First Pitch: Once Again, Clint Hurdle Should Be the Manager of the Year

For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has been named a finalist for the NL Manager of the Year award. Hurdle won the award last year. After he was named as a finalist, I wrote about how he deserved the award, due to the way he embraced advanced metrics such as defensive shifts, and how he controlled the clubhouse and never let the Pirates get into a prolonged funk.

This time around I think Hurdle deserves the award for those same reasons, but even more this year due to some of the personnel decisions he made. Hurdle still embraced advanced metrics. He still had an impact on the clubhouse, which might have been more difficult this year, since the Pirates had a lot more low points in 2014 than 2013. But the personnel moves were why the Pirates made the playoffs for the second year in a row.

The first move was the decision to give Josh Harrison more playing time. Heading into the season, Harrison was an after-thought. If he would have been cut out of Spring Training, not many Pirates fans would have been upset. He didn’t get off to a great start in April. But with the right fielders struggling, Hurdle gave Harrison a shot. The regular playing time continued at second base when Neil Walker went down with an injury in June. Harrison eventually found a home at third base, taking over as the regular starter in August after Pedro Alvarez struggled defensively all year. Throughout this process, Harrison put up numbers you’d expect from a star player.

There wasn’t much to indicate that Harrison was capable of being a starter, and to be fair, we still don’t know if he is a starter for the long-term. He did post numbers similar to this in the minors when he received regular playing time. His OPS in Triple-A was .856, and .826 in his first run through the level. He had an .837 OPS this year as a starter. Hurdle cited the minor league numbers as proof of what he could do when he got regular playing time. But you’ll have a hard time finding many other people looking at minor league numbers when a player comes into the year with a .648 OPS in 575 major league plate appearances. Harrison put up a 4.9 WAR, which ranked third on the team behind Andrew McCutchen and Russell Martin.

A big reason Harrison got his opportunity was due to the struggles in right field from Travis Snider and Jose Tabata. Heading into the season, everyone was waiting for top prospect Gregory Polanco to arrive. He did arrive in early June, and started off hot. But Polanco quickly cooled, leaving the Pirates without production from their right fielder once again. Fortunately, Travis Snider’s bat started picking up right around the time Polanco arrived in the majors.

Snider posted an .862 OPS from June 9th to the end of the season, spanning 224 plate appearances. He started getting regular playing time at the end of July. That continued in early August when Andrew McCutchen went down with a rib injury. But the bold move by Hurdle was what happened when McCutchen returned. Rather than going with Polanco, who projects to be a future star, Hurdle went with the hot hand. Snider remained the starter and Polanco was sent to Triple-A. This was all despite the fact that Snider had failed twice as the starting right fielder, and only had a small sample of success that supported him remaining in the role. The move paid off, as he finished the season with a .770 OPS after McCutchen returned. He ended up posting a 1.7 WAR, which ranked seventh among Pirates position players this year.

There were other moves that worked out for the Pirates this year, and helped them make the playoffs. For a lot of the transactions, it’s hard to tell how much of that was Hurdle and how much was Neal Huntington. The decision to give Josh Harrison regular playing time or give Travis Snider another chance probably had influence from Huntington, but those are closer to manager moves than anything else. The moves that worked for the Pirates were the call-ups of guys like Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, and John Holdzkom, which helped stabilize the rotation and the bullpen in the second half.

Of course, the main argument against Hurdle would be his handling of the rotation during the final weekend. He went with Francisco Liriano on Saturday and Gerrit Cole on Sunday in an attempt to try and win the division. That left Edinson Volquez for the Wild Card game, which didn’t work out at all. In hindsight, the moves look bad, although at the time there was a serious debate as to whether the Pirates should go for a slim chance at the division, or boot the division and save up for the Wild Card game. It might not have mattered either way in the Wild Card game with the way Madison Bumgarner pitched. Lost in all of that is the fact that the Pirates wouldn’t have even been in the playoff race if it wasn’t for Josh Harrison or Travis Snider stepping up, along with those key additions like Worley, Locke, and Holdzkom. Hurdle should get a lot of credit for these decisions, especially Harrison and Snider. These decisions are why he should win the NL Manager of the Year award for the second straight year.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**McCutchen and Hurdle Named as Award Finalists

**AFL: Josh Bell and Elias Diaz Each Reach Base Three Times In Loss

**Cubs Will Target Russell Martin

  • My vote would be for Don Mattingly. Handling the supersized Dodger contracts (and egos to go with them) and guiding LA to an NL West crown deserves some recognition.

