Undoubtedly, everyone who reads this site knows of the situation between Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez and manager Fredi Gonzalez which developed over the last few days. Ramirez’s actions, particularly his comments on Gonzalez’s lack of major league experience as well as Ramirez’s unwillingness to apologize to his teammates, seemed like the perfect primer for a massive clubhouse rift if it wasn’t handled appropriately.
The main issue for Gonzalez and the Marlins is that Hanley Ramirez is clearly the best player on the team. With the Marlins at 22-19, within three games of the division and one game of the wild card, losing Ramirez for multiple games could be extremely damaging to their playoff aspirations. Ramirez has a 130 wRC+ so far this year – a down year so far. Still, that’s extremely productive for a shortstop who appears to have figured out his former issues in the field. That makes Ramirez about a 5 win player even if his hitting doesn’t return to the 150 wRC+ he was at from 2007-2009, and a 7 win player if it does. Benching Ramirez for a significant period of time simply was not an option for Gonzalez.
Today, Ramirez was in the lineup after apologizing to his team. Ramirez was the most valuable position player for the Marlins, posting a .146 WPA in a 3-5 effort including an RBI in the two run fifth which gave the Marlins a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, as they defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis by a score of 5-1.
Much of the sabermetric community harps on the in-game decisions made by managers. We love to dissect the tiny differences between bringing in a closer in the 8th inning or batting a slow but excellent hitter in the leadoff slot. The impacts of those decisions tend to be minimal over the course of the season – usually costing teams only a few runs over 162 games. We spill so many words over these decisions because they seem like such easy fixes. It’s painful to see men that have been inside baseball seem to misunderstand such simple concepts.
Situations like the one that Fredi Gonzalez has had to defuse are much more likely to cost a team multiple wins over the course of a season. If the star player is visibly disgruntled and isn’t playing up to his potential, the impact on the team will almost certainly be more than a few runs. If the manager takes things too personally and benches the player for an extended period of time, or worse, instigates a trade or demotion, the impact will almost certainly be multiple wins. The job of the manager is to produce the most wins from the talent he’s given. Keeping the players in a situation in which they will produce at their highest levels is assuredly more important than the minutiae of lineup construction and, in all but the most extreme of cases, bullpen and bench management.
It certainly appears that Gonzalez has deftly handled this situation. Ramirez is back in the lineup and has apologized, and he produced in his first game back. Gonzalez has performed the most important duty in his role as manager. Now what’s important is that this issue appears to be squarely behind the Marlins, and they can go back to winning games instead of dousing clubhouse fires. If the Marlins are still winning two months from now, nobody will even remember this incident, and for that, Fredi Gonzalez deserves praise.