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It’s Early, but I’m Growing Concerned about the Pirates On-Field Management

One of the frustrations around Clint Hurdle's tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates was some of the on-field management errors. It's early in spring, but we've still seen some of the same.

OK, before I even start to write here, this is probably an overreaction, but I don’t like what I’m seeing from the Pittsburgh Pirates' on-field management already. Derek Shelton is a likeable man and he certainly deserves time to implement his vision and stamp on the club before any of us, including me, judges him too harshly.

Let’s start at the beginning, keeping Joey Cora in place as the third base coach. Why? Trust me, I know it’s easy to blame the third base coach for every player who gets thrown out at home or fails to try when the opportunity looks viable, but I’ve seen enough of this particular coach to say, C’mon guys, we can do better.

I’d normally say the third base coach is small potatoes, but on a team that is destined to finish bottom third in power numbers this season, please someone explain to me how this isn’t one of the most important positions on the staff. More runs will be scored this season by playing small ball than Earl Weaver’s favorite play by far and they needed to make an improvement here, not stick with the status quo. Nothing personal here really, but why take an area that fans, analysts and executives alike felt was an issue and leave it untouched?

A great example of the team still not maximizing what they have to work with, which admittedly is by far the biggest problem, was the fifth game of this very spring against the Baltimore Orioles. Yup, that game, the 13-0 lightning rod. Now, the score and outcome still don’t matter one lick, but there was one situation that really made me think about potentially how little has actually changed. Colin Moran was standing at second base with nobody out and the inning ended with Colin Moran standing at second base. Happens all the time you say. Sure does, but many teams have the firepower to write that off as a duck left on the pond, or a missed opportunity. Little more than an aww shucks we could have scored there. The Pirates can’t afford to do that. Small ball means you get that runner over and get him in. For a team like this to succeed that run needs to score, even with no additional hits at least 50% of the time. 

That’s how you get a player like Jqrrod Dyson and make him look like a decent signing. You take what he does well, run the bases, and maximize that skill set by executing the fundamentals. Just like Leyland’s famous formula that worked so well to maximize and hide the inefficiencies of his Bucco’s clubs in the early 90’s. Gary Redus or Wally Backman would get on base, Jay Bell would square up and move him over with precision, VanSlyke or Bonds would drive him in. That’s the formula that a team like this has to play and if not, why sign Dyson? Sure, he’s better than Reynolds in center, at least he has a track record there but if you want to score more runs, these opportunities need to stop slipping by regardless of who hits.

After Thursday’s game Shelton mentioned instituting another one of these extreme shift options by employing a fourth outfielder situationally. 

“We’re not going to do it just to do it. It’s not something we’re doing as a sideshow. We’re going to do it when there’s a purpose to it and we feel it’s our best matchup.”

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Fine, I like analytics and I get how you could use it against a guy like Joey Gallo or Harper, but if this is ever employed when Colin Moran is one of our infielders, wow, I question the thought process there.

The idea isn’t new, and Shelton has experience with it from his time in Tampa and Minnesota, but I’d prefer following a 13-0 loss, yes even in spring, to focus on things that might affect more than 1/100 of the games. When you have zero wins next to your name in the record books as a manager (which they did at the time), focus on the big stuff and leave this minutia for giving you an edge if you’re actually pitching to guys like that when it matters.

It irritated me primarily because the focus on something like this won’t come up more than three to five times this season but getting a runner on second base with nobody out, if they’re lucky, will happen hundreds of times.

It’s too early to push the panic button, and I’m not there yet either, but I do worry that a focus is being placed on some things that make good teams really good, when the focus needs to be more on making a fundamentally poor ball club more sound. 

More embarrassing than the record last season was the abundance of lopsided blowouts this team endured, the fundamentals in the field, base paths and at the plate will minimize those types of outcomes. A benefit to taking over a team as low as the Pirates are in expectations is that exceeding them should be relatively doable. That won’t be the case if instead of staring down the problems on the surface we dig for new things to solve and new ways to solve them.

We haven’t seen one situational decision by this management team and won’t see one that matters before April is upon us. Derek Shelton could be the best manager the Pirates have ever had, but the players liking him won’t make this team look better one bit unless they face the truth and try to solve the obvious first.

Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007