PLC Myth-Smashers: “Neal Huntington can’t spot talent”

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One oft-repeated complaint about Neal Huntington is that his acquisitions, both at the major and minor league level, have not performed well, that all we hear about is their “potential.” There are legitimate points to debate regarding Huntington’s plan, but the claim that only a few of the players he has brought in have produced, and that this speaks poorly of his evaluation skills, is inaccurate.

Here is a list of players acquired by Huntington that have provided at least average production since joining the Pirates.

Major League

Garrett Jones

Jones was fantastic during his time with the Pirates in 2009, posting a wOBA of .396 in 358 plate appearances. His average is down this year, mostly due to a low BABIP, but he is still providing legitimate above average offense.

Joel Hanrahan

Despite an inflated ERA this season, Hanrahan has been a dominant reliever since coming over from the Nationals. He has 53 strikeouts in 41.2 innings with the Pirates.

Evan Meek

Meek was erratic in his brief Rule 5 stint in 2008, but he has steadily progressed since that point. He has been virtually unhittable this year, and has allowed just two home runs in 66 innings since the beginning of the 2009 season.

Andy LaRoche

Similar to Meek, LaRoche was abysmal in 2008, but has shown consistent improvement since. He was a league average player last year and, at 26, he is showing signs of a breakout season in 2010.

Charlie Morton

Morton was an above average starter last season after coming over from the Braves. He got off to a horrendous start this year, but he is showing signs of improvement. He is now sporting a very encouraging 3.81 xFIP.

Ross Ohlendorf

Ohlendorf’s peripheral numbers indicate that his ERA will rise this season, but he has been a dependable piece of a rotation that badly needs it.

Minor League

Tony Sanchez

Sanchez has done nothing but hit since his controversial draft selection. Not bad for a catcher who was drafted mostly for his defense.

Pedro Alvarez

Alvarez is a potential star and he has mostly hit like one in his career. His start to 2010 has been simply above average, but he raked in his first professional season.

Jose Tabata

Tabata has been solid since arriving from the Yankees, and he may be breaking out in 2010. He has a walk rate near 10% and is showing improved power. Combine that with a .345 batting average, and you have one solid hitter. He has also stolen 16 bases in 18 attempts this year.

Chase d’Arnaud

D’Arnaud had an underrated season in 2009, posting a near .400 on-base percentage and solid power from the shortstop position. He has started slowly in Double-A, or he would be higher on this list.

Brock Holt

Holt had an impressive start to his pro career, and his numbers have shot upward in 2010. The future is questionable for the undersized shortstop, but his performance thus far has been stellar.

Brett Lorin

Lorin was very good after joining the system, with good strikeout, walk and home run rates. He is currently recovering from an injury, and should return in June.

Victor Black

Ditto that for Black, although he struggled a bit with walks last year.

Jeff Locke

Locke was decent last year after the McLouth trade, posting solid peripherals but allowing too many hits. He has been better this year, mostly due to more strikeouts.

Bryan Morris

It was a rough year-and-a-half for Morris after the Jason Bay trade, as he struggled through poor performance, injuries and a suspension. He appears to be putting it all together this season, thoroughly dominating the Florida State League.

Quinton Miller

Miller held his own last season as a 19-year-old in full season ball. He had a promising start to 2010, but was shut down early with biceps tendinitis.

Josh Harrison

Harrison struggled in Lynchburg last season, walking just once in 155 plate appearances. But he is off to a hot start this season at Altoona, including a walk rate over 10%.

Daniel McCutchen

McCutchen will never be more than a fifth starter in the majors due to his fly ball tendencies, but he has posted solid minor league numbers so far with the Pirates.

Justin Wilson

Wilson was slow to adjust to High-A last season, but he was very strong down the stretch. Other than some issues with walks, he has been very strong to start 2010 in Altoona.

Jarek Cunningham

Cunningham was very impressive in his pro debut in 2008. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and has struggled early in 2010.

Robbie Grossman

Grossman has managed encouraging on-base percentages due to a high walk rate so far in his career, but he has not hit for much power and his strikeout numbers are alarming. He is still very young for High-A at just 20 years old.

