Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: from a purely tactical standpoint, myself and others have been critical of Braves’ manager Brian Snitker in the past. Whether it was his lineup construction, his bullpen management, or his “loyalty to a fault” that he has exhibited in the past, he has never done anything so egregious as to make make one throw their TV, but also has at times seemed to eschew mounds of data and research in favor of his personal preferences. I will be the first to concede that a lot of these lost advantages are very marginal, but it has been certainly irksome in the past that he continued to slot Ender Inciarte in the leadoff spot when its clear that he just isn’t a good choice for leadoff hitter, lean on the same bullpen arms over and over again despite plenty of reasons not to, and find a way to get your best hitter fewer plate appearances over the course of a season.
All of those decisions from the past can be evaluated based on actual information that is freely available and I am sure he will do things that will make me want to pull my hair out even if, again, we know in our heart of hearts that those decisions made by managers only have a small impact on the game most of the time. Other times, there is information that we simply don’t have that goes into those decisions (other bullpen arms being gassed, players being dinged up, matchup information that isn’t public, etc.). All of these things are true.
However, one aspect at the job that Brian Snitker is one of the absolute best at is also the one that is the hardest to quantify, and is the one that has helped the Braves through a very rocky start to the season: his players play their hearts out for him. Hell, after Acuña got drilled by Jose Urena and Snitker said, “that’s my kid”, I was ready to run through a wall for him. In an era where the data tell a lot, but most definitely not all, about the game of baseball the Braves have an edge that has kept this season from going off the rails.
It would be easy to see this season going sideways in a hurry and some of you may think it already has. However, despite the fact that the bullpen has been truly awful and there has been some real inconsistency at times in the rotation, the Braves are only a half game out of first place with a winning record despite all the injuries and blown games. It certainly helps that the Braves have an offense that contains Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr., Josh Donaldson, and others, but we have seen rough patches snowball before and we have seen bad series lead to discord in the locker room from other teams before. We don’t hear or see any of that with the Braves. The same was true last year, too. You didn’t see any prolonged periods of losing or any discord in 2018. (The Braves’ worst month was a 10-13 July, and they immediately bounced back with an August that looked like the rest of their season.)
Some of the credit should definitely be given to the Front Office for constructing a roster of guys with the right makeup to make it through a long season, but Snitker deserves praise as well. Whatever one thinks about his tactical decision-making, his leadership qualities has helped to make sure these guys are ready to play each day and that they continue to believe they can win any game until the last out is made. Much of that credit goes to the players, but some has to go to the coaching staff as well.
Moreover, Snitker has improved as a tactician as well. It is hard to fault him for the bullpen’s woes given how widespread the problems have been (one can only do so much when the entire relief corps is walking everybody), but he has been doing what many of us wanted him to do. Johan Camargo has been spelling guys all over the field and while it would be great to see him out there more, it isn’t like Snitker is ignoring the fact that he has a top notch utility player on the roster. Ender Inciarte did start the year at leadoff much to our chagrin, but once Ozzie Albies started performing like the top of the order hitter many of us thought he could be, Snit made the change to the club’s benefit. Inciarte has even started hitting again a bit and while we hope that he doesn’t hit leadoff anymore, there are plenty of benefits to having a bottom of the order hitter actually produce.
So can we quibble over some of the decisions Snitker makes? Of course. I would still love to get Ronald Acuña Jr. more at-bats, I want to see Camargo in there more often, etc. However, let’s not pretend that the situation the Braves are currently in couldn’t have been far, far worse without Snit’s ability to manage the clubhouse. Purely from a data perspective, most managers are going to have a small impact on the game since most managers would make roughly the same decisions. However, in the ways we can’t measure, the Braves have been very fortunate to have Brian Snitker at the helm.