to a certain degree of corporate tone-deafness that’s infected a franchise that, for many years, was run like a family, and a successful family at that. It’s the same tone-deafness that’s led the Braves to subscribe to a version of The Plan that isn’t even all that likely to work.

After being sold the idea, for many years, that the goal of each individual baseball season was to win a World Championship, fans across the league have now, for the most part, basically reconciled themselves to the idea that most teams are routinely not trying to do that, and instead saving themselves up for a run every five or six years, if the plan comes together. Where once the goal was, “Let’s give it a shot this year,” every year, now the goal is “Let’s give it a shot once the kids leave home for college.” As with marriages, this only sometimes works, and it mostly works only when teams truly commit to the process. Which can be hard to watch.

But still, a fair number of baseball fans (including many who read this site) have accepted the idea that this sort of long-term sacrifice may be more rewarding for the fans overall. Flags fly forever, or so they say. And so if sacrificing Gonzalez was necessary to keep the knuckleheads of Atlanta away while the Braves truly committed to their part of the bargain, it might have been an understandable and maybe even a defensible move. Unfortunately for its fans, the Braves appear to have decided that a long-term rebuild will harm the “making money” part of the equation too much in the short term. And so they chose a weird half-route to a rebuild wherein they hold on to Freddie Freeman, sign Nick Markakis, and pretend that the rest of the Braves can play baseball.

They thought fans might come out to watch it happen, what with Freeman being relatively well liked in town. But they didn’t, and so the team found itself both not making very much money and not moving itself any closer to a golden future. To each fool his own return. In the long run, indeed, The Plan probably won’t work in Atlanta, not with another half-dozen teams trying to do the same thing all at once, and the Braves not even really committing themselves to the idea of selling off good players for parts, or losing quite enough to get truly elite draft talent. So there’s no short-term plan in Atlanta, and maybe no-long term plan either, and for these sins somebody had to lose their job. And so, this week, the Braves fired Fredi Gonzalez. Look what a difference it’s made. Maybe it’ll look better in Cobb County.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
ggdowd
5/19
There are plenty of Braves fans out there who simultaneously realize that firing Fredi Gonzalez won't fundamentally change anything about the franchise's trajectory and that Fredi was probably not very good at his job and should be fired. There are other possibilities than the false dichotomy of too-disconnected vs. too-stupid. He probably should not have started the season as manager, but he has undoubtedly not improved his claim on the position during the season.

The Braves were supposed to be bad, but they haven't been conventionally can't-hit-can't-pitch bad; there has been a complete breakdown of basic baseball skills that baseball fans tend to mostly take for granted: opposing runners moving up on missed cutoff throws, runners advancing two bases on wild pick offs, passed balls allowing key runs to move up or score, runners getting thrown out advancing to third on grounders to short, and on and on and on. Looking at their record (which is on pace for historic territory) actually significantly undersells how embarrassing this team is to watch on a day-to-day basis.

Is this all Fredi's fault? No, of course not. These are all ostensibly major league players. But Fredi's entire claim on the job was his supposed people management/soft-factor skills. Those skills are most important when things are bleak, and whatever he was doing didn't seem to be helping.

I also doubt he was fired for on-field performance, or even to send a message to fans (although that probably played some role). He was on a lame-duck contract and had expressed to the media that he wanted a vote of confidence or an extension. When management gave neither, things probably became untenable. I don't think Fredi was happy with the situation, and he helped bring things to a head.
rianwatt
5/19
As for your broader point: yes, that all makes sense. My concern with it was that, if these things were as you describe them (as I agree they are) then why not make the change in the offseason? What changed in 30+ days?
ggdowd
5/19
I agree! Nothing should have changed in 30 days, and this should have happened in the offseason. Two thoughts:

1. You shouldn't continue to make the wrong decision (in this case, keeping Fredi)just because you had other chances to make the right decision in the past. That's an argument for inventing time-travel, not for keeping Fredi. You might argue that this shows a lack of decisiveness or planning on the part of the Braves. I would agree. But once the front office decides they should fire him, they need to pull the trigger, not worry about optics.

2. Watching the breakdown in fundamental baserunning/defense/decision-making on the field has been legitimately jarring to watch, even to someone with very low expectations. Maybe the front office had reason to think he had something to do with it, and it eroded their opinion of him.
rianwatt
5/19
In response to

1. Totally agree, with the addendum that nothing should prevent us from using the opportunity, whenever it comes, to reflect upon how poorly the entire process has been handled. I think we agree on all counts here, haha.

2. Quite possible. I'm not inside their processes.
ggdowd
5/19
Thanks for the responses!
rianwatt
5/19
Hi there! I agree that fans in the category you describe exist, but believe they fall into the category of fans "the Braves believe are too stupid ..." etc. The point is, there's smart fans out there, but the Braves aren't doing anything to address their concerns. If I didn't express that clearly enough, that's on me.
ggdowd
5/19
But they already addressed the concerns of smart baseball fans! It may have flown under the radar, but Jeff Francouer's playing time has really ticked up lately...
gtgator
5/19
It's easy to say they should have fired him in the off-season. Who would they have hired that would have been better? That's always the piece of the puzzle that people asking "why now" seem to forget. This was a rag-tag bunch. No quality manager was ever going to come on board.

As for now vs. end of the season, they decided he wasn't going to be the manager at the start of 2017. Why drag it out longer, especially with him being asked about his job status daily? That wasn't helping matters.

Plus, with the number of TJS under his watch, his treatment of Wisler on Sunday could not have been viewed well. The goal is to develop and keep guys healthy - not throw a career-high in pitches for a 23 yo in a meaningless game.
ggdowd
5/19
Comment on the 2nd point:

There was this odd feedback loop with various media outlets asking Fredi about his status, then asking Coppy about what Fredi said about his status, then asking Fredi about what Coppy said about what Fredi said about his status, etc. etc. This probably accelerated the firing through sheer force of awkwardness.

And then he's fired, and the same outlets write articles about how it's not fair and how could he be expected to do anything with the roster, seemingly oblivious to the irony that the feedback loop they created helped force the issue, and that the loop's start was predicated on their own judgment/analysis that his continued employment was at least questionable.
brbaker3
5/19
Move should have been made when Kimbrel had arms crossed in bullpen watching David Carpenter serve up a bomb to Juan Uribe in 2013...
rwmiller98
5/20
Amen!
alwaxman
5/19
Prior to the season the Braves management might have decided that while Gonzalez wasn't going to be the answer long-term, this was going to be a wasted season anyway so why not keep him as manager for the time being? Most of the nucleus of the next good Braves team is in the minors and not ready for prime time so there's no need to rush into finding the right long term manager just yet.

Except the team has performed far worse than expected so why not give the AAA manager an audition? It's similar to cutting bait on Michael Bourn because even though there is a minuscule chance his replacement will be anything useful, minuscule is better than zero and it's not like there's any long term commitment given to the replacement.
GBSimons
5/19
They're tied with the Twins for the worst record in baseball, so at the moment the "losing quite enough to get truly elite draft talent" is happening.

Hey, it's something for Braves fans to get mildly enthused about.