Nathan Adcock

Adcock struggled last season, but has been very good in his second go-around at High-A.

Jordy Mercer

Mercer has been solid yet unspectacular in his pro career. He has flashed strong doubles power, which could lead to some additional home runs as he ages.

Michael Dubee

Dubee has been a pretty dominant reliever since arriving in a trade for utility man Andy Phillips.

Matt Hague

There is nothing all that exciting about Hague, but he has flashed a decent bat and is hitting well this season.

Aaron Pribanic

Pribanic was mediocre last year, but he has shown improved peripherals this season.

Jeremy Farrell

Farrell has not been great in his career, but he has had a mini-resurgence in Bradenton this season. He currently sports a .983 OPS, though his long-term expectations are pretty low.

Author: Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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  • Hitters park

    People complain about all the recent trades but talk about sell hi as possible anyone see Jason Bay’s numbers or even worse Nate Mcclouth’s numbers. They are terrible, Freddy Sanchez hasnt touched the field, Ian Snell is terrible again, the Buccos would be worse right now, this year in the majors, if they kept those guys, not to mention a worse minor league system.

    • Das Boot

      Hitters park,

      It has nothing to do with how the players are doing now when you’re dealing established major leaguers. You need to look at how they were doing then…

      Jason Bay and Nate McLouth were well above what they were able to get back.

      • Matt Bandi

        I would say that opposing GM’s probably considered expected future performance when they acquired those players. Bay was showing signs of age, had knee problems and was approaching free agency. Sanchez hadn’t produced since 2007 while battling numerous injuries. Ian Snell was good for a couple months in 2007, and that’s it. Nady was injury prone and playing well above his career norm. Jack Wilson hit decently in 2004 and 2007, and otherwise has been an all-glove SS that’s often hurt.

        Nothing that has happened to these players since they left was all that unexpected. I’m sure opposing GM’s knew all this.

  • james

    This is a joke right? I mean I’m a huge Pirates fan and agree that Jones and Meek were great finds! But c’mon..arguing NH knows talent by saying he got Andy LaRoche and Charlie Morton?! LaRoche is an average major leaguer at best and we got him for our only proven star in Jason Bay (with nothing else to show other than a glimmer of hope in Bryan Morris) and Charlie Morton is the worst starting pitcher in baseball right now.

    Hanrahan has been great, but as good as he’s been, Milledge has been a disappointment. Morgan went on to hit .351 for the Nationals last year and has been a spark plug for them this year.

    The list of the minor leaguers ok aside from the huge potential of Alvarez and Tabata and Sanchez. You argue he can spot talent because he acquired a lot of guys like Jeremy Farrell and Matt Hague..

    • Matt Bandi

      Morton’s peripheral numbers are strong this year. He has an above average strikeout rate, an above average walk rate, and a ground ball rate right around league average (and slowly climbing higher, toward his very good career mark). Much of his struggles have been due to factors he can’t really control, such as BABIP and HR/FB rate. I did not base this on his ERA, because that doesn’t tell the whole story. He is not “the worst starting pitcher in baseball.”

      Yes, LaRoche has been about league average so far with the Pirates. As I said at the beginning, this is a list of players with at least an average performance record.

      Milledge is not on this list because he has been disappointing.

      This list has nothing to do with Bay or Morgan. Not that they’re performing all that well right now, anyway.

      • Das Boot

        Don’t get caught up in the stat-salivating world we’re living in right now. What matters is results, and Morton doesn’t have them. He’s extremely inconsistent.

        You can’t pick and choose stats to try to justify a TERRIBLE career.

        • Matt Bandi

          Stats and results are the same thing. Just depends on what results you are looking at. You may be looking at Morton’s ERA to determine that he has been terrible. I am looking at his K, BB and GB numbers and determining that he has been good. More strikeouts + fewer walks + more groundballs = a very good pitcher (http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/02/categorizing_pi_4.php)

  • james

    Not to mention, look at his free agent signings. Chris Gomez? Giving Ramon Vazquez 4 million over 2 years was a joke and he is getting paid to play for the Mariners AAA team right now. Eric Hinske was also horrible in his time with the Pirates.

