The Atlanta Braves are 9-28, the worst record in baseball through the first quarter of the season. So, today, they did what teams with the worst record in baseball do: they scapegoated the manager.
The #Braves have fired manager Fredi Gonzalez.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) May 17, 2016
Because I don’t think we have a lot of insight into who is a good or bad manager, I don’t really think we know whether Gonzalez was part of the problem or part of the solution in Atlanta. Clearly, this team was not going to be any good this year, and Gonzalez’s job was to try and make chicken salad out of, well, you know. The team’s offense has been a complete and utter disaster, however, with imported veterans like Erick Aybar (.185 wOBA), A.J. Pierzynski (.238 wOBA), Jeff Francoeur (.250 wOBA), and Kelly Johnson (.295 wOBA) failing to provide any value in their stop-gap roles, and the kids who have been promoted haven’t shown that they’re ready for prime time. Gonzalez’s nightly line-up was Freddie Freeman and the seven dwarves, plus whatever lousy starting pitcher he had to roll out there that night.
Certainly, a lot of guys on the team are underachieving, and this is how baseball works; when the team performs poorly, the manager gets the axe. And it seems likely that the team was going to change managers at some point, as most managers don’t survive the transition from trying-to-win through rebuilding to make it back to the trying-to-win-again phase. Gonzalez knew this was the job he was being tasked with, and he had to know that it was probably going to lead to his dismissal if things got ugly. And they have.
But it’s also difficult to see that anyone else could have done significantly better with this team. The Braves assembled a collection of replacement level old guys to try and hold down the fort while their prospects developed; the old guys appear to have declined faster than they expected. This is the price the team is paying for focusing on future value. Things will get better in Atlanta when guys like Dansby Swanson start arriving, but for now, Gonzalez was tasked with trying to coax wins out of a terrible roster. He didn’t, so now someone else will try, and thanks to the power of regression to the mean, the team will look like it improved under the new guy.
Gonzalez couldn’t win with a team that isn’t good enough to win, so now the team will try someone else. It’s how baseball works, even if it isn’t really the managers fault that his team gave him a lousy roster.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.