Over the weekend, the wave of sentiment to make Brian Snitker the Atlanta Braves’ permanent manager rose to “Poseidon Adventure” proportions. Had the brass been forced to make a decision Sunday, they’d have tapped Snitker. But they didn’t have to decide Sunday, and Snitker remains as yet untapped. That isn’t to say he won’t be the choice, but John Hart and John Coppolella are doing as they said they’d do: They’re looking around.
The case for Snitker: He’s universally liked and admired within the organization he has served since 1977, and he got so much from a terrible-looking team it wound up not looking terrible at all.
The case against Snitker: Coming after Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves were 34-81 since July 7, 2015, it would have been nigh-impossible not to look good by way of comparison, and his resume as a big-league manager includes 124 low-pressure games.
The Braves’ players have lobbied for Snitker, which is human nature. To them, he’s a known. About all most of them have seen of Bud Black was from across the diamond when he was managing the Padres, and his record there (649-713) wasn’t the stuff of legend. But check Joe Torre’s record before he landed in the Bronx: He was 894-1,003 over 14 years at three different stops. Today he’s in the Hall of Fame.
Black’s reputation in baseball circles has always been more flattering than his Ws and Ls. His Padres ranked 20th, 30th, 28th, 22nd, 28th, 24th, 24th and 30th in runs scored over his eight full seasons there. (Note: There are 30 MLB teams.) Maybe some of that was a function of him being a pitcher/pitching coach by trade, but hitting — as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise — is mostly a function of talent, not teaching.
Here’s where Black’s Padres ranked in ERA: First, 18th, 17th, second, third, 17th, 20th and fourth. In sum, they pitched much better than they hit, which should be no surprise: Black was a pitcher on the 1985 Royals, who won the World Series, and the pitching coach for the 2002 Angels, who did likewise. Someone remind me: Around what commodity are the Braves rebuilding?
Over those eight full seasons, Black’s Friars slightly — though not hugely — exceeded their Pythagorean W-L total, which is a measure of run differential. If you’re looking for a true difference-making manager going by Pythag, you’re not talking Bud Black. You’re basically talking Buck Showalter, and he’s under contract in Baltimore, and he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to explain not using Zach Britton last night.
Black was the National League manager of the year in 2010, the season that saw the Padres fall one game short of the playoffs. (The Braves were beneficiaries. They took the then-lone wild card by finishing 91-71 in Bobby Cox’s final year.) That Black stuck around as long as he did there — through three changes of ownership — without making the playoffs tells us his services were valued, at least until A.J. Preller arrived as general manager in 2014.
Going by Baseball-Reference’s WAR, the Padres’ best players over Black’s tenure in San Diego were Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley and Jake Peavy. All were traded to cut costs. Until Preller showed up and started making trades hand over fist, the Padres weren’t big spenders. In Black’s last full season, the Padres’ WAR leader was the legendary Seth Smith. He made $4.5 million that year.
Black was fired by Preller because a hyped but mismatched team — the newly imported Matt Kemp, soon shipped to the Braves, was part of it — fizzled at the start of the 2015 season. This year the Padres, having sold off every big-name acquisition except Wil Myers and Derek Norris, finished in a tie for the second-worst record in baseball. Preller is serving a 30-day suspension for failing to disclose full medical records to potential trade partners.
Long story cut not exactly short: Black got as much, and maybe a bit more, from those San Diego assemblages than he coulda/shoulda. If you disqualify him on record alone, you’re missing the point. (And if you’re making this a side-by-side comparison, Black’s .477 winning percentage shades Snitker’s by .001.)
I’ve been around Black a bit, and he’s a thoughtful — dare I say analytical? — guy. He has worked under both Hart and John Schuerholz and has long been a person of interest to this front office. I can tell you that some Braves execs were relieved when Black’s agreement to manage the Nationals fell through last winter. They didn’t want him in their division.
That doesn’t mean the Braves will hire Black. It does mean they felt compelled to speak with him before doing anything, and rightly so. As mentioned earlier, I’d have no issue if the Braves stuck with Snitker — good man, good baseball man. I’d also have no problem if they chose Black instead. This is a hairline call.
Super fun reading: