Joe Torre was the manager of the New York Yankees for 12 seasons, spanning 1996-2007. Torre was best known for handling the ferocious New York Media and handling the large egos of his talented ballclubs. Torre was not known, however, for his tacticalacumen. Despite rampant criticism, Torre's Yankees teams actually beat their Pythagorean W-L in TEN of the twelve seasons. Let me give you a little hint on why that is... Mariano Rivera. A lights out reliever to ensure close victories is far more valuable than the WAR stats will score. Obviously, a one run win counts as much as a ten run win. During Torre's tender with New York, Rivera ensured close victories and piled up W's for those teams. In fact, the only years Torre's Yankees didn't beat their Pythagorean W-L were the years when Mariano was in his first full season as closer while developing his cutter and the other was in 2007, when Rivera's ERA oddly jumped to a human-like 3.15 after four consecutive years of sub-2.00 ERAs. Essentially, the quality of arms in the bullpen will help you beat your expected win-loss rate. (Torre only beat his teams' Pythagorean W-L 7 out of 18 times in his non-Yankee years)
Fredi Gonzalez's managing tenure for the Florida Marlins spanned 3.5 seasons from 2007-2010. His teams' actual wins vs. Pythagorean expected wins goes as follows: 2007 (- 1 win), 2008 (+3 wins), 2009 (+5 wins), 2010 (- 4 wins). As you can see, Fredi's had a positive actual W-L vs. his expected W-L over his MLB managerial career. The bullpen ERA rank for his Marlins went as follows: 2007 (15th), 2008 (12th), 2009 (11th), 2010 (17th). Not surprisingly, the better the bullpen numbers, the better the W-L will be over the expected outcome. Last year's bullpen for the Marlins was actually worse for Fredi than the 2010 ranking actually showed. After Fredi was fired, after demoting the more ineffective relievers the bullpen stabilized as the year went along. Overall, I think the numbers show he has utilized his bullpen well, and I think that having a great bullpen like Atlanta's will be a big upgrade than what he's used to-- which should lead to doing well in close games. (Atlanta actually finished 3rd in bullpen ERA last year, but fell just short of their expected W-L. Even though the bullpen was outstanding, there was a little bit of bad luck that cost the Braves some runs. Billy Wagner, for instance, put up outlandish numbers of 104 SO to only 22 BB, but he suffered some bad luck to be credited with 7 blown saves and FanGraphs listed his Win Probability Added as only 0.97, good enough for 57th among relievers with a Clutch rating of -1.05. Hopefully, the bad luck will be behind us this year.) I already like the fact that he's not given the rank of "closer" to anyone yet. The context of the game should determine when to use a pitcher, not a pointless dichotomy based only on nomenclature. Both Kimbrel and Venters are fantastic talents, and they should be utilized in whatever way to help the team (the Braves that is, not fantasy league owners that would love to see one of these players rack up a bunch of saves). Overall, I'm optimistic about his bullpen usage and our ability to beat our expected W-L this season under Fredi's management.
It's one thing to outdo the expected Pythagorean W-L, but what's just as important to to is make sure you utilize the lineup to actually score as much runs as you can. All the Pythagorean W-L formula looks at is runs scored and runs allowed. This, of course, doesn't tell the whole story of whether or not the team got the most out of it's players. In 2006 and 2007 Jeff Francoeur got more PAs than Matt Diaz. Atlanta would have scored a lot more runs if those players would have switched roles. Thankfully, those days of Jeff Francoeur are behind us, but it's a lesson well learned to utilize the players on the team correctly. Capitol Avenue Club showed that Fredi did ask Hanley Ramirez, easily their best hitter, to bunt that resulted in 9 sacrifice bunts. However, that was only in Hanley's first two seasons. Fredi eventually did quit asking Hanley to sacrifice bunt and I don't think he'll ever ask Heyward to do so, as Bobby didn't either. The Braves have a balanced lineup that can easily be formulated to go right-left all the way down in a variety of ways. As noted earlier on this site, he's open to the implantation of batting McLouth 2nd and Heyward 6th. Since this is happening in ST, it's actually likely to happen in real games. I'll remain optimistic that this will not be a running theme throughout the season, as Heyward's OBP should be off the charts and last year and Bobby's lineup regularly put Heyward 2nd (The team showed obvious improvements after that simple move took place). The Braves have great potential for a balanced, highly efficient lineup. I hope the manager of all people makes that potential a reality.
I think Fredi was the right hire. He was essentially an inside hire due to his familiarity with the team and the organization. All reports I've seen from player interviews and his initial players meeting in Center Field lead me to believe that he'll run the clubhouse well and command all the respect and regard a manager deserves. The things that go on behind the scenes are said to be more important than the X's and O's anyway. Fredi should be the right guy for this team, but if I see our best hitter batting in the 6th spot in June, I'm gonna pull my hair out.