First Pitch: Fire Neal Huntington? Let’s Keep Perspective

The Pirates have been playing some horrible baseball lately. Five game losing streak. Two wins in their last ten games. Going 13-25 since the start of August. Take your pick, but either way the story is the same. The team is just playing terrible baseball. Some call it collapsing. I think of it as a regression from a team that probably was too streaky and not good enough to continue where they were at the end of July.

The Pirates aren’t the only team struggling. Despite losing five in a row, they’re still 2.5 games out of the wild card race, mostly because the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers are also struggling lately. But that small number doesn’t matter as long as the team continues to lose the way they have been recently.

All of the recent struggles have taken a toll on Pirates fans. Going from playoff hopes in early August, to wondering if the team will finish over .500 in early September is tough. Seeing the team get swept by one of the worst teams in baseball, then lose two close games to Cincinnati only adds to the frustration. With all of that frustration comes emotions, and with those emotions come short-sighted reactions. One of those reactions? Fire Neal Huntington.

Earlier today, Randy Linville had that same opinion on the blogs section of the site, saying Huntington should be fired. The blogs section of the site is for personal opinions. I don’t edit it. I don’t approve any of the articles on the site. The writers are free to post whatever they want. I don’t even have time to read them. But this one stuck out, possibly because it was posted a minute after I got in the door after driving home from Raleigh. I can’t say I agree with the argument at all.

**First of all, let’s look at the short-term. It’s September 11th. The Pirates have already matched their season win total from last year. They have 21 games remaining. Even if they continue this horrible play and win one out of every three games, they’ll finish with 79 wins. That’s a seven game improvement over last year. And that’s after improving 15 games from 2010 to 2011. We’re currently talking about how the team is letting the playoffs slip away. Before the season we didn’t even think playoffs were a possibility until 2013 at the earliest.

The team got everyone’s hopes up in June and July. But based on how they played in April and May, and based on how they’ve been playing since the start of August, it’s safe to say that they were playing over their heads in June and July, and that they’re closer to a .500 team than a contender. It seems ridiculous to fire Huntington for this. Huntington wouldn’t have been fired before the season if he improved the team seven games over last year? So why move the goal posts in season and make a decision based on less than two months of play?

**Then there’s the long-term reasons, which are always the same vague arguments with very few facts to support the argument.

**There’s the trades. The Jason Bay trade is a big black eye. But show me a GM who hasn’t made a poor trade, and I’ll show you a GM who hasn’t made any trades. Some of Huntington’s trades have been bad. But some have been equally great.

You know the three best pitchers in the rotation this year? All acquired via trades. I’m talking about A.J. Burnett (acquired for Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno), James McDonald (acquired for Octavio Dotel), and Jeff Karstens (part of the Xavier Nady trade).

Then there’s the team’s closer, Joel Hanrahan, who was acquired for Sean Burnett as the second part of the Nyjer Morgan/Lastings Milledge swap.

Michael McKenry, who is inexplicably playing backup to Rod Barajas, was acquired for cash.

Travis Snider, a 24-year-old with power potential who has performed better than Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence have since the deadline, was acquired for Brad Lincoln. I’d trade a reliever for a potential every day starter any day of the week.

If we look at the trades, he’s made some moves that have been poor, and he’s made some moves that have brought in impact players for this year’s team. If we’re limiting the parameters to the team he inherited, it’s only fair to point out that the team he inherited was good enough to finish next to last the year before he arrived.

**The way he handled the trade deadline this year was outstanding. In a seller’s market, Huntington managed to get players who can help this year and for years to come. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Wandy Rodriguez trade (I’d rather have Jeff Locke in the rotation and Robbie Grossman in the system over Rodriguez), but the Snider deal was a good one for reasons previously mentioned.

Anyone saying the team should have dealt for Victorino or Pence has obviously not seen the numbers by those players. And the truth is that the trade deadline has very little impact. The Dodgers added Victorino, and all of the Red Sox’s best players, and they’re slumping right now. The Phillies traded away a lot of big names, and they’re one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Pirates added a starter who has a 3.57 ERA in 53 innings, and two hitters (Snider and Gaby Sanchez) who have performed better than the two biggest names who were moved (Pence and Victorino), yet they’ve been horrible since the deals.

