By Jason Shetler
Following the 2010 season, the Pirates fired John Russell, this after losing 105 games. His replacement was Clint Hurdle, who had served as the Texas Rangers hitting coach that year. During the press conference of his hiring, he displayed more personality in five minutes than Russell did in three years as Pirates skipper. Hurdle of course had prior managerial experience, managing the Colorado Rockies from 2002 to 2009.
The Pirates finished with a losing record in Hurdle’s first two seasons, with 2012 being the most inexcusable, as the Bucs at one point were 16 games above the .500 mark, only to totally collapse in the second half. A lot of media, both in Pittsburgh and nationally, felt that Hurdle and General Manager Neal Huntington should have lost their jobs based on that collapse.
Both Hurdle and Huntington were retained however, and they were looking for ways to make certain that they would not collapse again. The old school Hurdle was convinced to take the analytical approach. Huntington’s method was to have mostly groundball pitchers that could get weak contact, while having Hurdle incorporate defensive shifts. As it turned out, the Pirates were one of the most aggressive shifting teams in baseball during the 2013 season, and it was certainly a big reason as to why the Pirates finally recorded their first winning campaign and postseason appearance since 1992. After the season, Hurdle was named the Sporting News NL Manager of the Year.
For the next two seasons, the Pirates continued to be contenders. Although they won fewer games in 2014 compared to 2013, they played in the NL Wild Card Game. The team became a serious threat in 2015, as they won 98 games, their most since the 1991 season. It was very frustrating that the Pirates had to settle for the Wild Card again, as the 98 wins would have been more than good enough to win the NL Central any other year.
The 2016 season was a disappointment for the Pirates, as they finished 78-83, and were one of the most underachieving clubs. Based on what happened a year ago, will Clint Hurdle make it through this season? – Just recently, Vegas had Hurdle as the first MLB manager to be fired this year, which I’m sure is based on the Pirates losing 20 more games in 2016 than the previous year. While they probably won’t compete with the Cubs for the division in 2017, they appear to still be a good enough team to compete for one of the two Wild Card spots. A couple things that could prevent them from doing so is the construction of the lineup, as well as unnecessary bunting in certain situations. In the early going thus far, Starling Marte is batting in the leadoff spot, which is the old school approach. Marte has great speed like a leadoff man, but isn’t a great OBP guy, like a Francisco Cervelli. Hurdle is also big on bunting, which may give him more opportunities to do so this year, given the Pirates aren’t really a power hitting team. It’s clear that bunting a player over is just giving away outs, and therefore, can lessen the chances of scoring runs in a particular inning. It’s fair to assume that Hurdle is on the hot seat based on what happened last year. If the Pirates were to somehow fall completely out of contention for the playoffs altogether this season, then management has no choice but to show Hurdle the door.