A few days ago, Ben Lindbergh of Grantland put together a stellar piece, a 2015 version of his Managerial Meddling Index. Therein, Lindbergh quantifies each of the teams in the 2015 MLB season in accordance with how often they do certain things which interrupt or alter the course of the game. Looking over the results, you might find that some of Fredi Gonzalez's rankings surprise you, and others that do not. Overall, these rankings don't tell us much about the overall effectiveness of Gonzalez as a manager, but they do offer some interesting things to think about now that we're in the long, cold offseason.
One-Batter-Faced Pitcher Appearances - Fredi's Rank: 4th
This one may or may not be surprising, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, a common critique of Fredi's managing is that he's not all too up on the platoon advantage thing (although other times, he follows it too slavishly; go figure). Per Lindbergh's research and number crunching, Fredi ranks in the top echelon of managers in terms of using pitchers to face a single batter, and his rate of doing so is a bit greater than one standard deviation above the mean.
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From a tactical perspective, it's hard to say whether ranking highly on this metric is unquestionably a good thing. On the one hand, you definitely want to set up advantageous matchups for your relievers that place them, and thus your team, in a good position to succeed. On the other hand, this needs to be done judiciously to some extent, or else some bad breaks on balls in play may lead to a never-ending inning with constant reliever swaps.
It's tempting to say that Fredi's hand was a bit forced as far as this metric. After all, he was stuck with a dreadful bullpen where often there were no right answers for a given situation. On top of that, many of the relievers he had at his disposal have awful platoon splits and can't be allowed to, in good faith, face opposite-handed hitters. So given that, perhaps 4th is not surprising. After all, you wouldn't want to have Peter Moylan, Sugar Ray Marimon, or Brandon Cunniff facing lefties, or pretty much any lefty reliever on this team facing a righty (the numbers are really grim, and Luis Avilan was the only 2015 lefty reliever on the team who could actually get righties out at all).
But, on the other hand, Fredi was also around the top five overall when working with a better bullpen in 2014.
Fredi ranks highly in this metric for 2015, and was also around the top five in 2014. That bullpen wasn't among the league's best, but it was very solid, and given a lack of lefty relief options pretty much all season (especially once everyone became enamored with the strange idea that James Russell had sustainable reverse splits), it's a little surprising that Fredi would rank among leaders in this respect.
Among other managers, there's a weird mix of teams with ineffective and effective bullpens. Teams with the most such outings are the Giants, Cardinals, and Indians. The Giants had a poor bullpen, but the Cardinals and Indians had effective ones. Meanwhile, the Royals, Orioles, and Phillies used relievers for one batter the least. The Orioles and Royals had great bullpens, while the Phillies were average in this regard. It's hard to say there's anything specific to be drawn here with regard to how bullpen construction and performance influences usage.
Again, it's hard to make a definitive value judgment here, but it seems that Fredi meddles with relief outings more than the average manager in this day and age. Sadly, Lindbergh did not collect data on how often managers pulled starters in the innings after they were allowed to hit for themselves.
Challenges Used - Fredi's Rank: 7th
Hit-and-Runs - Fredi's Rank: 18th
I can't remember many hit-and-runs called by Fredi this season, so it might be that these are pretty rare in MLB these days in general. Fredi's overall rank put him just slightly below average in this regard. With that said, the Braves didn't have much of a roster for hit-and-runs: they were a below average baserunning team in aggregate (though not by much, just like a run below average in total), and while they were a top five contact team this season, that just isn't very valuable when the guys you have getting on base aren't very fast. Of the Braves hitters that avoided making outs in more than a third of their plate appearances (OBP > 0.333), Nick Markakis, Freddie Freeman, Juan Uribe, Nick Swisher, and AJ Pierzynski aren't the types of guys you send, no matter who's at the plate. Among fast players, Eric Young Jr., Pedro Ciriaco, and to a lesser extent Jace Peterson had trouble getting on base, while Eury Perez and Cameron Maybin were better but not exactly constantly there.
In general, hit-and-run frequency isn't a good or bad thing. But it looks like Fredi's roster really hamstrung him with regard to possibly calling for more of these types of plays, and it's surprising that he ranks around the middle of the pack rather than towards the bottom in this metric. (Fredi Gonzalez was similarly averse to hit-and-runs in 2014, when the Braves had a very slow team that was also terrible at making contact.)
Fact of endless amusement: Freddie Freeman was the team's best baserunner by BsR this year.
