4. What could Bobby Cox have done differently

Any time a team struggles the spotlight goes to the manager. But what could Bobby Cox have done differently in 2008?

The Braves finished 72-90. They lost their top three starting pitchers and their top two relievers. There's not much Bobby Cox could have done to change that.

But it does not mean Bobby had a perfect season. Obviously you can look right to the bullpen, where Blaine Boyer and Will Ohman were overworked and wore down as the season went along. Ohman had an ERA of 6.62 after July 31st, while Boyer had a 11.17 ERA after the All Star Break.

Cox did not have much confidence in many of his other relievers, particularly early in the season. He could have saved Ohman and Boyer a bit more by using some of those other pitchers.

The manager that likes to go to his bullpen seemed to do so quicker this season, showing less patience with his younger pitchers, especially Jo Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, and even James Parr late in the year. Instead of leaving them out there to take their knocks, Cox would come get them and turn things over to his bullpen, which was already depleted.

The Braves' manager has obviously had success during his career with platoons. But at times he used one when it was arguably unnecessary. Kelly Johnson hit .333 against left-handed pitchers this season, but against tougher lefties he found himself on the bench in favor of right-handed hitting Martin Prado.

Prado did okay, hitting .320 on the season. But Prado hit .283 against lefties and .349 against right-handed pitchers. What was the point of benching Johnson when he hit better against lefties than Prado?

The nagging injuries to Chipper Jones and having Matt Diaz being out, along with the trades of Mark Kotsay and Mark Teixeira forced Cox to use different and peculiar lineups at times during the season. Omar Infante had to hit cleanup a few times late in the season, which did nothing to strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.

And after giving Diaz the everyday job in left field to start the season, Cox went to a platoon and inserted Gregor Blanco. Diaz would get hurt a few weeks later, but it would have been nice to have seen what he could have done as a starter for more than just one month.

Cox stuck with Blanco too long. Blanco struggled, and when Josh Anderson replaced him in September the Braves started playing better baseball. It was a bit peculiar Cox did not use Brandon Jones more, who probably has more potential than both Blanco and Anderson. Last winter most believed Jones could take over in a platoon with Diaz in left, but he was used sparingly when he was on the roster.

The reliance on Corky Miller was strange. Miller was kept on the roster despite hitting under .100 for most of the season. Cox likes his backup catchers to be strong defensively, but at times Miller struggled behind the plate as much as when he was at the plate.

Could Cox have done something different to turn Jeff Francoeur around? Well, the right fielder was pretty much lost for most of the season. Nothing seemed to help him, so there's no guarantee anything Cox could have done would have made a difference.

At times the Braves were very poor fundamentally, with poor baserunning and poor instincts on the field by some of the players. That's hard to put on the manager, but you do wonder if more could have been done with coaching the players during the season. Instructional does not and should not stop once a team leaves Florida in March, but there were games where the Braves looked like they had skipped spring training altogether.

The circumstances dealt to Cox were not very fair, but every team has to deal with injuries. Cox didn't have his best season by any means, but it's not like it made a huge difference. This team was doomed from the start with the injuries that piled up from month to month.

With better talent expected next year, Cox will be under the gun to perform better in his position as manager. It might be his last season, and expect Cox to try and make it count.

Bill Shanks hosts The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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