Williams: Real People in the Game of Baseball

I don’t think Austin Hedges got a fair shot in Pittsburgh. I place the blame entirely on the Pirates front office for setting expectations too high.

This past offseason, the Pirates brought in veteran leaders for their various positions. Hedges was the addition behind the plate. He was added to help the pitching staff, and all through his time with a .467 OPS, the Pirates insisted there was hidden value in his game.

Hedges was an outstanding defender, which the stats display. You could also argue that he had an impact on the younger pitchers and players inside the clubhouse. This profile is similar to any elite backup defensive catcher who can also mentor players on the side. If you want to go a step further, you could say that he was a field general, holding things together from behind the plate — staring out at eight players staring back at him, waiting for the signal to the pitcher to begin.

The Pirates presented Hedges as a starter and a leader, with intangible qualities. They went heavy with this presentation during Spring Training, trying to qualify his abilities.

Hedges displays an advanced knowledge of the game and his own movements and tendencies behind the plate. This is and always has been good. A player who knows that much detail about what he does is going to have success. There’s no question why Hedges is strong defensively, with his knowledge of the subject.

What always stood out to me about this video was him teaching Henry Davis how he moves comfortably behind the plate. Davis became conscious of what Hedges was talking about, but is still working on that same adjustment. The idea that Hedges would come in and improve the catchers was sold up with this video, and this did not happen with Davis.

This might not be on Hedges. It could be on Davis. And it might not even be on him. We can’t assume that Davis is an inevitable Major League catcher waiting for the right trainer, all because he caught in high school and college.

The work with the pitching staff is a huge intangible that the Pirates sold up. The pitching staff had a 4.49 ERA, ranking 20th in baseball. The best story was Mitch Keller, who had a 3.97 ERA prior to Hedges being traded. Keller had a 3.91 ERA last year, so his success can’t be fully attributed to Hedges.

Since the trade, the pitching staff has dropped to a 6.00 ERA. Keller has a 6.75 ERA in his three starts since the deal. It’s possible that Hedges elevated the pitching staff, but it would be really difficult to see, and the value might not match the hole in the lineup. And that’s where the boos come in to the picture.


“Pittsburgh seems like a miserable fucking place.”

That was my reaction to the Pirates Twitter reaction of signing Austin Hedges back in December. I actually thought about that and then sent it out. It was harsh messaging, and that link is a better description of what I was discussing. The fact is, Pirates fans were booing from the moment the Hedges signing was announced. As someone who is more optimistic than most in the Pittsburgh media, and who saw similar sentiments when Russell Martin and then Francisco Cervelli were added, I wanted to give Hedges a chance.

Hedges was not Martin, nor Cervelli. Both of those men had an advanced level of confidence.

In one of my earliest conversations with Martin, back before the 2013 season, I had spoken with an opposing scout who felt that Martin’s low average could be improved upon. The scout felt Martin could hit .280. I’ll never forget Martin’s response when I brought up the scout remark.

“Why not .300?” Martin asked back, in his relaxed, calm demeanor, subtly challenging that .280 was his upside. Or, maybe he just didn’t care about average.

Pittsburgh was complaining about his lack of offense at the signing, while slowly adjusting to the new defensive metrics that explained the signing of Martin. He was eventually a fan favorite, because he did enough on offense in 2013, while being an elite defender and a clear leader.

One year later, Martin split the difference and batted .290.

Martin at least had full confidence. He had confidence in his abilities. No one could define him. It was also impossible to knock him off his game. This probably made it easier for him to take on so many thing.

Hedges had confidence in his abilities, at least on defense. He did not display that confidence on offense. Hedges recently spoke with Chris Rose about the experience of being booed, and highlighted how fragile his confidence was at the plate. The interview below is cued up to him discussing his time being booed in Pittsburgh.

“As I’m going up there, I’m trying to get my plan in my head, and then [the booing] happens, and it gets me off my plan,” said Hedges on the Rose podcast. “I’m having a hard time getting present.”

The two went into a discussion about how the home crowd is supposed to provide a comfortable setting for the home team to perform. By mid-June, this wasn’t the case for Hedges. It impacted him for a few weeks, by his own admission.

