The Pittsburgh Pirates have narrowed their manager search down to two people: Clint Hurdle and Jeff Banister. Hurdle, the current batting coach for the Texas Rangers, will interview for the position tomorrow, according to Pirates’ CEO Frank Coonelly in his live chat today. Banister, the interim bench coach for the Pirates, is the only remaining candidate of the seven people who originally interviewed for the position.
A quick analysis of the two candidates:
Hurdle was the manager of the Colorado Rockies from 2002-2009. He was replaced in 2009 by former Pirates’ manager Jim Tracy, after the Rockies got off to an 18-28 start. The highlight for Hurdle was the 2007 season, when the Rockies finished the season on a 14-1 stretch to win the Wild Card, followed by seven straight wins to make it to the World Series, only to be swept by Boston.
Tracy Ringolsby of Fox Sports had this to say about how Hurdle works with young players:
Hurdle would seem to fit the Pirates needs well. He has shown an ability to develop young players, dealing with the learning process, into a contending team in Colorado, where he took over a last-place team committed to building from within and took them to the only World Series appearance in franchise history in 2007. Pittsburgh had the youngest roster in the major leagues last year.
While with the Rockies, Hurdle oversaw the development of players like Garrett Atkins, Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe and Jeff Francis. It’s debatable as to what type of impact a manager has on a young player. Would these talented players have thrived under any manager, or was there something specific with Hurdle? If you credit Hurdle with success here, would you also credit John Russell for Andrew McCutchen’s success so far in the majors?
Charlie at Bucs Dugout spoke with a Colorado Rockies blog that praised Hurdle’s teaching skills involved with hitting and fundamentals. The young Pirates players didn’t have a big issue with hitting last year, although adding Hurdle wouldn’t be a bad thing. They did have a problem with fundamentals, including some base running and fielding gaffes. I’m sure a lot of Pirates fans would want a manager who focuses on fundamentals.
Charlie also brought up an interesting point. The Pirates fired Jim Tracy after the 2007 season, due to the poor job he did with the team in the previous two seasons. The Rockies fired Hurdle after the bad start in 2009, and replaced him with Tracy. The Rockies went on to win the Wild Card under Tracy, despite the 18-28 start under Hurdle. Now Hurdle is seen as the answer in Pittsburgh, despite being replaced by Jim Tracy, who was replaced by John Russell in Pittsburgh, which obviously makes Russell the best of the trio, right?
This just shows that the manager role doesn’t play as big of an impact as many believe. Tracy was a “good” manager with a talented Dodgers team. He struggled with a bad Pirates team. He then had success with the Rockies when Hurdle struggled. However, Hurdle had similar success with the Rockies two years earlier, but struggled throughout his career with a Rockies team that was rebuilding (or just building), similar to what the Pirates have been going through the last few years. Overall I feel that talent is the major factor, and the role of the manager is to find the best way to utilize the talent he is given.
The feeling going around is that Banister would be a bad choice. The only reason for this is because he’s an internal option, which automatically loses him points by being associated with the losing that has gone on with the team over the last few years.
Banister was a manager in the Pirates minor league system from 1994-1998, ranging from low-A to AA. From 1998-2002 he served as the major league field coordinator, and from 2003 to 2010 he was the minor league field coordinator, until he took over as the interim bench coach once Gary Varsho was released. Banister doesn’t have the experience managing, but his experience as the minor league field coordinator gives him some tools to work with.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the position, it has nothing to do with cutting grass or laying down chalk before the game. The best way to describe the position would be to get a description from an actual minor league field coordinator. Brian Costa of The Star-Ledger interviewed New York Mets minor league field coordinator Terry Collins early this season, asking him about the duties of the job:
Q: What does the job of a minor-league field coordinator entail?
A: “Basically, in spring training I outline the daily stuff and we talk about what needs to be taught and what certain players need to work on. We come up with a game plan for how we go about teaching it. Then once the season starts, I go from team to team to make sure stuff is getting done, make sure players are getting better not just on the individual side but the team side. Making sure some of the plans we set down in spring training are being followed. My whole thing I tell coaches is, when I come back into town the next time, something had better be better. Whether it’s cutoffs or relay throws or whatever, something had better be better.”
Like Collins, Banister plays a key role in the development of players throughout the minor league system. A big benefit he would have is that he’s worked with most of the players on the roster since they entered the system. That could be considered a good thing or a bad thing on a team that just lost 105 games. The bad comes from obvious reasons: the losing record and the players who were responsible for that record. The good comes from some of the bright spots on the team, such as Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker, with Banister playing a big role in the development for all of those players.
When I look at a manager, I’m looking for what the manager brings to the table. I ignore records, mostly because records are heavily influenced by the talent on the team. I also ignore experience, because usually all experience means is that the manager previously held a position, and was fired (unless it’s a rare case like a manager deciding to sign elsewhere when his contract was up). My preference coming in to the manager search was John Farrell, simply because adding Farrell would have been the equivalent to stealing the Boston Red Sox’s pitching coach. Farrell could have been a big help to the pitching staff, although we didn’t hear much from him, and it’s likely that he declined an interview, just like in 2007.
It’s ironic that Hurdle was replaced by Jim Tracy, because I’d take Hurdle over Tracy, despite the 2009 results. When Tracy was here, he tried to re-create the team he had with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which was a mistake. The work by Tracy and his coaching staff possibly derailed the careers of Zach Duke (who lost some velocity under Jim Colborn) and Chris Duffy (who went crazy under Tracy).
From everything I’ve read about Hurdle, he doesn’t seem to have a problem working with the young players. That’s not always a given, as Ken Macha was criticized for not being able to communicate well with the young Milwaukee players. Banister obviously has the existing relationships with the young players, so that’s a plus for him. Both candidates also would seem to stress the importance of fundamentals, something I also liked from Bo Porter (who accepted the position of the third base coach for the Washington Nationals).
The ideal situation would be for Hurdle to be the manager, and Banister to remain as the bench coach. I don’t really have a strong preference with either candidate, and don’t have any strong feelings against either candidate. Ultimately I think the future success of the team depends on the young talent currently on the roster, as well as the talent still coming up through the system. It’s up to the manager and coaching staff to utilize that talent in the best way possible, and avoid any Jim Tracy molding attempts that could derail the careers of the young players. I don’t see that risk with either Hurdle or Banister. Having both of them on the major league bench, working with the young players, would be my ideal situation.