  • IMO, it is a no brainer, Bochy far and wide is manager of the year and the top manager in baseball.
    Bochy is a top tier manager, Hurdle is a mid tier manager, no comparison. Hurdle has some very good qualities as a manager and some not so good qualities.
    Hurdle gets credit for getting the most out of his players and with some he does, with others he doesn’t. He should not get high marks for Josh Harrison because the failure of other players is the only reason Harrison got any shot, Hurdle was basically pushed into using Harrison, because of the situation. His team has basic fundamental problems, they can’t bunt, they can’t run bases, two items that contributed greatly to the two teams that were in the WS. Hurdle nearly ruined Marte, but I think he handled Polanco correctly. IMO, the first base situation was not Hurdles fault, I think it was Huntingtons fault. IMO, Hurdle did a very poor job of using the talent he had in the pen, resorting to using them systematically far to much.

    • Define they cant run bases. I see them being very aggressive with their speed, which can lead to a few bad mistakes and a few great plays. Also, Hurdle nearly ruined Marte? So the fact that Marte struggled like he had his entire minor league career with free swinging was on Hurdle? Marte was simply the guy he had been, a great speed/defense player that can hit but swung at too much and it hurt his line. Great argument can be made that it was on NH for bringing him up before he made strides to stop swinging and balls in the dirt. Bochy is a great manager, but since the votes are cast before the playoffs and consider only this year, Bochy wasnt the top man.

      • Running the bases does not have a one word definition, it is everything from running and not recognizing field conditions to overrunning bases.
        With Marte, I was referring to his attitude regressing to the point that he was getting worse instead of better and Hurdle calling him out in public for base running incidents. Marte did not improve until Polanco came along for what ever reason, but Marte still never got the credit for improving the way he did from Hurdle. Hurdle has his pets and this guy is not one of them IMO. As far as Bochy is concerned, IMO, he has been the top manager in the NL for a long time, he knows how to manage a team for the long haul better than most.

        • What proof are you using that Marte didnt get credit from Hurdle for his improvements? I remember multiple interviews the last 2 months where Hurdle remarked how great Marte was playing and how he was a top OFer. So idk how to define “gets credit” since the manger publicly said he was clearly impressed with Marte and we dont know any of what is said during the 75% of time the team is together not on camera.

  • I don’t see it happening for Clint this year. Bullpen management, playing guys like Michael Martinez, getting trapped with the wrong platoon guy at the plate too often late in games. Bucs had one of lowest totals of games lost to DL, so he had his regulars available more often than most managers.

    I’d go with Bochy here as SF had to overcome more key injuries than Bucs, although Williams as a first-year guy didn’t blow his opportunity when handed a virtual all-star team.

  • All season long posters got criticized if they complained about Hurdle’s bullpen moves during games and it was always blame the players performance and not Hurdle. So when you plug bench position players in and they do exceedingly well how much credit should you give the manager. I agree that when a relief pitcher has a meltdown it isn’t the managers fault but he made way too many confusing switches this season doing games.

  • The last week of the season rotation probably will hurt him..

    But seriously. it isn’t even a big deal. they have probably a 48% chance of winning the WC game with Volquez and… what… a 55% max chance of winning it with Cole? A coin flip either way.

    Then again, that argument can be applied to game 162 as well.