The offense wasn’t much lower for Hedges than in previous years. He was still below the Mendoza line, with his .180 average being higher than previous years. His OPS continued a decline since 2018, fueled by a decline in power. I don’t think there’s an argument to be made that Hedges puts up offensive numbers that would avoid the eventual boos — even if the crowd was fully supportive.

Hedges went on to say on the Rose podcast a very common counter to fans booing a player.

“If you went there to boo, stay at home,” said Hedges.


There’s going to be a day in the future — and I think it will come under Ben Cherington — where Pirates fans in Pittsburgh will wake up the morning after screaming their lungs out at PNC Park, watching a playoff victory by the home team.

Their jobs will be a little easier to look forward to that week.

They’ll smile more, and breathe easier.

There will be a sense of community every time you see black and gold, triggering the happy memory of the event they just experienced.

I was at the 2013 Wild Card Game. I was also there in 2014 and 2015, but the crowd was shut down early in those by Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta, respectively. That 2013 game was the loudest event I’ve ever experienced, concerts included. You could feel the impact of the crowd in your chest.

No one was able to think about the bills they had due.

No one was upset over a relationship.

A college kid jumped off the bridge in celebration after the game, but I don’t think anyone was depressed in that sea of black in the stands that night — unless they were Reds fans.

The impact of the crowd on that night — and in every sporting event where the crowd plays a role for the home team — is that everyone in the building goes live. There’s no past. There’s no future. It’s just the present.

Reality is honest, by definition. If everyone in the crowd is live, it might help boost the confidence of Hedges. The fact that he can be thrown off his plan at the plate so easily is a tacit sign that Hedges would have never been a good hitter in Pittsburgh.

Behind the plate, Hedges knows the intricacies of how the dirt slides beneath his shin guard, based on how he holds his knee. Yet, at the plate, he’s in his mind, concentrating on a plan, because he’s not nearly as inherently good at hitting as he is catching. His catching is instinctual. His hitting is not by a long shot.

It takes a lot of energy to do something that makes another human being cheer. That’s because it takes a lot of energy to celebrate something. You want to know it’s real before you celebrate. And you can’t exactly celebrate everywhere. If I were to walk into the middle of a church and just start screaming and celebrating a random happening, eventually someone would shut it down and refer me to a hospital for treatment.

We love sporting events, and other live gathering events, because we’re all animalistic in nature. We all need to roar.

These are the places where we congregate to roar together. It’s why Pittsburgh — through years and years and years and years and years of decline — has gravitated around their sports teams. It’s also why Pittsburgh borderline hates the Pirates.

The Steelers are going to give people a chance to roar this year. So will the Penguins.

If you go to a Pirates game right now, you might roar. But based on the record, and based on the disparity in runs scored vs allowed, you’re probably not going to be roaring that much.

This is the entire point.

Baseball, like religion, is spiritual. We follow these live events and we connect with the players and artists who we identify with on a personal level. We identify with the teams on the same type representative level. Through their success, we feel a transference of success within ourselves. And for the immediate future following the transference of that success, we get it inside our heads that we could have the same possibility for success.

That said, if you go to a concert, and the singer is off key the entire night, you’re going to hear boos from the crowd. Mostly because the performer didn’t allow the crowd the escape into the present that they paid for.

Austin Hedges allowed people to escape into the present in a bad way. He represented an expectation of a negative outcome. Inevitably, that gets fans into a negative mindset. Fans could either tune out from paying for their chance to be live, or they could be live, in disappointment. Neither is what fans pay money to experience.

The problem in Pittsburgh is this should have never been on Hedges. He even noted this in the Rose podcast, expressing surprise that he became the symbol of the team’s struggles.

Ultimately, this is on the Pirates, and specifically their General Manager who built the team, Ben Cherington.

People can only cheer for the good things they see. If Hedges were surrounded by a better team, fans might give him a pass on the lack of offense — just as they did in San Diego and just as they will probably do in Texas. When Hedges was traded, the Pirates ranked anywhere from 24th-26th in team average, OBP, and slugging. In that scenario, the fans will boo the biggest example of the particular failure. Which happened with Hedges.

