Pittsburgh Pirates: Fans Frustrated with Hurdle, Huntington

A handful of thoughts after one of the most frustrating days of being a Pirate fan in recent memory.  Many thanks to posters from Change In Atmosphere for bringing some of these points to attention…

1.  Let’s quickly knock out Pirate manager Clint Hurdle.  For as many positives as he and his staff have brought the Pirates in 2011, fans and members of the media alike are frustrated by his increasingly inept management of late game

Just making sure Hanrahan is still down there...just in case; Image credit pghsportstalk

situations.  Fact: The Pirates are 0-3 in their last 3 extra inning games, and All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan has pitched in ZERO of those games.

Think about it:  Every inning of an extra-inning contest is life or death for a team.  Wouldn’t it increase your team’s chances of success by using by far your best bullpen arm in key situations, like with the tying or go-ahead run already in scoring position?

Hurdle’s limitations as a manager are becoming clear: Despite being an excellent motivator of his players, his old school “by the book” management style overly relies on archaic notions of sac bunts galore, and only using a closer in a textbook save situation.  It’s frustrating, because Hurdle is costing the Pirates games they can’t afford to lose.

 

2.  Despite often being critical of Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington, I try my best to be open-minded and supportive of positive moves when I DO see them.  To me, the Pirates’ deadline was very much a tale of 2 trades.  I was supportive of the club landing vintage Baltimore 1B Derrek Lee.  Lee’s season totals- .302 OBP, .706 OPS- are poor, but the 6’5″ righty has been heating up since the All-Star break to the tune of a .905 OPS.  Trade deadline acquisitions are as much about finding the “hot bat” as opposed to the overall season performer, and with the Chicago Cubs inexplicably unwilling to move 1B Carlos Pena, Lee was a realistic option to upgrade the team.

 

3.  However, I (and many other fans) HATED yesterday’s acquisition of Padres’ OF Ryan Ludwick, even though the Pirates gave up next to nothing in return.  If I’m going to give credit to Huntington for picking up a hot bat in Lee, I have

Has that bat hit much this year? Image credit brandonjulien

to give equal criticism for landing a disaster in Ludwick that has a .510 OPS since the mid-summer classic.  His .674 OPS season total is terrible.  San Diego’s spacious PETCO Park isn’t the problem either, as the righty has a .689 OPS on the road.  I’m not a big Garrett Jones fan, but I can safely say that any at-bats Ludwick takes from Jones- or currently-injured OFs Alex Presley or Jose Tabata- will be wasted.

 

4.  Ludwick’s acquisition cast a very negative tone on the Pirates’ deadline.  If the Pirates instead acquired a competent, productive OF like the Athletics’ Josh Willingham (who was available, and discussed by the Pirates and A’s), both Lee and Willingham could be viewed as significant upgrades to the club.  But Lee and Ludwick come off much more as the Pirates’ standard bargain-basement free agent shopping a few months early.

 

5.  After the trade, ROOT Sports (@ROOTSPORTSPIT) had the audacity to Tweet the following:

“FYI…Ludwick is three years removed from hitting .299 with 37 HR’s, and 113 RBI with the Cardinals. -DP”

Unless the Pirates have time travel technology at their disposal, who gives a damn what Ryan Ludwick did 3 seasons ago?  As a Pirate fan, I’m continually insulted when the club tries to promote past-their-prime acquisitions based on what they did years earlier, which is a lifetime in professional sports.  And if you don’t think the Pirates are responsible for what ROOT Sports says, then you haven’t been paying attention.

 

6.  A similar “Gah?” moment occurred during the Pirates-Phillies broadcast yesterday.  Upon learning the club

Wehner and a great goatee; Image credit mlb

acquired Ludwick, broadcaster John Wehner immediately rejoiced, “There you go!” on the air.  Fans realize the announcers are under heavy pressure from the Pirates to put positive spins on E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G., but fawning over a 33-year old OF with a .674 OPS hurts Wehner’s credibility.

 

7.  The Pirates could have gone 2 directions this deadline:  Serious buyer, or serious seller.  Huntington did neither.  He brought in former “name” players to appease the casual fan, while younger, long-term bats like 1B Chris Davis and Brandon Allen were traded to other teams.  Despite being a great sellers’ market- in which weaker relief pitchers than Joel Hanrahan were netting excellent returns- the Pirates didn’t take advantage.  Nor did they take advantage of an opportunity to part with an overachieving SP like Paul Maholm (due a significant amount of money in 2012), despite a dearth of available SP that would’ve seen a contender pay handsomely for one.

