Fredi Gonzalez

O’Brien: Fredi Gonzalez is “a pretty good manager”

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In a scathing column directed at Braves bloggers, the AJC’s David O’Brien spent a great deal of time setting up and then knocking down a plethora of strawman arguments supposedly made by Braves bloggers and Tweeters. Gonzalez has been the target of criticism ever since he took over for Bobby Cox in 2011.

Look at the wording O’Brien uses in his column:

The most predictable tweets and blog comments today and — depending upon game results — later tonight will come from a segment of the audience that’s convinced itself that Fredi Gonzalez does nothing right (at least not on purpose).

“Will blame”. “Surely will complain”. “Watch the anti-Fredi contingent twist itself into pretzels arguing”.

O’Brien then defends Gonzalez because the Braves have a good record in an arbitrarily-selected period of time, because Gonzalez is bilingual, and because Cox was also the target of criticism during his tenure. It’s just a very curious column overall, one that is very unconvincing.

I cannot speak to the day-to-day strategical decisions made by the Braves’ skipper (Craig can do that), but I do notice a lot of parallels to the praise Phillies manager Charlie Manuel received from the Philadelphia media between the time the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 until they disappointed in the NLDS in 2011. In fact, almost the same exact arguments O’Brien uses in favor of Gonzalez were used by Stan Hochman to praise Manuel back in 2011, just to cite one example.

But Manuel’s flaws are plenty — he is easily one of the worst managers in terms of decision-making. He refuses to use closer Jonathan Papelbon in non-save situations on the road, he has a strong aversion to platoon match-ups (only exacerbated by the same aversion of GM Ruben Amaro), and he is unable to enforce scheduled off-days for oft-injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley despite insistence they would get more rest. The Phillies media, for the most part, either did not recognize these as flaws or ignored them due to the club’s success. Over the past year and a half, though, Manuel has been criticized quite a bit by the same Philly media that was quick to defend him. The Phillies teams circa  2008-11 were good enough to hide Manuel’s flaws; now that the team is weaker in almost every way, his shortcomings are much more apparent.

It seems like the media ebbs and flows between deifying and dethroning managers. It’s not the media’s job to do either. And there’s a difference between rebutting criticism and deifying. Citing team wins since last July 4 and praising bilingualism is about as close to deifying as you can get, at least as far as baseball managers go.

Manuel, by the way, can speak Japanese.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: