Friday, October 7, 2016

Braves Can McDowell

By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
After eleven seasons spanning three managers, Roger McDowell will no longer be the pitching coach of the Atlanta Braves. For a franchise that rarely sees turnover in the coaching staff, the last several months have been a change-of-pace. The in-season firing of Fredi Gonzalez, the very real chance that the interim manager Brian Snitker won't be in charge in 2017, and now McDowell's dismissal might point to one thing - John Coppolella is willing to change up the team a bit more than the last two general managers the Braves had.

McDowell replaced Leo Mazzone in 2006 after the latter left for Baltimore. Three years ago, McDowell nearly left the Braves following the 2013 season, but former general manager Frank Wren gave McDowell a boost in pay along with a long-term contract (for coaches) to keep him away from the Phillies. While with the Braves, McDowell pieced together bullpens with castoffs like Eric O'Flaherty, David Carpenter, and more recently - Jim Johnson, who cited his comfortability with McDowell as one of his reasons to forego free agency and reup with the Braves.

One criticism related to McDowell was a similar one lobbed at Mazzone - he didn't relate well with young starters and they rarely seemed to blossomed under his tutelage. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson both saw their careers slide into mediocrity after All-Star worthy beginnings. Others like Kyle Davies and Jo-Jo Reyes never developed. Another criticism of McDowell was found in the belief that his pitchers too often went under the knife, a stark change from the Mazzone years. When on the mound, righties Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy - along with southpaw Mike Minor - could be excellent. However, they were frequently on an operating table rather than throwing strikes.

Both criticisms are a bit lacking in my mind. Young pitchers flame out all the time. I'm sure McDowell did struggle to reach certain prospects, but on the other hand, he got his fair share out of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and some of the aforementioned oft-injured pitchers. Furthermore, considering the rate of pitcher injuries - especially those that result in Tommy John surgery - is skyrocketing, can we really look at McDowell and blame him for that?

McDowell won't be without a job for too long. He's had too much success with the Braves, including a 2007 year where he pieced together a pitching staff that included Chuck James, Buddy Carlyle , Oscar Villarreal, Tyler Yates, Chad Paronto, and the previously mentioned Davies and Reyes and the Braves still finished third in the league in ERA. It was the first-of-seven years in which the Braves finished in the Top 5 in the National League in ERA, including a 3.18 ERA in 2013 to pace the league.

This dismissal means two things. One, the Braves do want a new voice to lead a very young pitching staff. Johnson is the only pitcher on the Braves roster who is definitely going to be on next year's team and is over the age of 30. Sixteen different pitchers took the ball for the Braves this year who were in their Age-25 year or younger. Pitchers like Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims are a good spring camp away from entering the picture. Whether McDowell did have issues with reaching younger pitchers or not, the Braves definitely want the guy in charge of their young pitchers to have an exemplary record with young guns.

The other thing this firing immediately makes you think of - the Braves might be moving away from Brian Snitker as next year's manager and will be giving the next Braves manager a chance to build his own staff. That could be Bud Black, though I am not very excited by that idea. There is a good chance McDowell is just the tip of the ice berg and long-running coaches like Eddie Perez and Terry Pendleton will also be headed out.

I don't necessarily disagree with letting McDowell go. I think he was very good at his job and the fact that this 2016 team wasn't at the bottom of the league in ERA despite starting 16 different pitchers is impressive (four NL teams finished with an ERA worse than the Braves). Still, I am a firm believer in giving a manager the leeway to bring his guys in and build the coaching staff how he sees fit. Letting him go now simply allows McDowell even more time to secure employment for 2017 - which is actually a pretty good parting gift when you think about it.

Fare thee well, Second Spitter. May you land with an American League team and enjoy your time there.

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