The Pirates explained that Hedges had value that would keep him on the team. The fans didn’t want to hear this, because fans are ultimately looking for signs of hope from these bigger institutions.

They’re not paying for tickets to watch a player or team obtain individual success. Not when there are two other teams in town with their own players and a better track record of success.

Pirates fans pay for tickets to bask in the feeling of success, and soak in the comfort of confidence that life is conquerable. At the end of the night, they sneak a little bit of the feeling out of the stadium, take it home, place it on their night stand, wake up the next morning, put it on their bodies, and show it off throughout their lives until the memory of the event wears down enough to force another trip to PNC Park to get a refresh.

Cherington has not yet built that team. I think that he will get there. If this season showed anything, it’s that Pirates fans are overdue for tangible results that they can see and feel.

When that happens, they’ll have no choice but to cheer.

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Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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Good article. Good discussion. The Pirates started too quickly, and they faded too quickly. They probably right where management expected at this point. Too bad they can’t do a better job of communicating with the fans. I suspect the fans’ history with this ownership doesn’t help


I believe fans have the right to boo but I personally think that is more for lack of hustle or effort. To broaden the discussion, I don’t think fans have the right to say anything. I’ve always said if what you yell at a player would cause a fight (and basically the fan in theory has just challenged the player to that fight) then the fan should be tossed and banned. Too many times I see replays of when players (in many sports) angrily engage fans and I see no reason why that fan wasn’t immediately dragged out. Yes, players have to ignore it, but if we as fans want some level of engagement with the players then those who abuse it have no business being at the game. You are paying to be entertained (hence – you can boo), but not to abuse the players.



I boo this article.

Hedges sucks.



Sorry Hedges you were booed because you are a terrible major league player making millions of dollars.


Hedges was a terrible signing by BC, so I blame him more than Hedges. BC is a tried and failed GM…he makes NH look competent in comparison. Trading Hedges for anything was a positive move.

Bryan Hall

Who should they have signed to bridge the gap to Endy?


At the time I was hoping the Pirates would have signed Gary Sanchez. He has 16 homers in 58 games already. I think he could have brought something back at the trade deadline as well.

Now the problem with that is who knows how bad he would have been working with the pitchers. The other problem is if the Pirates wanted someone to set a good example for the young catchers, he would have been pretty low on the list.

I was never upset the Pirates signed Hedges. I just thought he played too much.

Bryan Hall

I can’t argue with that. I’m not sure Sanchez would’ve taken a role like this. However, he would’ve been an upgrade


When the Pirates signed Hedges in September for $5 million, I think you are right that Sanchez would not have taken it. Looking back and only signing for $1.5 million in April, I bet he wish he took it.


I don’t think the FO is to blame for the expectations for Hedges. They sold his strong suits. His history with the bat was evident. Nobody should have had any expectations of anything different.

You made an observation. “Pittsburgh seems like a miserable fucking place.” I’d adjust it. “Pittsburgh is a miserable fucking place. I grew up there. Folks always had an expectation of the worst. It was validated when the mills closed. I thought the world waited for the worst. I moved to Texas in 83 and California in 85. I’m not crazy about how California has evolved but I try to look for the good. I returned to PGH regularly during the 80s and 90s. Less after 2000. I always find myself anxious to leave because of the sour outlook that folks have. Most of my family has passed on so I don’t feel a need to come back often. I still have close friends in the area but even they struggle with negativity. I still love the Pirates from my childhood in the 60s and read many other blogs/publications. I’d have to say the most obnoxious writer is DK and his “spirit” reinforces what I believe about Pittsburgh being a miserable fucking place.

Bryan Hall

I don’t know If I have ever thought of Pittsburgh being more miserable than any of the other cities I have lived in. People always seem to have a lot of yinzer pride.


I live between Chicago and St. Louis. Cub fans could get pretty negative, especially before they won a world series. Cardinal fans (in general) are self proclaimed best fans in the world. This year the fans are awful. They were booing in April. I guess the point is it is easier to be good fans when your team is winning.


Booing for effort is warranted.

Booing because your sports team isn’t winning is a pathetic display of grown ass men taking out their own failures and insecurities on others who’ve accomplished more in life than they ever will.


I’m not a booer when attending a game in person. I boo at home in front of the idiot box (appropriately named for a self-deprecating wannabe yinzer living in the south).

While I believe that “hidden value” is just a way to say that the player stinks (not saying he as a person stinks, just his on-field performance) but we want to find some way to justify keeping him on the field rather than on the bench or off the team, I’d rather folks boo a bad play or bad at-bat than preemptively boo when he is announced. That’s a little more civilized in my opinion. It’s not Hedges’ fault that he was signed or that the manager kept playing him – that’s what he would want. All athletes want to compete and succeed. Too bad we can’t boo the management!

As far as dealing with the boos – yeah, some guys are more sensitive than others. I may not get booed but I have to deal with unhappy people with my line of work. Everybody does. We can play the victim, we can struggle with the naysayers, but in the end we should simply do our best (for the glory of God – hey, I’m a Christian) with the realization that others will not always be happy with our best for either good, bad, or even totally unfair reasons.


Say what you like but the fans pay to see the game and its players and they can do as they please by either cheering or booing. So Hedges is a good defensive catcher but can’t hit a bit. That is what management wanted and Hedges could have rejected their offer. I am happy Endy is catching and waiting for Davis to get his chance.


i also wantt to take the opportunity to say that theres absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of Austin Hedges: backup catcher


Hedges is not getting booed in Texas because they traded for him to be a back-up catcher with good defensive skills. Since they traded for him August 1st, he has played in 5 games and has had 6 at bats (all outs).

I think Pirate fans were frustrated with the amount of playing time he was getting. For the record, I have never gone to a game and booed my own team or players on my team.


its verrry rare that i’d think that booing is justified. 99 times out of a hundred, i blame not the player who is bad, but the general manager who decided that it’s a good idea to have the bad player on the team, and refuses to fix it.


College kid off the bridge? I don’t remember that but I’m not local. What was the outcome?


warshed up dahn by the casina few days later


Often the line-up went 9) Hedges followed by 1) Hayes and 2) Reynolds. I wonder if this had a negative effect on Hayes and Reynolds hitting poorly when Hedges was on the team, then much better afterwards. Or sometimes Bae, Marcano or Castro hit before Hedges and often chased or looked bad. My point is Hedges had a negative effect on other hitters as well.


Nice article, Tim. A good feature and a regular check in on the system and I’m good to go.

I was thinking about how the layers of articles often trampled on each other and it resulted in a fracturing of the community a little bit.

A decent discussion here on a decent person who struggled mightily with the Pirates is a dose of reality about a sport. That real people play it.

I love a look, not just inside the metrics, but at the real people in the sport. I root for AA altoona guys because they’re people from somewhere on a journey. Love stuff like this.


I will never forget the crowd roar and the atmosphere at the 2013 Wild Card game. Pirate fans were deeply invested in those 2013-2015 teams…you still see AJ t-shirts around. There were many games in that era when the crowd and fan base were a factor. It’s also a source of continuing frustration for us……and the tired excuses trotted out by ownership and management annually about small market teams.

Hedges was treated poorly from day one in Pittsburgh and the lukewarm defenses put up by Cherrington and Shelton made it worse. Twitter, social media and by far the worst were the host jerks on talk radio. They made Hedges their daily Pirate negative lead and it got sickening. Not just the hitting(as if he hit .250 it would be ok). It was if he was personally to blame for Endy and Davis being kept down although the real reason of service time was obvious. The Hayes and Reynolds slow starts were not easy leads…..it was just too easy to pile on Hedges. If Jack dips under .200 will the talk show dogs turn on him? I doubt it….home runs and ethnic names still play on 93.7.


DKPS also poured plenty of gasoline on the fire but, then again they always seem to want to fire someone.


DK is a miserable asshole.


