Atlanta Braves: Fredi Gonzalez Deserves Credit for Surge

Josh MaleyContributor IIIJune 13, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 01:  Fredi Gonzalez #33 of the Atlanta Braves against the San Diego Padres at Turner Field on June 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I remember at the end of April many people, including myself, were unsure and even worried about Fredi Gonzalez's performance as manager of the Atlanta Braves. For me, those worries are gone.

Since May 1, the Braves have gone 25-13, winning 66 percent of their games. They also have done this with a somewhat abysmal offense, only scoring 142 runs. Obviously their offense hasn't been winning games.

However, their pitching has been the best in baseball. Over that same span, their pitching has only given up 118 runs. But what do any of these stats have to do with Fredi Gonzalez?

Well, he has been pushing the correct buttons to achieve that success. He had a healthy team with high expectations in April and managed them to only 12 wins that month. His starting pitchers were dominant and gave the Braves every opportunity they needed to win almost all of their games in April. The Braves though did not take advantage.

Fredi was somewhat responsible for those losses. His offensive strategy produced unnecessary outs and he put in the wrong players in the later innings. He would try to manufacture runs using the wrong players and or he wouldn't emphasize the importance of getting on base enough. Remember the suicide squeeze attempt using Tommy Hanson?

What separates Gonzalez though from other managers is his ability to learn from his mistakes. In May and in this month he has effectively played small ball while correctly implementing his relievers. Why use George Sherrill when you have Jonny Venters who is incredible when pitching off of no days' rest?

The Braves have been able to win so many more one run games and extra inning games due to his new mindset. The Braves haven't been desperately swinging for the fences but instead getting the runner on and moving him over. In close games he utilizes that approach, and if in one inning it doesn't work he tries it again in the next while relying on the Brave's superior pitching. 

In terms of the pitching staff he also has been effective with the hook. Back in April he would leave a pitcher out way too long which led to many pitchers giving up runs unnecessarily. One game he let Jairo Ascencio face seven batters while only getting two out before replacing him. During that period of seven batters the Giants took the lead in seventh inning. The Braves rallied back, but that one bad decision could have easily cost the Braves the win and the sweep.

Since then he has been much more reasonable with his pitchers. When Derek Lowe started to fizzle against the Phillies after he had no hit them for six innings, Fredi pulled him instead of letting him try to finish the inning. Even though Lowe left with a man on second and third and no outs, the Braves did not give up a single run in that inning or the entire game.

One other thing that Fredi Gonzalez has been skilled at in his managing renaissance is his ability to create great makeshift lineups. With Jason Heyward, Martin Prado, and Nate Mclouth injured and struggling all the while, Fredi has replaced them with serviceable and contributing players.

Hinske has been one of the best bench players in baseball, Jordan Schafer has played like a true table-setter, and the others he has utilized have done their jobs either defensively or with the bat. Joe Mather practically single-handedly won the game in Anaheim for the Braves. 

Bobby Cox had a tendency to use "favorites" in games instead of using those who actually deserved spots, which did cost the Braves some games under his watch. Players like Greg Norton infuriated fans like me, yet they were played in important games or situations.

This year, almost all of the bench/backup players have been beneficial, not harmful, to the team. Even though the Braves currently have four key players on the DL, the team has won six straight and eight out of their last ten. If Fredi Gonzalez harmed the Atlanta Braves with his managing decisions in April, then he definitely has helped them during their current month-long drive for the playoffs.