Braves’ Culture Should Shift Regarding Off Days

Professional athletes have long been praised for their toughness, specifically their willingness and ability to play every time the coach calls their number.

Baseball is no different, as past legends like Cal Ripken Jr. and Lou Gehrig are most fondly remembered for playing more than 2,000 consecutive games. And that is quite an accomplishment. Perhaps, though, baseball should look at the importance of regular rest days even more than any other sport.

While baseball has the least regular physical contact of any sport, it has the longest schedule. And due to the relatively low success rate of baseball hitters compared to other athletes – the best hitters reach base well less than half the time – a rest day for even elite position players should have relatively low impact on game result. This is a far from exact measure, but Mike Trout’s incredible 10.5 bWAR season in 2016 with 159 games played works out to less than .07 of a win per game played.

That’s not to say you should bench Mike Trout every chance you get. However, if Mike Trout’s impact per game is that small, your team’s top players can get a breather every now and again without wrecking the season.

This concept of rest came to the forefront Monday when Yahoo published an article about the Braves’ Freddie Freeman and how he pushes his teammates to play everyday.

The story wasn’t the feel-good experience that it was seemingly intended to be for Braves’ fans, but one passage in particular stood out. It related to Dansby Swanson, who had played every game for the Braves until getting his first true day off of the year on Sept. 10. After scorching through July and August, both manager Brian Snitker and third-base coach Ron Washington noticed that Dansby was struggling in September and likely needed a breather.

They stressed to him that he would only come in if it was an absolute emergency. He was to take the day and decompress, watch some baseball, get his perspective right again.

Once it was cleared with Swanson himself, there was one more person left to call: Freddie Freeman.

“I got a call at one o’clock [in the morning] to take it easy on Dansby,” the reigning NL MVP and undeniable captain of the club recalled recently.

“And I said, ‘Oh, that’s fine, I’ll take it easy.’ So I didn’t say anything.”

But the next day in the clubhouse: “I just took his jersey down, I took his pants down, and put his little sweatshirt up. And right when he walked in, I was sitting at my locker, he just looked at me and he goes, ‘I’ve been, unfortunately, not waiting for this moment today.’

“Because everyone knows I’m going to get on him.”

Yahoo.com article by Hannah Keyser

There’s a lot to unpack here. To be blunt, the manager and another coach – who also managed a team to the World Series twice – feeling like they need to clear another player getting a day off with their first baseman doesn’t seem like a great dynamic.

The other layer to this is that the Braves have seen evidence on the field that this obsession with starting every day hasn’t yielded success in the end. In the last six full seasons when the Braves either made the playoffs or finished one spot outside the playoffs – so 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2019 – there have been 14 player seasons of 155 games or more. Nine of these players had a lower OPS in September/October than they had for the season as a whole. Five of those dips were by 100 points or more.

Further, 11 of those players made it to the postseason, where 10 of them were significantly less successful at the plate than they were in the regular season. You probably already guessed this, but Ronald Acuña Jr. was the only Brave to not experience that dropoff. That was 2019, when he had an .883 OPS in the regular season that became a 1.454 in the playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

But Ronald is a freak. So if you get a chance to be like Ronald, just go ahead and do that.

To get even more specific, Freeman himself has experienced these drops. Four times in his career, he’s played 155 games or more on a playoff-caliber team. Each time, he was worse in Sept./Oct. than he was for the season as a whole, and each time, he was either even worse than that at the plate in the postseason, or the team didn’t get there.

In 2019, Freeman played 158 games but notoriously battled bone spurs down the stretch that resulted in some pretty worrying remarks later about the use of painkillers just to take the field. That season, Freeman carded a .938 OPS during the regular season, which is obviously very impressive for an entire season. But that number dipped to .754 over the game’s final weeks, and then it dropped to .673 against the Cardinals.

So, personally, I find it kind of frustrating that Freeman has not only not learned his lesson from these experiences, but that the team has allowed this stubborn streak to rule lineup management. All four of the Braves infielders have started at least 143 games with 15 games remaining. By my count, the rest of the NL playoff contenders – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Diego and Philadelphia – have three such players combined, all on the Cardinals. The teams that have already locked up their playoff spots – the Giants, Dodgers and Brewers – have none.

Other teams are finding success without running their top players into the ground. It’s time the Braves, and their captain, learn to do the same.

46 thoughts on “Braves’ Culture Should Shift Regarding Off Days”

  1. I had some slightly different observations from that article, but I’ll keep them to myself as they could be somewhat political and are probably nothing anyway. My gut feels that if there has ever been an issue in the clubhouse, it might actually include Freeman as I’m sure not everyone on this team takes pleasure in being peer pressured (even antagonized) into suiting up and playing every single game provided they don’t have a concussion or a broken bone…

    There are other ways and dare I say other perspectives on how to play the game and have fun. Still like Freeman so hopefully this doesn’t come across as a dig at him.

