Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/18/14

The Atlanta Braves have followed up their 2011 collapse with an 0-4 start to the 2012 season. The Braves have simply been terrible in 2012. Their .229 wOBA is 29th in the majors, they rank 29th in BABIP against, and they are tied for 29th in run differential. Not all of this can be blamed on the manager and it is only 4 games, but Gonzalez is in line for criticism for his bullpen usage and playing time decisions.

I try to resist criticizing the decisions of major league managers. They have much more information that those of us on the outside do. By the virtue of being with the team everyday they also have the ability to use their wealth of information in the proper context. Lineup decisions that analysts criticize on baseball grounds may in fact be based on factors not publicly known. Despite my hesitancy on this front, some of the decisions made by Fredi Gonzalez in the early days of the 2012 season appear to be indefensible.

Last night the Braves were opening a series against the Houston Astros and facing lefty starter J.A. Happ. Gonzalez chose to sit Jason Heyward for this game with Matt Diaz starting in RF, Martin Prado in LF, and Juan Francisco at 3B. The is a lineup that is inferior both offensively and defensively to Diaz in LF, Heyward in RF, and Prado at 3B.

For his career Diaz has had a lot of success against lefties with a .374 wOBA. Prado has a identical .339 wOBA against both lefties and righties. Heyward has certainly had his struggles against lefties with a .310 wOBA compared to .365 against righties, but Juan Francisco has been terrible with a .202 wOBA in a very limited sample size. Though given his minor league track record against southpaws, Francisco’s MLB numbers are not surprising. Despite the players’ past performances, Gonzalez chose to play the iron-gloved Francisco (115 errors in 533 minor league games) instead of Heyward. Francisco went on to make 3 errors in the first three innings of the game including 2 on one play, which eventually led to a 3 run inning by the Astros.

Why was Francisco playing? According to Braves’ beat writer David O’Brien, Gonzalez wanted to “see him hit against a lefty.” It is hard to imagine what new information Gonzalez thought he’d garner by seeing 2 or 3 plate appearances against one pitcher, but even if Gonzalez thought he’d gain new insights into Francisco it is hard to justify weakening your team at the plate and in the field for a data gathering exercise. That is what Spring Training is for, no? Francisco could end up being a useful part for the Braves given how fragile Chipper Jones is at this stage of his career, but unless there are no better options available he should not be starting against lefties.

Things did not get better from there. Trailing by one-run after 5 innings, Gonzalez turned the game over to Livan Hernandez who promptly gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the 6th. Hernandez is a useful guy to have around as a long-reliever or spot-starter, but he should not be used in medium or high leverage situations. Neither Jonny Venters nor Craig Kimbrel pitched on Sunday and were likely available. Kris Medlen and Eric O’Flaherty were also likely available given that they each pitched only one inning on Sunday, and did not pitch Friday or Saturday. When Hernandez entered the game last night the Braves has a .259 win expectancy that had plummeted to .115 by the end of Hernandez’s inning of work. Down by 1 run to what is expected to be the worst team in MLB is not the time to punt the game.

Gonzalez’s bullpen usage on Saturday was also bizarre. Trailing the New York Mets 3-2 in the middle of the 7th he turned to Chad Durbin despite having Venters, Kimbrel, Medlen, and O’Flaherty all available due to Friday’s off day. When Durbin entered the game vs. the Mets the Braves’ win probability was .222, which quickly plummeted to .128 by the end of Durbin’s 7th inning. Last season Gonzalez was roundly criticized — perhaps unjustifiably — for over using his best relievers. He seems to have responded in 2012 by throwing in the towel in game that the Braves trail. Given how anemic their offense has been, the Braves may have lost both of these games no matter who came out of the bullpen. However, when facing two teams predicted to finish in the cellar of their divisions, neither of whom have deep bullpens, I would like see Gonzales take advantage of his team’s strength — a great bullpen — to keep the team in these games.


GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Jon Jones facing felony charge for leaving scene of crime

Josh Hamilton officially traded back to Rangers

Report: Landing Adrian Peterson too costly for Cardinals

Report: Antonio Brown joins Steelers voluntary work outs

Charles Barkley: JR Smith should be suspended 10 games

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Kelly Olynkyk: I'd probably get killed if I went to Cleveland

Report: Redskins likely to pick up Robert Griffin III's option

Eagles trying to trade Marcus Smith for another duck?

Chris Paul-Blake Griffin no longer a fragile relationship

Adam Wainwright injury leaves innings void for Cardinals

Report: Cowboys not in running for Adrian Peterson

Arkansas has leather belt to commemorate Texas Bowl win

John Angelos, Orioles got it right with Freddie Gray protest

Belichick's girlfriend fine with coach checking out Teigen

V. Stiviano posts birthday message to 'BFF' Donald Sterling

Mark Cuban and the inevitable playoff peril of the Mavs

Wizards made Raptors look bad while remaking themselves

Previewing Game 7 showdown between Islanders and Capitals

WATCH: Rick Carlisle tapes mouth shut so he can't rip refs

NFL Draft 2015: Ranking the quarterbacks

Greg Hardy faces teammate, Cowboys locker room leak

Top 10 storylines for the 2015 NFL Draft

Paul Pierce burns Raptors fans with epic troll job

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Jon Jones facing felony charge

Worst picks ever by every NFL franchise

Report: Cowboys not in on Peterson

NFL Draft 2015: Ranking the QBs

Top 10 storylines for the 2015 NFL Draft

Paul Pierce trolls Raptors fans

Yes, ESPN2 is airing video games

Darko Milicic is enjoying life

Pitcher throws perfect game, still loses

Will Aldridge leave the Blazers?

Alex Gordon leaps into stands for catch

Dana White: No more WWE for Rousey

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.