Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four

Don’t blame Fredi Gonzalez for last night’s loss. Blame the Braves culture.

87 Comments

I got a lot of emails asking me if I had a heart attack and died after last night’s game. Folks: I’ve been watching the Braves woof themselves out of the playoffs early for many-a-year now. So, yes, it sucked, but any Braves fan claiming their heart was unexpectedly ripped out last night is either very young or hasn’t been paying a lot of attention. You steel yourself for that at this point.

More specifically, people are asking about the decision to let David Carpenter pitch to Juan Uribe with a man on in the eighth last night rather than go to Craig Kimbrel. About that, my thoughts are a bit mixed.

Yes, in an ideal world you use your best relievers in the highest leverage situations. Craig Kimbrel is your best reliever. A man on in the eighth with the go-ahead run at the plate in an elimination game is as close to as high-leverage as it gets. You put Craig Kimbrel in there. I put Craig Kimbrel in there. Earl Weaver and Joe Torre put Craig Kimbrel in there. It’s the smart move. You don’t save him for the ninth inning when everything can be lost in the eighth.

But Fredi Gonzalez didn’t. And, more to the point, Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t put Craig Kimbrel in there. Ever. It’s not in his history, not in his makeup and there is zero reason to ever have expected Fredi Gonzalez to go to his closer for the six-out save in that situation. As such, to act as if he screwed up massively in not doing so — to claim that this was some uniquely profound brain fart — takes no small amount of hindsight and wishcasting and a great deal of ignorance about who the man at the controls actually is, as opposed to what we wish would have happened.

Don’t construe this as a defense of Fredi Gonzalez. It’s not. Not exactly, anyway. He has by-the-book-itis and by-the-book-itis is what allowed Uribe to hit that home run. But it’s a chronic, even congenital condition on his part, not something which attacked him out of nowhere between innings last night. Indeed, by-the-book-itis afflicts the Braves organization like hemophilia afflicted the Hanoverian monarchs. It’s always there. It didn’t just attack suddenly on October 7, 2013.

Fredi Gonzalez learned this way of thinking from Bobby Cox and had it reinforced in a thousand ways by an organization which always has and, until there is new leadership, always will value and reward people who do things in painfully conventional ways. Doing things the right way, as Brian McCann might say. Indeed, if you don’t see a thread connecting all of that unwritten rules stuff from September and what led Fredi Gonzalez to use his setup man in the eighth and save Kimbrel for a bit, you haven’t been paying attention to the Atlanta Braves very long. It extends to their offseason moves and payroll decisions and everything else.

Sometimes it’s a good thing. There are a lot of conventions that have become that way because they make sense, in baseball and in life. The Braves have never mortgaged their farm system and, as such, have spent relatively little time as an uncompetitive team over the past 22 years. Most of their trades work out OK because they don’t take huge risks. When they have “gone for it” in mildly aggressive ways it has burned them, such as trading Adam Wainwright for a year of J.D. Drew or multiple prospects for Mark Teixeira, and I believe they’ve made note of that. On the whole, the organization’s success, such as it is, is due to a certain small-c conservatism. And, on the whole, there has been a good amount of organizational success.

As we saw last night, however, that small-c conservatism can and often is the difference between being merely good and being great. And it’s hard to see a situation in which the Braves can transcend the merely good given the organization’s overall culture. No one got fired when the Braves woofed away a playoff spot in 2011. No one, most likely, is going to get fired for the Braves’ latest early playoff exit. The organization just doesn’t roll that way. It seems content to be merely good. And it has never really rewarded bold, outside-the-box (or outside-the-book) thinking.

Did Fredi Gonzalez cost the Braves that game last night? In a way. But it wasn’t because he committed some massive screwup. It’s because he was doing things he has always done them and in the way his organization wants him to, either directly or indirectly.

Joaquin Benoit blames overly-sensitive hitters for benches-clearing incidents

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 12: Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the seventh inning during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 12, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
7 Comments

The other night, Blue Jays reliever Joaquin Benoit needed help getting off the field after the second benches-clearing incident with the Yankees. It was later revealed that Benoit tore a calf muscle during the fracas, ending his season.

Yesterday he pointed the finger at just about everyone else for the incidents like the one that led to his injury. Hitters specifically. From The Star:

“I believe as pitchers we’re entitled to use the whole plate and pitch in if that’s the way we’re going to succeed,” Benoit said. “I believe that right now baseball is taking things so far that in some situations most hitters believe that they can’t be brushed out. Some teams take it personally.”

That “take it personally” line is interesting coming from Benoit as, in this instance, it seemed pretty clear that the whole plunking exchange which led to his injury started because Josh Donaldson took an inside pitch that did not seem to be a purpose pitch at all, too personally.

Did Benoit take a veiled swipe at his teammate here? If so, that’s pretty notable. If not it’s notable in another way, right? As it suggests that Benoit believes it’s OK for his teammates to take issue with inside pitches but anyone else who does is part of the problem?

Which is it, Joaquin?

Jose Fernandez’ memorial service will be today

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Pitcher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins poses for photos on media day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 24, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

There will be a public memorial service for Jose Fernandez today. The Miami Marlins said in a news release today that fans can gather along the west side of Marlins Park this afternoon for the departure of a funeral motorcade at 2:16 p.m. Fernandez wore No. 16 on his jersey. For those not in Miami, ESPN will provide live coverage of memorial services from 2-2:30 p.m. EDT.

A public viewing will be held at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. A private funeral Mass will be held tomorrow for family and Marlins players and personnel.

In lieu of flowers, the Fernandez family asks for charitable contributions to the JDF16 Foundation,