First Pitch: I Agree With Bob Nutting, But I Don’t Trust Him

The Pirates don’t deserve any benefit of the doubt from their fans.

Bob Nutting doesn’t deserve any benefit of the doubt from his customers.

There was a time not too long ago when I argued the exact opposite, and it didn’t go over well. The Pirates were in the middle of their infamous 2016 offseason, quickly losing trust with the fan base with their decisions and primarily their poor communication.

I put their problems largely on communication. I don’t think that’s a big leap to take. Nutting has said the same himself. The fans do not trust the team, or the owner.

Trust is not guaranteed. It’s not infinite. It’s earned. Some people give it easier than others. Some people are more trusting, more willing to give the benefit of the doubt or look for the best in others, even if there are signs of concern.

Others don’t trust as easily. They need some stronger reassurance before they jump in with both feet. They’re more guarded and calculated.

In both cases, trust can be earned with time. The problem is that it takes different amounts of time for different people to reach that point of trust. People also have a hard time seeing other points of view, or how people came to their point of view.

Regardless of the side you’re on with trusting the Pirates, there’s someone else on a different trust timeline who either doesn’t understand how it took you so long to get there, or they don’t understand why you’re still looking for convincing information before you have that trust.

I say all of that now because this site largely got caught in the middle of that divide last time around. I trusted Neal Huntington earlier than a lot of people. I was biased. I started closely following this organization in 2009, and the team I followed was the Lynchburg Hillcats team that won the 2009 Carolina League title, and the 2010 Eastern League title in Altoona.

That team had a lot of future MLB players. Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Starling Marte at the end of the year, Pedro Alvarez at the beginning of the year, Alex Presley, and cup of coffee guys like Matt Hague, Rudy Owens, Eric Fryer, and Chase d’Arnaud.

Following those players daily for the first two years I covered the team had me optimistic about the Pirates going forward. And yet we know that wasn’t the unanimous opinion surrounding the team.

I gave more benefit of the doubt, largely because I felt the Pirates needed to finally focus on their minor league system, and I saw someone who was following the same methods that other successful small market franchises were following. My trust in the Pirates under Huntington was based on what I was seeing, as far as actions, but there was definitely some benefit of the doubt involved that it would work out.

Some of that benefit of the doubt paid off. Some didn’t. They became a contending team like I thought they might, but they did a horrible job developing players internally and getting them to their upsides.

We’re entering a new era for the Pirates, and I’ve been wrestling with how I’ll personally cover it. My approach is the same. I want to be unbiased, and give honest opinions, regardless of the label my opinion gets me. My trust scale and room for benefit of the doubt probably shrunk in the last ten years, as it does for most people in the difference between your mid-20s and mid-30s.

My problem is that I’ve never gone through this process. I started covering Huntington after he was a year and a half on the job. There were already examples of their approach in place. Right now we have absolutely nothing but words and a few rumors and minor transactions.

My view right now is that your trust scale has to be heavily influenced by giving the benefit of the doubt in order to trust the Pirates and Nutting right now. This isn’t to say that they won’t be heading in the right direction. Remember, trust is earned. In this case, it needs to be earned back, which is a harder task.

Jason Mackey of the Post-Gazette has been doing some fantastic reporting this fall, and had an article about Nutting from PirateFest this past weekend. There was a section that really stood out to me, and inspired this look into trust scales.

“I’m not sure we know how good every one of our players can be,” Nutting said. “We absolutely have challenges in our development system in terms of processes. We absolutely have challenges at the major league level in terms of information and ways we communicated with players.

“A real frustration point for me last year was that we had too many players who performed at one level here and a higher level with another club. They were coached differently. They got different information. And they performed at a higher level.

“We don’t know how good our players are right now. I think we need to give Derek, [general manager] Ben [Cherington], our analytics team and our coaching staff a chance to see what we can bring out of our players, not only at the major league level but at Triple-A, too.

“We need to make sure they’re performing at a level that maximizes their ability. They deserve that as players. Certainly the organization deserves it.”

Actions speak louder than words. I like to ultimately grade people on actions. But that doesn’t mean words aren’t important.

I agree with what Nutting says here. The Pirates don’t know what they have with their players. It seems like a crazy statement, but I think it’s true.

I’ve been harping for years against the idea that the Pirates can’t draft or identify talent, and fighting back against the idea that the system was bare of talent. I saw the talent daily. I saw it developing in the right direction. I talked with people inside and outside of the system who saw the same thing.

Eventually, some of those talented players started going elsewhere and having success. The problem here is that we don’t know why.

I’ve pointed out the trio of Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Austin Meadows so many times. Some people probably don’t want to hear about those players ever again. Others will bring them up until those players retire. It’s the extremes of the trust scale reflected.

The problem right now is that we don’t know why those players didn’t work out in Pittsburgh. We know they didn’t work out, and obviously had the talent to do so. If you try to come up with theories on why they didn’t work, you get different reasons for each player. Yet the Pirates have seen their own prospects underachieve in Pittsburgh and perform better elsewhere for too long to ignore that there is a trend here.

Nutting is correct. The Pirates don’t know what they have. That’s his fault. There’s no other way to say it. His stated reasons for change — both the one given above and previous reasons along those lines — were known for years by anyone watching the team. Even someone like me, who was previously as trusting of everything Huntington did as you could be, got to the point where a drastic change was needed. When it became obvious that Huntington wasn’t going to initiate that change, Nutting was the next guy who needed to step up.

He didn’t right away, but he eventually made the right call. He stated reasons which he should have known much earlier. He’s commented about how he wasn’t following as close as he should have been. I didn’t need to see him say that to know it was happening.

So where are we now?

The organization doesn’t know what it has. Anywhere.

Is Josh Bell the inconsistent player we’ve seen? Or is he the impact hitter the Pirates were dreaming about in 2011 when they broke the draft to sign him?

Which section of their development system is the problem? Is it a level? A range? An organization-wide approach? The hesitancy to make analytics and new technology a mandatory part of the development process?

Which coaches are good, and which ones aren’t? MLB changes so rapidly these days that a coach with a specific system and approach is going to be obsolete in due time. The guys who excel these days are the ones who are always looking for new approaches and edges, while also having the communication skills to convey to a player why a certain approach works for them.

The coaches right now were under a different system that didn’t work. Some of them could end up excelling under a different system, just because they’re good teachers who were forced to teach a bad method in the past.

The last thing Cherington should do is come in and clean house. That’s going to lead to a wasted 2020 year, and beyond. The Pirates should be all in on a single direction, and that direction should be building up a contender that can try and win the division one day. The approach shouldn’t be rushed, and should be diligent.

It makes sense to come in and see what you have. What’s that idiom? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I don’t know what the hell that means. No one does. We don’t even live in a time where you throw out bath water. You literally just pull a plug, and babies can’t fit through drains. That’s science.

But this feels like it perfectly fits that idiom. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You don’t want to try and eliminate all of the bad in the organization with sweeping moves that also eliminate people who could help in the future. And after seeing the results from Cole, Glasnow, and Meadows, you don’t want to assume you’ve seen everything you need to see from everyone in Pittsburgh, especially if you’ve only seen them with the Pirates under Huntington.

The only tangible action the Pirates have made right now is a slow and steady approach. We’re waiting for a plan to emerge with everything else. I agree with the slow and steady approach. I think there’s talent in this system, and the Pirates need to find a way to maximize it. Will Cherington be able to pull it off? I don’t know.

That’s an issue of trust, and trust is going to be difficult for this organization to earn back. That doesn’t mean everything they do or suggest is the wrong move. It just means they don’t have a strong track record right now of making the right moves, which means they’re only going to win back trust from some with actions and results, rather than just words.

SONG OF THE DAY

DAILY QUIZ

A quick refresher, because it feels like the 2019 season ended 10 years ago.


RANDOM STUFF OF THE DAY

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THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

By John Dreker

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and two transactions of note, but before we get into them, current left fielder Bryan Reynolds is celebrating his 25th birthday today.

On this date in 1976, the Pirates signed pitcher Pascual Perez as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican. He played two years for the Pirates (1980-81) before being traded to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Larry McWilliams. Perez had a 2-8, 3.94 record in 98.1 innings with the Pirates and a career 67-68, 3.44 record in 11 Major League seasons.

On this date in 1993, the Pirates signed Elmer Dessens as an amateur free agent out of Mexico. He played parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh (1996-98) as part of a 14-year career in the majors. He had a career record of 52-64, 4.44 in 1,174.1 innings. He played for nine different teams in the majors, including eight National League clubs.

Mike Zagurski, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. He pitched six innings over six appearances during his brief time in Pittsburgh. He was signed by the Pirates during the 2012-13 off-season and started the year with Indianapolis. In Triple-A, he had a 2.14 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 21 innings before being called up to the Pirates in late May. He allowed ten runs on ten hits and eight walks in his six innings. Zagurski was released in late June and signed with the Yankees, who released him later in the year. He finished the season with the Yankees after making a brief stop with the A’s. Zagurski signed with the Indians as a free agent in November of 2013 and he lasted played pro ball during the winter of 2018-19 in the Dominican. Prior to joining the Pirates, he pitched parts of two seasons with the Phillies and one with the Diamondbacks. In 91 Major League appearances, he had a 1-1, 7.78 record in 76.1 innings.

Otis Clymer, right fielder for the 1905-07 Pirates. He was on the 1905 Opening day roster for Pittsburgh, making his big league debut at age 29. Clymer hit .296 in 96 games as a rookie, with 23 stolen bases and 74 runs scored. The Pirates had planned for him to be their regular right fielder for 1906, but just 11 games into the schedule he broke his leg sliding into a base and missed the rest of the season. Clymer returned healthy for the 1907 season, although he struggled with a .227 average through 22 games when the Pirates decided to sell him to the Washington Senators on June 26th. They seemed to give up on him too soon because he finished the year hitting .316 in 57 games with Washington.

He would go on to play two more seasons for the Senators. He hit well in 1908, but struggling badly at the plate in 1909, hitting .196 through 45 games before being sent to the minors. Clymer would play the next three seasons in the minors and hit over .300 each year, topping out at .342 in 1911, while also hitting 48 doubles. He was taken by the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft following the 1912 season, returning to the majors at age 37. He would last only 30 games with the Cubs before they sold him to the Boston Doves. Clymer hit .324 with six RBIs in 14 games for the Doves, but they released him in early August. He finished his career with two more seasons in the minors before retiring. While with the Pirates he hit .282 in 129 games. Overall he batted .267 in 385 Major League games.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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