Intentional Walks - Fredi's Rank: 3rd
This also doesn't surprise me much: Fredi loves the ol' intentional pass, and issued them in 2015 at a rate of about 1.5 standard deviations above the mean. This, too is probably tied into the terrible pitching quality: worse pitching means more runners on second means more of a point where an intentional walk makes sense. Last season, without a dreadful pitching staff, Fredi was relatively IBB-averse. The guys ahead of him this season, Mike Scioscia and Lloyd McClendon (Angels, Mariners, respectively) featured subpar pitching staffs as well (below average for the Angels, pretty bad for the Mariners). On the flip side, though, the Marlins issued the fewest IBBs this season, and their pitching staff was pretty poor as well. Good pitching teams, like the Cubs, Dodgers, and Pirates, tended to be middle of the pack as far as this metric is concerned.
Overall, can't fault Fredi much here, though it's hard to say that a manager that issues a lot of IBBs should be faulted in general unless he's constantly doing so in situations that seriously harm the win expectancy or otherwise misinterpret the state of the game.
Lineups Used - Fredi's Rank: 1st
Pinch Hitters Used for Position Players - Fredi's Rank: 19th
Pitchouts Called - Fredi's Rank: 17th
This is kind of a weird one, because I truly believe that one place where Fredi excels above other managers is his ability to sniff out opposing baserunners and call appropriate pitchouts. There's been some research recently that indicates that pitchouts are kind of pointless, and this is probably mostly the case. But Fredi has shown an ability to be fairly uncanny with them (and if there were easily tracked pitchout statistics, I think they'd prove this for his early managerial tenure). Last season, Fredi led the league in pitchouts called; this season, he's slightly below average. It's possible that teams didn't run as much when Bethancourt started (as rare as that was) due to his perceived arm strength, or that Fredi and Roger McDowell didn't feel the need to saddle young pitchers with extra balls as they labored on the mound.
Pinch Runners - Fredi's Rank: 13th
Sacrifice Attempts by Position Players - Fredi's Rank: 15th
No, that's not a typo. Yes, Buntlanta is a fun meme. But no, Fredi really isn't all that in love with bunting, at least not relative to his managerial peers. And yes, this surprised me a lot. Overall, Fredi is a smidgen below average at calling for sacrifices with position players. He was also below average last year, though last year team's was less equipped for small ball than this one.
I'd prefer that managers, especially managers of teams I'm rooting for, bunt less. Bunting makes sense sometimes, especially in specific late-game situations and cases where the hitter at the plate is really terrible, and bunting for a hit is great for the right hitter. But this is "sacrifice attempts" and not "bunts," and honestly, if you have a position player that's so bad that sacrifice bunting is a good move for him, get a better position player. (Insert stray comment about Ian Desmond here.) In any case, I'm gladdened that this is lower than I expected/feared, but it could stand to be lower still.
Weirdly enough: Ned Yost is only marginally above average at calling for bunts in 2015, and was not that far above average in 2014 either. Meanwhile, John Gibbons, who helms the Toronto Ball Go Far Extravaganza, is 8th overall in asking his ball-maulers to bunt. Hmm.
Defensive Shifts - Fredi's Rank: 27th
This one bums me out. Shifts are good. The Braves should shift more to aid their run prevention. There's not a super-great, easily-noticeable relationship between Defensive Efficiency (basically reverse BABIP) and shifts right now, but that's largely due to the fact that all pitchers are not identical and don't elicit the same quality of contact. Still, teams like the Rays and Astros shift a bunch and have good rates of converting balls in plays to outs, and I'd rather Fredi take a page out of their playbook than out of the playbooks of Lloyd McClendon, Matt Williams, and Robin Ventura, who are as averse to shifting as he is. Overall, Fredi's team shifted about a standard deviation below the mean relative to other teams. Blah. (Of course, it's important to shift smartly and not just for the sake of doing so.)
Defensive Substitutions - Fredi's Rank: 24th
Opponent Plate Appearances Against Pitchers in their Third Time Through the Order - Fredi's Rank: 26th
This one isn't surprising as the Braves didn't have starters go deep into games, and Fredi is notoriously quick-hooked, especially with younger pitchers. And it's not like the Braves' pitching staff was good enough to really warrant this, either. I feel pretty good about Fredi being here, not only because I know that it jibes well with reality, but also because I'd rather have this be the case when it's Fredi making a decision than have him leaving pitchers out to dry on the mound against hitters that have seen their stuff multiple times already.
On the flip side, with the 2015 Atlanta bullpen, it's really picking your poison, and in order to assess Fredi's quick hook-ness or lack thereof, we probably need a team with a better top-to-bottom pitching staff.
Lindbergh also includes a "consistency" measure that sees how consistently a manager ranks in terms of these meddlesome actions, and an overall score. Fredi Gonzalez ranks 12th overall in both of these, so he's fairly consistent, as managers go, both in terms of how he meddles via one aspect versus another, and how much he meddles overall. Again, this ranking isn't an overall good or bad thing - it's just a way of keeping track of what he has and hasn't done that's within his purview. In any case, it looks like he's coming back for 2016 - it'll be interesting to see whether these trends continue, or whether a potentially different roster alters the frequencies with which he makes these, and other decisions.