One lesson the game of baseball has reinforced time and again in its long, glorious history is that a team, no matter how talented, can prosper or perish at the hands of the manager. It’s an impossibly hard job to call the shots, and at the end of the season, you’re either a genius or a fool in light of the results of your decisions. The Atlanta Braves former manager, Fredi Gonzalez, was at the helm during the team’s 96 win 2013 season, as well as the 9-28 start to 2016. What matters now is that Gonzalez is gone, and Brian Snitker has been given the chance for the history books to judge him as the winner he seemed to be.
Atlanta Braves Position Preview: Coaching
The 2016 Braves were never pegged to be a winning club, but nobody expected the franchise to open the season with nine straight losses. The Bravos were on pace for about 123 L’s after that 37-game stretch. There was no life in the clubhouse. The players said all the right things, but the actions on the field spoke for their morale and confidence. Gonzalez was sent away in favor of long time Braves minor league manager Brian Snitker and Atlanta never looked back.
The Brian Snitker Era
Snit picked up the leadership role already 13.5 games out of first place. There was an immediate impact. Though the team initially stayed heavier in the loss column, the energy was different. The team responded well to Snitker, and it showed on the field. The Braves stayed afloat while fighting the weight of their awful start. Snitker’s record at the end of the season stood at 59-65.
The win-loss record never tells the entire story. That 59-65 will never speak for one of the league’s most potent offenses in the second half. It doesn’t show the 37-35 record in a portion of that span. Even 37-35 doesn’t reflect the 12 wins in their last 14 games. The players pleaded with the front office for Snitker to be relieved of the interim role and get the job for 2017. The front office listened.
Brian Snitker has been a part of the organization for 40+ years as a player, coach, and manager. At the point of Gonzalez’s dismissal, Snit was the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves manager. He was deemed the best option to take the managerial role at the big league level for the rest of the season. Snitker had spent time in Atlanta before, most recently as third base coach.
His history with the team and experience working with young talent made him an excellent candidate for the job as the tides turned in the organization’s rebuilding efforts. Snit’s use of the bullpen was questioned frequently 2016. Regardless of how his decisions ultimately influenced a game, the players love him. This is important; if they trust Snitker, they’ll show up for him and play hard.
Renowned pitching coach Roger McDowell was brought back to the Braves before the 2015 season. He’s widely viewed as a hard worker and very knowledgeable, credited for saving the career of a few reclamation projects. The performances of both Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler were among the reasons why McDowell was dismissed following 2016. Both pitchers flashed glimpses of greatness, yet their continued struggles were worrying and charged to McDowell’s tab. Long-time major league pitching coach Chuck Hernandez was brought in to replace him.
Hernandez spent his 2016 as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Braves. It is the Franchise’s hope that he does a better job of working with the talented, young pitchers set to arrive in Atlanta in the next couple of seasons. His work in the farm system before his hiring will benefit him in the future.
Ron Washington is also a new addition to the staff. He will take up the third base job previously occupied by Bo Porter. Famous for his work the Oakland Athletics, Washington brings a sort of enthusiasm that any club would love to have. He’s been up bright and early everyday so far at Spring Training, helping any player who decides to do the same and put the work in. Washington represents another change that aligns well with the culture the Braves hope to create.