I recently received quite a bit of flack for one of the five points in my last article on what the Braves need to happen in order for them to win the East.
So, in the spirit of discussion, and defending myself, I have decided to elaborate on my point on what Bobby Cox needs to do to get his Braves over the hump.
Yesterday much was made about this being Bobby Cox's 29th and final season as a manager, 20th consecutive with the Braves, and he emphasized how it was going to be business as usual in Atlanta. I say that sounds great and all but a number of things can't continue if the Braves expect not only to be competing in October baseball, but making a run at a title in this his final season.
I was talking with my sister yesterday (Bleacher Report featured columnist for college football and all things SEC) about how we would love to see Bobby just go rogue for a season, if not a few instances. I spoke with her because we have another head man, Mark Richt, who has the same even-keeled, player's-coach mentality as Bobby Cox.
Now as a precursor to my opinion, let me just add that Bobby Cox is still the greatest manager of this generation. That being said, I believe, as many in the South who have watched as long as I have, that he waits too long to make necessary moves in a timely manner.
Now the piece from my last article went like this:
4.) Bobby Cox
He needs to manage with as much urgency as the players who are trying to send him out with a bang. He is without a doubt in most minds the greatest manager of his generation and should be given a proper send off. What more fitting end to a fantastic managerial career than a deep playoff run.
Problem is the old dog must use new tricks in his pursuit of the ultimate goal. One such is not waiting too long to pull the trigger on switching pieces and utilizing relievers in a more constructive manner i.e. when someone isn't getting it done, lets move on (Jo Jo Reyes/Manny Acosta anyone?).
We all know the baseball mind Cox has. That was never the question. It's that big heart that needs some fine tuning in order to get things done this time around.
One such instance was last year when Kelly Johnson was struggling to make things happen at the plate.
For two months, Braves fans watched as Johnson, who, despite all the talent in the world, couldn't get it together when the Braves needed him most. Never mind the fact that Johnson is a notorious streak hitter, but as Martin Prado continued to outplay Johnson in every aspect of the game, Johnson was given more chances than he should have been to play everyday.
Cox, by his own admission this spring, says that having Prado's energy and skills in the lineup from the get go this year will be a major boost to an offense that got going after his arrival.
A lot of the argument came of my assessment of his handling of pitchers throughout the last few years. No we don't have Glavine or Maddux who, with all of their greatness, were also two of the most durable pitchers of their time.
The numbers don't lie folks:
Tom Glavine from 1990-2002 averaged 231 innings pitched and had 45 complete games.
Greg Maddux from 1993-2003 averaged 238 innings pitched and had 61 complete games.
Times have certainly changed for Bobby Cox and I will admit he didn't always have that security of running a pitcher out every five days to at least keep him in ball games, at least until last season.
I'm a purist by nature. I don't believe in UZR or sabermetrics or money ball. I most assuredly don't believe in pitch counts and the reason is simple: I grew up watching Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Nolan Ryan, Pedro, and a host of other pitchers in their prime. If these young guns are better, stop babying them.
That being said, his pitching staff kept him in enough games at the beginning of the season to be legitimate postseason contenders well before the second half of the year.
Three pitchers in the Braves bullpen were overworked in the first half. That just wasn't necessary.
I use the example of Javier Vazquez, a veteran pitcher who is known for eating innings like Pac-Man eats pellets, being taken out of a game in the sixth inning, leading 10-3 and pitching effectively.
Let him finish. We don't need to see Blaine Boyer, Peter Moylan can get his work in another day, and Eric O'Flaherty could have saved his arm for the next series.
That game was in Philly, going for the sweep, and it is a time to, as they say in ACC basketball country, keep the foot on the throat and send a statement (Braves were 10-8 against the Phillies last season).
Another example is not utilizing the hot hand.
Kris Medlen, who I had the thought of possibly being considered for the closer's role, was as close to automatic as you can get in the second half of the season. An overexposed Rafael Soriano was not. So why not go with the hot hand?
I can't fault Bobby for his loyalty, as careers tend to prove a player will end up in about the same spot based on past performance. That being said I can fault him for not tapping into his dark side and utilizing his players who have the hot hand in a timely manner.
This, his final go at it, should not be a time he waits two months if someone gets cold, or if a player gets injured don't be afraid to go to a four-man rotation and tap into that source rather than giving us even a glimpse of the Jo-Jo Reyes experience.
Is it easy? Not even a little bit. But can it be done? That will remain to be seen.