  2. That is a very interesting take. I just wonder what would have happened if Acuna would have stayed healthy and Ozuna wouldn’t have gotten hurt/ had his character revealed. It seems like the plan was for for 6 players to play 140+ games. The deadline deals were so great because they helped us at the point of need with our starters and made a huge difference in bench depth.

  3. In addition to the 6 who would’ve played almost every day, d’Arnaud would also have been at risk of overuse and may still be. He caught most or all of 15 of the team’s first 18 games, with one-inning stints in two of the others. It looks like Snit was cautious with him his first four weeks back from injury, as he only caught 13 of the team’s first 22 games after his return. Starting a few days before Vogt’s injury, though, he caught 12 straight games (counting the last few innings of the game in which Vogt injured himself) before getting yesterday off. Hope he’s not too worn down for the postseason, if we have one.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. Bobby was a big believer in everyone getting regular rest and it makes sense. I remember rolling my eyes at his “Sunday lineups” but they served a purpose. Freddie isn’t the manager and he isn’t a youngster any longer. Every player should get 1 to 2 games off a month….and that is light.

  5. No player should ever be involved in who gets a day off or not, nor should they have any comment about it.

  6. I think the team captain will naturally be involved in these conversations. He’ll be leading by example, anyway. I doubt that Freddie comes off as a bully in the clubhouse. But I have no doubt that a player would rather hide an injury than come off looking weak in front of Freddie, and that can be really harmful. But, ultimately, it’s really up to the manager and the coaches to set the tone. The lineup and the off-days simply cannot be managed from the bottom up. Cannot.

  7. There is so much I love about sports and so much that I really don’t like. Players who hurt their teams because they refuse to acknowledge injury or their need for rest out of some warped notion of personal heroism are among my least favorite aspects of the “sporting warrior.” In a team sport, there’s really little worse you can do than make your team worse. And I recognize there are poignant edge cases here, like the guy who is trying to hold on to maintain his livelihood — I understand when he puts self above team. And the guys who aren’t actually smart enough to know they’re hurting the team are more to be pitied than censured. But seriously — it’s the manager’s job to cut through that stuff.

  8. I would say that them basically deciding they were gonna give Dansby a day off whether he wanted one or not is a pretty solid illustration that the inmates are not running the asylum. I don’t see much wrong with a “you play everyday unless you can’t or you’re told not to” philosophy. It is up to the manager to make the decision on that, and he is.

    Also, Jeremy said he thought the Freeman anecdote was meant to be taken in a feel-good manner, but I’m pretty sure that it was meant to be taken exactly how most of you are taking it. In fact, I think it could potentially be even more cynical than that, but I hope I’m reading that wrong and there’s a good chance I am (especially since the article was published on Yahoo and not something more mainstream).

  9. I say bring back the Sunday backup squad and let the regulars pinch hit (consecutive game streaks live on!) I bet Heredia and Adrianza would appreciate the at bats.

    Andruw Jones had a lot of starts and he broke down way too young.

  10. I agree with Glavine on using an opener in this game being kind of dumb, for the record.

    But it looks like we got away with it.

    @12 – I’m not vehemently opposed to more regular schedules of off-days, but I am vehemently opposed to the Sunday Lineup. How about spacing those off-days out like a normal person instead of fielding a AAA lineup on Sundays?

  11. @12 I do think Adrianza needs to play in more games. Riley, Dansby, Ozzie, and Freddie need a day off here and there. I think Heredia does get some playing time already. I’m not a big fan of a return to those full Sunday lineups though. More like that the subs should start 1 – 2 games a week.

  12. Some serious no-doubters this series.

    Also, I appear to be watching on a delay. MLB.tv provides…

    @13, 16 – I’m not going to say that it’s the best strategy. But they were fun. Especially when the other team was doing the same thing.

  13. @15

    The Bally Sports app continues to suck. It’s maybe getting better. Yesterday it was a minute and a half behind a comment about somebody doing something and today it’s merely a minute.

  14. Woooo….Ozzzieeeeeeeee.

    I don’t understand why we couldn’t have called up Muller for this game, rather than burn through the bullpen.

  15. @20

    Muller pitched Saturday. He can’t pitch today on two days’ rest.

    I don’t understand why we just couldn’t have picked either Smyly or Touki and started one of them rather than engaging in this opener business.

  16. @20 My guess is the solution is Smyly AND Touki and starting Chavez is the diplomatic compromise.

    Edit: Smyly is no Fried defensively.