There is a place for the Hedges of the world either at AAA level or as a player-coach at some level of the organization…

Or on a team that can afford to have an automatic out in the lineup, but not on the Pirates…


It will be interesting to see if he gets an MLB deal this offseason (I hope he does as he seems like a good guy). I’m reminded of my frustration with Shelton continuing to play Gamel last year, and my frustration seemed to be validated by Gamel only being able to get a minor league deal last offseason.

On a side note, Gamel did hit very well in the minors this summer and was recently called up, so maybe he’ll end up proving the Pirates right.


He would have been great to try to bring back as a coach. Won’t happen with the way fans treated him.


I’d like to think that a lot of the booing was aimed at Shelton and Cherington for continuing to run Hedges out there. At least for me, as I was watching on TV, my comments went something like “I can’t believe our manager keeps playing him…” But of course it’s not going to feel that way to Hedges. I feel bad that he surely has a sour taste left from his time with Pittsburgh.

This all could fall under “putting players in a position to succeed”. Given the declining trend in his offense and his (lack of) confidence, did Cherington really think that installing Hedges as the starting catcher on a roster that he didn’t expect to play winning baseball was a good fit? Did it not occur to Shelton that moving Hedges to his appropriate role as backup was necessary if he was going to succeed?

It’s unfortunate, but when management doesn’t put a player in position to succeed, the player is made to feel the target of fans’ frustration.


I would say that he knew what to expect as far as being the starter. Nobody pays $5million to a backup catcher. I think his role was clearly defined and he knew where we were in the rebuild. His treatment by fans and media was atrocious as they understood all of that too. Competent catchers are in high demand and good ones were not coming to be bumped out by Endy or DAvis mid season.

Bryan Hall

I totally agree with this point. I also think that somehow fans believed that he was the reason that the other two catchers were being kept in the minors. You can agree or disagree with the player development strategies, but Hedges had no input on the decisions.


Great read. Really enjoyed this one.

I can’t blame the boos entirely either, cause the offense was beyond anemic. And I like to think that Pirates fans are a pretty knowledgable fan base. To your point, maybe the the Pirates would have framed the signing as look – here’s what this guy offers and these skills are extremely valuable even if they don’t show up in the box score. Any offense we get from this guy is bonus or icing in the cake.

But people would still probably boo. Just not used to seeing offensive stats THAT bad. Its hard to compartmentalize that.


I think the issue here is: Delay was hitting just fine and is equally as good OVERALL defensively, yet we kept playing Hedges in spite of a .160 avg most of the season and zero power. I would have been fine with Hedges at .220 and 10 homers, which is still downright horrible, but we got the literal worst offensive player in the majors, along with a guy whom didn’t throw out base runners, and led the league in catchers interference. If you want to tout the defensive value of someone, make sure the defensive value is something the fans can at least SEE and cheer for occasionally. Framing and teaching, That’s not worth much on a team that needs more.


I like Delay, as a back up. His splits were OPS 1045 in April, 481 May, 374 June, 733 July ((10 AB) and 771 in Aug (19AB) I’d say that he is best served with limited use and exposed when playing too much. He performed worse than Hedges when playing more regularly.


But still the hidden value of players is an interesting topic. We value what we can quantify and see. And catchers affect every aspect if the game – once they started tracking pitch framing value it was really eye opening. How to you measure work with the pitchers, or calling a game or mentoring other players? What about just personalities that uplift the team and make things a fun atmosphere?


I agree with you 100% that you need the right personalities that uplift the team and the atmosphere. I think that is one of the most underrated parts of the game. Hedges has a fun personality, but I’m not sure he did his job at making our your catchers better. Endy has not done well with our pitching staff and they won’t let Henry Davis catch.


It’s true that in the past we’ve often missed hidden value but on the other hand analytics have also helped us realize that some things we used to value were overrated. This administration from Cherington to the analytics staff to the coaching staff need to demonstrate that they can identify what does add value and what doesn’t.


I really don’t see a problem with fans booing Hedges. To have a player go up to the plate with the worst WRC is frustrating to watch. Cumulate that with the awful win-loss record of the Pirates for the past 6 plus years, you are going to hear it.


correct. a net ZERO offensive value would have been acceptable, he was the biggest offensive NEGATIVE in recent history

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