    Also, cutting Matt Capps for absolutely nothing will haunt him and this franchise for a long time. That’s inexcusable

    • Matt Bandi

      Well, Hinske was above average while with the Pirates. He didn’t hit for much power, but a .373 OBP off the bench is anything but horrible. To be honest, I didn’t even consider bench players for this list, because they’re not that relevant. I guess I could add Church to this list, since he’s been slightly above average.

      I never liked the Capps non-tender, and I said that at the time. But his loss will not by any means “haunt” the franchise.

  • Das Boot

    Um…I gotta go with james here.

    Morton is NOT performing. Just because you keep hearing the play-by-play guys talk about his amazing stuff doesn’t make him a good starter.

    A LaRoche is a nice player, but as was stated earlier, when you’re dealing your only blue chip, you better get something back. Heck even Littlefield turned Giles into Bay and Oliver and even Bonifay got Giles for Rincon.

    Dubee…he’s kind of an interesting one on this list. Sure he’s done well, but then why was he demoted? To me it shows that NH STILL isn’t valuing Dubee where he should.

    Also how is Gorkys Hernandez working out? While we’re at it, what about Marino Salas, Jeff Clement, Kevin Roberts, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, and I don’t see Tim Alderson on your list. Also where’s Tanner Scheppers, nice no-sign there by Neal.

    At best, NH is batting .500 with his moves. With the ownership of the Pirates, you have to do better than that. You can’t miss on draft picks or on trades half the time.

    If you really believe that NH is doing a good job, I would hate to see what you think is a bad job.

    • Matt Bandi

      I’m not going by what the broadcasters are saying about Morton. As I said above, I’m going my his above average peripheral stats.

      Again, I am not analyzing the Bay trade. I am simply listing the players who have been at least average. Two of the players from the Bay trade are on the list, for what that’s worth.

      Dubee was only promoted to Indy to temporarily fill an injury hole.

      Gorkys, Salas, Clement, Roberts, Moss, Hansen and Alderson are not on the list, because they didn’t meet the criteria. Not sure how Scheppers is relevant to this topic.

      “Missing” on trades and draft picks is pretty vague. But, based on a quick glance, I would say there is at least one player on this list from around 75% of his trades. And I see 12 drafted players, whatever that means.

      • Das Boot

        How is Scheppers irrelvant? The Buccos had a chance to sign him to a contract and have him in the org. They used a high draft pick and missed with him.

        He’s doing pretty well in the Texas system.

        Of course there are players on this list from his trades, but imo, you are wrong on several. How is Dan McCutcheon a quality player, seriously? I would love to hear how he has helped our Buccos.

        Of the six players that you mention on the big club, one is average at best, one is pitching his way to AAA and one is hurt. That’s not exactly a solid resume.

        • Matt Bandi

          Scheppers is irrelevant here because I wasn’t talking about players Huntington should have signed. All I did was point out that plenty of his acquisitions have performed at an average level or above. Of course I would like to have Scheppers in the system right now. Everyone knows he was and is an elite talent. That’s why management offered him something like $1 million to sign, even though he could barely throw at the time. Looking back, I wish they would have given him a higher offer, but I can understand why they didn’t. He simply wasn’t healthy, and is probably still a huge injury risk.

          McCutchen has been unimpressive in his limited major league time, but he has been pretty solid so far in the minor leagues. That’s why I put him quite a ways down the minor league list.

          Which major leaguer is hurt? Ohlendorf? He’s back from his injury. And I assume you are referring to Morton being in danger of going to Triple-A? Strongly disagree. He’s probably the best pitcher on the staff right now.

  • http://www.givejonadollar.com givejonadollar

    Hey Neal……..even a blind squirrel can find a nut.