  • William Wallace
    November 5, 2014 7:40 am

    No I do not agree with Hurdle as Manager of the Year. He is a good manager but he is full of himself and that leads to some poor decisions. The points that Joe Nastasi made spot on. He tends to keep certain players in an invisible doghouse.

  • The team’s 4 best hitters all spent time on the DL, they started 10-18, the bullpen was a mess all season long and they had to change closers, their top 3 starters all spent time on the DL, as you pointed out Tim he made great decisions with Jhay and Snider. While deciding to not save Liriano or Cole for the WC game was a mistake, Hurdle still did an outstanding job in 2014. He is definitely more deserving than he was last year and I hope he wins it again, but I doubt he will. My guess is Matt Williams, I think he’ll win solely because he won 96 games and a division in his first season as a manager. Even though anyone who watched Williams manage the Nats’ pen in the postseason will see he shouldn’t win it. IMO, he costs the Nats that series.

  • Scott Kliesen
    November 5, 2014 5:42 am

    To win it back-to-back, one has to be clearly the best choice, and Hurdle isn’t. Rookie Manager, Matt Williams, will win. But only because they vote before playoffs. If the voters take the post-season into consideration, Williams doesn’t deserve it. His bullpen usage cost them the series w Giants in my opinion.

    As for Hurdle, he was probably better this year than last. Much tougher year from a bullpen, injury and player performance standpoint. He was able to navigate a difficult path and get his team back to post-season. My hats off to CH. I, for one, am glad he’s the Manager of my favorite team.

    • SK: Matt Williams happened to be in the right place at the right time. Two SP’s were added to the Rotation – Fister and Roark who gave them 31 wins combined. JZim had his normal light’s out year, Rendon, Span, Werth, LaRoche and Desmond all had career offensive years and all played more than 140 games. A year of luck with health, and a lot of help from the GM. How much of that was attributable to Matt Williams?

      • Scott Kliesen
        November 5, 2014 7:14 am

        Good points Emjay. Too often Managers are given to much blame and credit for others accomplishments. In this case, I believe you’re correct, but I have no doubt Williams will win in a landslide.

      • Very true, but the award often goes to those types. Williams likely isnt the best overall manager but he did get his team to mid 90s in wins and a division title.

  • They vote at the end of the regular season, correct? That would seem to me to point towards either Hurdle or Williams from WSH. Hurdle made some great moves to get the Pirates to the WC game, Williams led his team to a division title and 96 wins. Not that Bochy wasnt solid but before the postseason the Giants were a good not great team with pitching issues after MadBum. Heck, they still had those issues come October but MadBum made the rest of the staff irrelevant.

  • I’m not a Clint Hurdle guy but I agreed with the decision at the end of the year to go for the division. If you give him credit for Snyder & Harrison moves that were made because he was basically left with no alternative then you have to blame him for not making moves like moving Marte to center & Cutch to leffectively which should’ve been done last year. Or his handling of his starters. His pulling guys early with low pitch counts just to have his guys blow at least 8 games.

    • Cutch to left. Damn auto correct

    • lonleylibertarian
      November 5, 2014 9:17 am

      Agree Joe – Not a big Hurdle fan. Not very good with younger players IMHO – if you credit him with the good – finding a role for Jay Hay, you have to give him at least some blame for the continuing black hole that was first base this year – and the struggles of Marte early and Polanco later. Good coaches help young players adapt to MLB – saw no evidence of Hurdle – or any of his staff being effective at this. Bochy took a team that had some real challenges to the playoffs and would be a better choice IMHO.

      If you credit him for embracing SOME advanced metrics it is also fair to blame him for ignoring advanced defensive metrics around CF, 1st and 2nd base.

      • Please explain to me your qualifications for any judgement on any MLB managers abilities to handle players. Judging their game management is one thing, but your comment ,without any inside the clubhouse information other than what you are reading on certain ” insider’s blogs ” is asinine.

