Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Doing the Fredi in Atlanta

How to you replace a legend? You don't. All you can do is build your own legacy. And it's been done before. The Dodgers had this manager named Walter Alston who managed the team for 23 years and won seven National League pennants and four World Series titles. That's a long and beloved run that spanned the Dodgers from their Brooklyn days through that team's move to Los Angeles. When Alston retired, he was replaced by Tommy Lasorda. That worked out pretty well. Joe Girardi replaced a legend in Joe Torre. Girardi won a title and is making his own mark. And now it's Fredi Gozalez's turn as he replaces the retired Bobby Cox.

Girardi was a known entity as the Yankee catcher during the early years of their title runs in the late 90s. Lasorda was a bit less so as he pitched all of 58 innings in the majors and then managed in the minors until he got his shot. Fredi Gonzalez has been around, but he's not a guy many people are familiar with. He managed the Florida Marlins for three and a half years, but hardly anyone noticed except that in 2008 and 2009, the team did surprisingly well despite the lowest payroll in baseball. People in Atlanta know him because he was a coach on Bobby Cox's staff before taking the Marlins job. But basically, he's not well known outside of Atlanta and Florida.

To be sure, the Cuban born manager had an obscure professional career. We can find him in the 1982 draft when he was selected in the 16th round by the Yankees as a catcher out of Miami Southbridge High School. It was a terrible draft year for the Yankees. They had no first round pick and their two second round picks were wasted on Bo Jackson who went on to Auburn to play football and Tim Burtsas, a pitcher who did see some irregular time in the majors. But when the highlight of your draft is Dan Pasqua and Jim Deshais, then you know it's a bad draft. Drafting Gonzalez didn't pan out either.

According to the Wikipedia page on Gonzalez, he played six years in the Yankees farm system. But baseball-reference.com has no record for him. It is unknown if this guy linked here was the same guy, but that's as close as this writer could find on a Yankee catcher named Goznalez in the minors during that time period. The "Andres" Gonzalez found on the linked page could not be found in the Yankees drafts of 1983 and 1984, but perhaps he was signed out of Latin America or came from another organization. The Fan tends to doubt it's the same guy as Fredi's draft name was the same as it is now. His Wikipedia page indicates that he never rose above Double A. But you would think that if he rose that high, we could find him.

But anyway, Gonzalez toiled away in vain in the minors and somewhere along the line started managing instead in 1990 when he was all of 26 years old. The Marlins were a brand, spanking new team and Gonzalez was one of their early minor league managers when he joined that organization in 1992. You have to say that Gonzalez paid his dues managing in the low minors and working his way up. He made it to the majors as a coach in 2003. When Joe Girardi was fired as the manager of the Marlins, Fredi Gonzalez took over.

In his first year as the Marlins' manager, the team regressed a bit, but they finished with winning records in both 2008 and 2009. But when the team seemed stuck at the .500 mark in 2010, he was fired and Edwin Rodriguez took over. They didn't get any better under Rodriguez.

In between his first major league coaching season in 2003 and his Marlins managerial stint, he had slipped over to the Braves to coach for Bobby Cox. He must have made a favorable impression because it was assumed early on that he would succeed Cox when Cox decided to step down. Once Cox did announce his retirement in 2010 and the Marlins has made Fredi available, Gonzalez was named the heir officially.

It's hard to get a pulse on what kind of manager Fredi Gonzalez is by the statistics of his Marlins teams. Judging from the number of at bats people received, he wasn't the kind to mix and match his positional players. It appears that once he had his line up, he stuck to it and to his players. And that seemed to work for him as they were in the top five offensively in 2009.

Since he always had young starters in the rotation, his relievers got a lot of work. Three of them made more than 70 appearances in 2009 and another was over 60. But he didn't over work them and almost all of them had less innings pitched than games. That seems to indicate that he likes to play situational baseball with his pitchers. So Braves fans should be ready for lots of pitching changes, especially late in the game.

Gonzalez appears to be a good manager on teams that performed well under him despite payroll constrictions. He inherits a team that went to the playoffs last year and has a good solid mix of young studs and veteran players on his team. Bobby Cox was an institution, but that's not to say that he always got the most out of his teams. It will be interesting to see how the Braves play now that they are doing the Fredi.

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