  • Hitters park

    Ok, getting nothing for Capps was terrible, you wont find anybody toi disagree for that. The other trades, not mentioned Ohlendorf and Karstens have been average starting pitchers/long reliever which is worth more then average right fielders like Nady, and an Ok reliever like Marte. Lets not forget how bad MArte was for a stretch last year, too. That isnt even counting Tabata who leads AAA in hits. I dont understand we are talking about helping them now and not taking into account how bad BAy and Mcclouth are right now. If we still had McClouth this same post would be complaining that we didnt trade him when his stock was higher, Morton has Perez type stuff and a better head he will be fine by 11. If we still had Bay we would be hearing the same thing, except those two would of prevented McCutcheon from ever gettting a chance. They should trade more away, like Doumit while he is high, not to mention the renting signs they made for bullpen this offseason which will get them more in trades for next year to lock up. NH is doing ok, as is evident by our Minor leagues playing so well right now. What else wasnt mentioned is all the high school players we signed, 2 of which were projected to be high picks in 3 years had they gone to college. That is 4 years down the road, before we see those and Morris, but thats how it works for teams like the buccos. I support NH, and think he has done ok. Now, I cant defend the terrible signing of the second baseman this offseason

  • Will

    Wow, that is about the largest helping of Neil Huntington Kool Aid I’ve ever seen any one person ingest. To be sure, the bulk of Huntington’s trades were veterans-for-prospects—though not all of them—and to be sure, the jury is still out on some of them (notably the Wilson/Snell to the Mariners deal). Huntington has done very well in the draft and has made some very astute bargain-bin free agent signings, as well.

    But too many of the players on your list have caveats in your comments such as “—is showing signs of—“, “—was terrible last year, but—” and so on. Andy LaRoche is not even a league average 3B right now, though I don’t think that’s ultimately his fault; I think he’s had a bad back for years and that he was damaged goods when we acquired him. Still, he’s not getting it done and he’ll be lucky to have a job at all if Neil Walker hits and Pedro Alvarez becomes the starter at third. That would leave Brian Morris as the only hope that the Jason Bay trade will pan out, and that’s not good enough. If Huntington knew LaRoche was damaged goods, then that trade is even worse.

    Huntington also failed to sign anything approaching a functional bullpen his first two seasons on the job, and while you can argue that he spent his money in the draft instead, relievers are the cheapest established commodity you can sign in baseball, and the great job Huntington did with the ‘pen this offseason has me asking why that wasn’t done in the past. (And I reject utterly the notion that somehow it’s alright to tank entire seasons with your on-field, supposedly major league product because “well, we’re rebuilding”. Professional and competitive integrity, anyone?)

    The Gorzellany-Grabow trade has been a total loss to this point, too, though I wasn’t shedding any tears over seeing Gorzellany go and be someone else’s surly jerk.

    Anyway, while I’m not saying Huntington is a bad GM, I’m definitely saying he’s also not a great GM, not even close. He has a chance to succeed in Pittsburgh because the one thing this front office is demonstrably good at, is the most important thing: drafting well. But to dismiss criticism of his ability to properly evaluate big league talent is drinking the Kool-Aid in a big way. Huntington can, and should, be criticized or at least heavily scrutinized for his trades involving big league talent. His record in such deals is mixed at best.

  • Will

    And don’t even get me started on Charlie Morton. To me, he is Exhibit A in how sabremetric fetishism has severely distorted the average fan’s perspective on the game (and has probably led many GMs astray as well). Das Boot is absolutely right: Morton is NOT a good starting pitcher, at least, not right now and not for the most part since coming to Pittsburgh. He’s teased us with the occasional excellent outing, yes, definitely. And you can see why they like him. But once again, the bottom line is the bottom line: either you can get hitters out, or you can’t. Want proof? Larry Gura, Bob Tewksbury, and especially Tom Glavine, Tommy John, and Greg Maddux were all good-to-excellent major league pitchers, but none of them could throw hard enough to break a pane of glass. I am quite confident that none of them would even get a sniff from most big league organizations’ “talent evaluators” today. But they all won, and won, and won. Baseball is chock full of meatheads who could THROW hard but who had no idea how to PITCH. Mind you, we all want the handful of guys who can do both. But they’re very rare. In the meantime, what counts most is getting batters out, not their BABIP or LD or GB or FB percentages. Period.