The Pirates could have built for a serious (not superficial) run this season without giving up top prospect SP Jameson Taillon, or sacrificed a few MLB players to bolster their long-term prospects significantly.  But as has been a theme for the last 3 Pirates’ GMs, they tried to serve 2 masters- with underwhelming results.

 

8.  An astute poster pointed out yesterday that the 2 positions Huntington “upgraded”- 1B and OF- are the same positions where he made his free agent splashes this offseason.  Maybe if the Pirates pursued legitimate free agents- rather than declining mediocrities like Lyle Overbay (.649 OPS) and Matt Diaz (.636 OPS), they wouldn’t need to upgrade them mid-season.

 

9.  The Pirates ended up trading 1B Aaron Baker to the Orioles for Lee.  Despite having a solid year (.820 OPS) at High-A, Baker is already 24, and was never considered one of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects.  Which makes you wonder what

Reportedly tough to deal with; Image credit truveo

the Pirates were like to deal with in negotiations, as Baltimore told Pittsburgh that their initial offers for Lee weren’t even close.  If the end return was a mediocre farmhand, how much worse did the Pirates start by offering?  This certainly adds some credibility to the claims from other GMs that Neal Huntington is difficult to work with in negotiations.

 

10.  Despite Overbay and Diaz having such horrible seasons, another poster pointed out that with the acquisitions of Lee and Ludwick, the Pirates’ OBP actually goes down.  Ugh.

 

Overall, yesterday was a difficult one to be a Pirates’ fan.  I optimistically put a great deal of faith in Huntington to do the right thing, and was willing to cut him slack over acquiring Derrek Lee, if he complemented Lee with a quality bat or arm.  But the acquisition of Ryan Ludwick showed me that the Pirates were back to their old selves.  Despite owner Robert Nutting’s claims that the Pirates could add “significant payroll”, they didn’t (even in the Lee deal, Baltimore assumed a good portion of the tab).  Despite Huntington and Hurdle’s claims that they would improve the MLB club, it’s questionable whether they even did.  And despite Huntington’s desire to “protect” the farm system, he missed a golden opportunity to stock it up in an excellent sellers’ market.

Some of the Pirates’ players were upset that Derek Lee didn’t join the team for the series finale in Philadelphia yesterday

"We're in...Delaware." Image credit flixster

(Lee was in New York at the time of his trade on Saturday).  Lee said he was attending to “family matters”, and despite being considered an excellent clubhouse influence, reacted to the trade with as much enthusiasm as Wayne and Garth had upon visiting Delaware.

Given the overall circumstances, can you really blame him?

 

Thanks for reading.

 

  • GW

    If Ludwick costs nothing, then what is the big deal?  He may come here in a change of scenery, and do great.  If he sucks, cut him, no harm done.  I don’t understand your resistance to this, it literally almost cost nothing.

    I don’t think your criticism of Huntington is warranted.
    1) He was insistent that he was not going to mortgage the future to get something for this year
    2) He made separate deals for Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Beltran, both of which were nixed by the players because of their no-trade clause.  Major talent like those guys don’t want to come to Pittsburgh, they want to go to cities with large payrolls so that they can audition with that club for a huge contract next year.
    3) You think dealing with Huntington is hard, try dealing with Billy Beane!!  There was no way Willingham was coming here without serious payment, and Willingham is not that good!  If they would have got Willingham, I would have been mad because they would have given up Alex Presley or someone of that caliber to get him.

    Also, you are way, way off on criticizing Blass.  He was not even doing the game yesterday!!!!!!.  It was John Wehner who said “There you go!”, and you took his comment ***WAY*** out of context.  Wehner and Tim Nevrett were getting instructions from the truck that a deal had been made, and were trying to translate what they were hearing in their ear to the audience when ROOT Sports put the graphic of the trade up on the screen.  When it appeared, Wehner says “There you go!”, which ended their awkward fumbling around for information. 

  • Jim_Krug

    GW,

    First off, thanks for reading.  Even if we disagree, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.  Good stuff.  Secondly, thanks for the correction on Wehner.  My apologies to Blass, and I will correct the article.

    Can you provide some proof that the Pirates had deals in place for Beltran and Ramirez?  Because the most I saw was that the Pirates were interested, but it didn’t go very far.  Secondly, keep in mind that the Pirates bring a lot of the negativity on themselves.  I agree with you that some veterans don’t want to come here, but that’s largely due to the Pirates not fielding competitive clubs, and the ownership unwilling to invest money in quality players.  It comes back to bite them.