        • lonleylibertarian
          November 5, 2014 12:01 pm

          Won’t respond to unwarranted personal attacks – trolling is better over at some other blogs

          • No ? You won’t respond to what you consider a perspnal attack on your self, but you sure don’t mind making unfounded attacks on people involved in professional baseball. That seems fair to me…

            • lonleylibertarian
              November 6, 2014 10:56 am

              Let’s try this once – I expressed my OPINION – could be I am right – some others seem to agree with me at least in part – I might be wrong – I often am – but this was an OPINION – you have them and are entitled to them as am I. Starting a reply the way you did and ending it with “asinine” is over the top and more of an attack than honest disagreement. Tone it down or go away.

        • Leo, tough day today. You get to pay higher taxes and your team dem got slaughtered. What’s not to love?

          • Guess again Bill. I am not a Democrat. And my taxes aren’t going up or down, and I don’t care about your’s.

            • A vote for Wolf means a vote for higher taxes. Your taxes will go up, period.
              I guess most people who go on Crooks and Liars and sites like those, are mostly conservatives. What ever you say big guy.

      • So he gets credit for seeing J-Hay having a breakout year and playing him where ever he can, but he gets blame for playing the 1B he is given on the roster? How in the hell is it the managers fault for playing Ike or Gaby when its all he had? He was supposed to storm into the FO and demand a better 1Bmen? You also give him blame for a young player struggling, WHICH THEY ALL DO. Where is your evidence that good coaching can help a young player avoid struggling? Apparently STL has a bad coach since, RIP, Tavares struggled mightily. Blaming a manger for something that will happen to all players is insane, particularly when you mention he should get fault for Marte and either omit or ignore the fact that Marte was one of the best players in baseball the last 2 months. You saw no evidence of Hurdle being effective at helping young players adapt, so explain Marte’s last two months. If we are attributing the coach to how well young players do, Marte and Mercer should be credits to the work of Hurdle and staff. Mercer became an above average SS in basically his 1st year in the bigs and continued that in his 2nd. Marte did the same thing, with both having struggles they overcame.

    • there is a lot more involved than just filling out a lineup card and having Cutch in LF.
      If he refuses the move who is going to force him?
      You are willing to make your best player unhappy by doing something that may feel to him a demotion and screw with his ego. Uh – uh.

      • Have you ever heard of Barry Bonds. You must be to young to remember. Let me help you with this. See he was not only the best player on the team, but best player in baseball & started out as a cf but this guy named Andy Van Slyke was the better defensive cf so they moved them because it made the TEAM better. You may also want to look up some guy named Mike Trout or another one named Bryce Harper. Good manager’s make these moves. Before you say I’m this Leyland fan. I couldn’t stand him either. Best hitter in the game hitting 5th was one of the worst decisions in the history of the game. You may now wipe the egg off.

        • P.S. Mercer should have been the starter the year before but Hurdle wouldn’t get off of Barmes’s nut sack.

        • Maybe using Bonds as an example to not care about the players morale and move him positions isnt wise, since he was not a happy guy at times in PIT and accordingly left. Harper is also a flawed example as he wasnt a pure CFer coming up. I agree with what you are saying, but you used crap examples in a condescending way.

          • Pick & choose all you want Mike Trout is best player in the game…… Not to mention he’s also superior to Cutch defensively. He got moved. So let me hear you break him down. Just give up you know I proved you wrong. If Bonds was this bad example because he wasn’t this morally team guy & Cutch is, then he should March into Hurdles office & offer to move. Harper did come up as cf

    • My # 1 question for you is : who is ” Snyder ” “? I think Travis SNIDER is an OF. # 2 is this : are you serious when you say you blame Hurdle for not unilaterally forcing one of the top 5 players in MLB to another position ? Unbelievable….

    • Its funny, because when he leaves guys in too long people scream murder. It’ll give a person whiplash to watch fans complain when a manager leaves a guy in and the SP gives up runs, and then complain a week later when he pulls the same starter and the bullpen loses it. Fans will complain about the managers call if they lose regardless of the merits.

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