  17. And Baltimore scores the gimme run in the 10th! 2-1 O’s.

    It’ll stay that way going to the bottom of the 10th.

  18. I’m coming around to everyone else’s frustration with Chip. Riley is having a great year, but Harper’s OBP is 60 points higher and his SLG is 100 points higher. He does have 20 fewer games played, but still.

    Is right field the NL’s best position? The median RF in the NL East is either Harper, Soto, or Acuna, which is pretty impressive. Tatis and Jesse Winker, 3rd and 4th in the league in OPS behind Harper & Soto, have also played some right, and Riley had a few innings in right early in the summer when someone was injured.

  19. Herrera moves the runner over with a groundout, but Jean Segura strikes out swinging at absolute garbage. Runner on third with two outs for Harper, which is to say runners on the corners with two outs for Realmuto.

    …and Realmuto wins the game with a double…oh well.

  20. Philly’s bench was close to empty, and the spot behind Realmuto was the pitcher’s spot, so they’d be pinch-hitting from the end of the bench — likely Andrew Knapp and his robust .446 OPS. I get the notion of not wanting the winning run in scoring position, but once they gave Harper the intentional pass, they should have done the same for Realmuto. Sigh. That’s what you get being in a race that leads to you pinning some degree of hope on the worst club in baseball.

  21. I appreciate that Freddie doesn’t want people to take days off with “flu-like symptoms” out of pure laziness or something, but I agree with those who say that this is a bad idea. If days off here and there help improve the overall play, then it should absolutely be done.

  22. The Orioles manager, who I couldn’t name on a bet despite the fact that we played them less than a month ago and I watched the whole series, was probably worried about his relief pitcher, who I’ve never heard of that I can remember, crapping the bed with the bases loaded and walking in the tying run.

    That having been said, I’d have rolled the dice and loaded the bases, too.

  23. @24: It really isn’t just the numbers. It’s the logic. First is the argument that things at the end of the season are more important than the body of work. Well, if that’s true, then we don’t know anything about any of the candidates because the end of the season hasn’t arrived yet.

    Second is the argument that the most valuable player has to be on a first place team. This is stupid because: (a) we won’t know who the first place team is until the end of the year; (b) a team that finishes in first may be so good that they didn’t really need any one player, or so close to finishing second that every productive player is the difference between winning and losing; and (c) because first place teams and teams that finish just behind them aren’t that different from one another.

    Third is the argument that we somehow can determine who it should be by careful parsing of the phrase “most valuable.” Who is more valuable to the Braves this season: Freddie or Austin? It’s Freddie. Austin is not even the most valuable player on his team. It is possible that Austin is the most valuable on the team in excess of what he is paid… maybe. And his excess value over salary dwarfs Harper’s for example. But if that’s your metric, no one post-arbitration could possibly be the MVP.

    None of it makes sense.

  24. I’m surprised that Chip didn’t get mad that Snitker took Smyly out 1 out away from finishing the 5th inning.

  25. I frequently felt like Riley’s only defender on here at points of the last couple years, and I still feel that way when people say he’s a bad fielder. Point is, I like him a lot. I’m very happy for his success this year and watching him turn the corner and become an All-Star level MLB player has been very enjoyable.

    However (and this is a Stephen A. Smith-sized “however”), he’s not the league’s MVP. As Jonathan said, he’s not the team’s MVP. And this ludicrous one-man, fake-it-til-you-make-it, pied-piper campaign by Chip has reached performance art at this point. He has the entire Bally Sports crew going along with him because no one’s willing to pop the balloon with the question, “Um…what about Freddie, Chip?” He’s got fans chanting MVP at games and then saying he agrees with the sentiment when he knows damn well he’s the one who introduced the idea to those fans in the first place. I’m 100 percent convinced that if Chip hadn’t opened his mouth on the topic, precisely no one would be even so much as thinking about Riley as an MVP candidate.

  26. @34 Probably because Smyly didn’t start the game. He can, and likely will, be assigned the win.

    I think the MVP is supposed to be (unofficially) on a playoff team, not necessarily a 1st place team. I think there should be some kind of award, maybe called the Ted Williams award, for the best offensive player in baseball without regard to the team they play for.

  27. It’s never easy for Luke. But when he gets past pitch 20, it’s damn near impossible.

    “Not always easy Luke, even though you make it look that way.” Cripes, Chip, what pitcher have you been watching lo these many years?

  28. Mr. Hyde has shown up today for Luke.

    Ugh…they’re gonna let Luke pitch to this guy. This has hanging slider and game-tying grand slam written all over it.

    Yeesh…

  29. It would be nice if we didn’t have to use all of our top relievers tonight especially with it being a 4 run lead.

    Dansby is swinging the bat well tonight.

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