New Pirates Manager, Derek Shelton, Continues the Player-Centered Mantra

Player-centered is something we have heard since Ben Cherington was introduced to the media and the introduction of Derek Shelton did nothing but reinforce that as an organizational philosophy.

Two words. Its hard to believe that two words could hold such significance and meaning to a franchise, but that is exactly what the Pittsburgh Pirates needed. Sure, there is a much longer explanation of what they represent and its not about placating individual personalities as it may sound on the surface. No, this is about using the plethora of metrics available in today’s game to enhance the performance and outcomes of every player on the roster and in the system.

It means when you trade for a pitcher who thrives and specializes in throwing a hard slider, you no longer try to coach him to minimize that pitch and throw another you find more organizationally pleasing. Chris Archer is, of course, who I’m referencing. This new approach offers no guarantee of success, but it does offer a chance to let the former all-star use the skills he has used to become what he was. It offers the hope that they can examine his spin rate and offer some ways to build on what he is comfortable with and open some methods to attach batters in a more effective manner that fit his style.

Player-centered doesn’t let Jordan Lyles struggle with the Pirates and thrive with the Brewers because your organization refused to let him move his placement on the rubber or throw his curve ball with three balls in a count. 

It takes a power pitcher with control issues and helps him fine tune his delivery, rather than introduce a new pitch at the AAA level that you expect him to use 60% of the time. 

It also means, allowing some batters with a ton of power to find a way to hit more home runs even if it means batting .245. Essentially it means identifying what players do best and accentuating it by improving how and when they deploy the analytics and coaching on a man-by-man basis.

This has not been the case for the Pirates over the past decade and it’s made the drafting and development of talent that much more difficult. It required more of a perfect storm to achieve success with anyone brought into the organization. I call it the Seinfeld approach to drafting and development. You see, Jerry dated a ton of women, but nobody was ever perfect, and he would find the most insignificant reasons to end the relationship. While the Pirates didn’t end the relationship, they certainly did stunt growth and tramp down individuality at every turn.

Derek Shelton will be a relationship and communication-centric coach, but the club made a point of speaking to the analytical side of the game and how exactly the coaching staff would help the players answer the questions they have as well as help them ask the right questions. There will be give and take with each player I’m sure and nobody has a 100% hit rate of draft picks, but if it means the Pirates find a way to help Mason Martin develop into a 50 home run guy someday rather than a 30 home run guy trying to punch the ball the other way to keep his average up, that’s what success will look like.

If it means a young pitcher like Quinn Priester who already throws 5 pitches isn’t forced to add a two-seam fastball and drop his four seam, that’s what success will look like. If it means measuring Joe Musgrove’s success in ways aside from how many batters he mowed down in three pitches or less it will be an improvement. The examples are endless and that is a huge factor in why the practices of the last regime were so infuriating to many fans. 

How many times have we seen unreal numbers from a player in AAA only to watch them struggle when called up to the Pirates? How many times have you seen the Cardinals or Cubs call a player up and watch them contribute immediately to the cause? Well let’s explain some of that shall we? Surely there is a jump in talent level of competition when you make the jump to MLB, but what became apparent as the years dragged on with Kyle Stark at the helm of the farm system was that players weren’t just dealing with a jump in competition, they were dealing with learning a new playbook. The disconnect between what Clint Hurdle wanted the players to know upon arrival versus what they were focusing on in the minor leagues didn’t jive and it was apparent. Some players transcended this obstacle and that is to their credit, but it also makes it that much harder. I’d rather focus on the 99% that don’t make it than the 1% who do, because there is quite simply no area a small market club can improve more efficiently than making the most of the talent they have drafted and developed on their own.

So, look at those two words however you like, but don’t minimize the importance they represent. This team has changed, and we aren’t entering a new era of Pirates baseball simply because there are some new faces at the helm. They have impact for sure but moreover they will shepherd in a new way of looking for, looking at, and developing talent, and they will do it as ONE unit.

Welcome to the Pirates Derek Shelton, and welcome to a new era of our baseball club, .

Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007