    I really think the Pirates were close on Willingham.  I believe it was Jones + prospect for Willingham + ?, which is why you heard names like DeJesus, etc. thrown around as well.  I think the hangup was that NH wanted too good of a piece to come back with Willingham.  It’s a shame, because Willingham is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than Ludwick.

    Thanks again for reading.

  • Bob

    You suggest trading Hanrahan and Maholm would improve the team.  How does trading the best closer in baseball this year (who would you have replace him?) and arguably their best starter help the team?  Your criticism of Hurdle’s strategy is laughable and completely overlooks his achievement of changing the culture of losing.  In my humble opinion the greatest thing a baseball manager can do is create an atmosphere conducive to winning.  Hurdle has done that. As for your criticism of Huntington I can only say “Get a life”.  You expect him to turn around the colossal damage done by the previous groups that left the Pirates as the worst organization in baseball?  I do and I expect you do also, but it cannot be done in a few years.  Have a little patience and let the knowledgeable people in charge do their jobs.

  • Jim_Krug

    Trading them at their peak values (yes, they are) would have given the Pirates multiple quality prospects that would help them seriously compete in 2012.  

    You clearly haven’t been watching games.  Hurdle has been terrible in late-inning situations, refusing to use Hanrahan in non-save situations, despite far weaker relievers giving up 3 games.  ”Creating an atmosphere conducive to winning” is a very vague, ambiguous claim.  Hurdle clearly motivates the team, but costs them victories late, which is opposite to winning.

    I have had patience with Huntington.  He’s been on the job for 4 years now, so he’s no spring chicken, and the farm system is not much better on his watch, if at all.  Many of the Pirates’ top prospects- Tony Sanchez, ZVR, etc. have significantly regressed this year, and there’s no forseeable hope on the horizon.

    “Get a life?”  Get a clue yourself.  Your comment wreaks of a pure apologist for the regime who doesn’t have an objective bone in his body.

    • Bob

      Apologist for the regime?  Perhaps.  If you suggested trading Hanrahan and Maholm to build the farm system then I would see value in those moves.  But you state that trading them would allow the Pirates to make a serious run.  I just do not see that.  “Clearly motivates the team” – is that not instilling a winning attitude?

  • adolph.stephens

    Wow.  Seriously?

    Ludwick walks in the door and is immediately,
    1.  tied for team RBI lead
    2.  2nd in HR’s
    3.  tied for 2nd in doubles

    By any reasonable measure, this is a good acquisition, especially so in term of the relative cost.

  • Jim_Krug

    Adolph,

    Are you familiar with the statistic of OPS, or on base + slugging %?  If not, it might be good to read up on.  Thanks for reading.

    • adolph.stephens

      Hi Jim,
      Sure, I’m familiar, and while I respect what the stat guys bring, I’m simply saying that relative to need-cost-production, this is a good baseball trade.  At the very least it’s a, not bad, deal.  Also I’m looking at it from a realistic perspective, there are guys who flat out didn’t want to come to Pittsburgh.  So it’s not as if Huntington was dealing in the same marketplace as say, Daniels or Amaro.  Good people can disagree.

  • Jim_Krug

    Some support from the national media- especially for Bob to read- about Clint Hurdle’s poor in-game managing:

    http://mlb.sbnation.com/2011/8/1/2308631/pirates-manager-clint-hurdle-joel-hanrahan

    • Bob

      “he wasn’t doing anything – or rather, he wasn’t not doing anything – that nearly every other manager in the big leagues wouldn”t have not done.”  Am I to conclude that nearly every other manager on baseball is a poor in-game manager.

  • Jim_Krug

    Hurdle’s recent results speak for themselves.  The national media has clearly picked up on it as well, it has been so blatant.  Hurdle himself even admitted he wasn’t using Hanrahan enough, so I’m not sure why you’d continue to defend it when the manager himself admitted it.

    And regarding trading Hanrahan and Maholm, yes, I advocated for that.  I also said trading some solid prospects to make a serious run this year would’ve been effective too.  Huntington did neither.  He missed opportunities to trade pieces for quality prospect returns, and he also missed trading his own prospects for quality MLBers to make the team a serious NL Central contender.

    But this happens when you’re trying to do 2 things at once, as Pirates’ GMs often do.