**The next argument is usually that he is good at adding pitchers, but can’t add hitters. Take a look at the stats. The number one hitter on the team is Andrew McCutchen, who Huntington didn’t add. But look at the second and third best OPS numbers on the team. There’s Garrett Jones, who was signed as a minor league free agent, and retained even after posting a .720 and .753 OPS the last two years. Then there’s Pedro Alvarez, who was drafted second overall in 2008. And once again, there’s Michael McKenry, who was added for cash and has an .829 OPS (why isn’t he starting again?).

**Next is the draft. As I pointed out in the off-season, people tend to judge drafts way too soon. I mentioned that this was the year to judge the 2008 draft. That gave enough time for players to make their way through the system and get adjusted to the majors. Alvarez is starting to look like he’s working out. I don’t know if the dream scenario was him being Mark Reynolds or Adam Dunn, but his power this year is nice to see. The rest of the draft hasn’t produced much. Robbie Grossman was the key piece in the Wandy Rodriguez trade. Justin Wilson hasn’t been given much of a shot in the majors. Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, and Matt Hague have all arrived in the majors, but none have really made a strong impression. So the draft right now is one player, or two if you count Wandy Rodriguez as the end result to the Grossman pick. That’s not the strongest draft, but not a total bust either. That draft is also all we can really judge right now. As I pointed out in the article above, it’s not like other teams are seeing a lot of returns any earlier than the Pirates in this case.

**One thing Randy brought up that I haven’t seen for a while, and don’t typically see from the usual “Fire Neal Huntington” arguments lately, was the off-season moves. The decision to decline the options of Ryan Doumit, Ronny Cedeno, and Paul Maholm was heavily criticized last off-season. But let’s put the criticism of those deals to rest.

First, there’s Cedeno. He’s been a bench player this year for the Mets. He’s hitting for a .779 OPS, and perhaps playing off the bench is helping. We saw how inconsistent he was as an everyday player.

Then there’s Doumit. His hitting is excellent this year, with a .792 OPS. However, he’s not a full-time catcher. Doumit has 49 starts behind the plate this year. He has 43 starts as a DH, and 20 in the outfield. That’s certainly allowed him to stay healthy. Does anyone think he would have remained healthy as the every day catcher? Would anyone want him as the every day catcher? And have I mentioned that Michael McKenry should be catching?

Finally, there’s Maholm. In hindsight, Maholm has been the best of the group. But that’s hindsight. Last winter, many felt that Erik Bedard was an upgrade over Maholm. Bedard didn’t work out, and Maholm is putting up a great season between Chicago and Atlanta.

That brings us to the financial aspect of these moves. If the Pirates add all three of these guys, they’re picking up $28.25 M over the 2012-2013 seasons. That gives you Cedeno, who probably isn’t much of an upgrade over Clint Barmes due to Cedeno’s inconsistent play as a starter. You also get Doumit, who would most likely get injured based on history. And you get a good starter in Maholm. But guess who you don’t have money for? A.J. Burnett. If the Pirates pick up the options, does anyone really think they take on Burnett’s salary? Does anyone think this team would be the same without Burnett?

**I think that if you step back from the emotions of the recent losing, the picture becomes very clear. The Pirates have already reached their 2011 season win total. The team has improved over last year, and is heading in the right direction. All of the key performers that have led to this year’s winning are under team control next year. They’ll also be adding key prospects like Gerrit Cole and potentially Jameson Taillon, not to mention they’ll have Starling Marte in his first full season after a taste in the majors. All of this suggests the Pirates will continue to improve. That shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s what we were expecting coming in to the year. We weren’t expecting the Pirates to contend this year. We were hoping they’d continue to improve, and counting on them contending after Cole and company arrived.

Has Neal Huntington been perfect? Not at all. There have been some bad moves. There have been some questionable decisions, most notably the perceived lack of faith in prospects and younger players. But there have also been good moves. And most importantly, the team continues to improve. At this moment the team is playing horrible. Looking at the bigger, the team is trending upward. When evaluating the General Manager, you always want to look at the big picture. The small picture tends to be clouded with emotions. All you need to do is look at the Cardinals and Dodgers. Both teams are slumping. Both teams are only a game or two ahead of the Pirates. Yet I don’t think Pirates fans would be suggesting that their General Managers should be fired. The only reason those suggestions are made about Huntington is because of the emotions from being a fan and following the team closely.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Reds 5-3. The Cardinals and Dodgers also lost, so the Pirates remain 2.5 games back in the standings.

**Win a Free Pair of Pittsburgh Pirates Headphones From BiGR AUDIO.

**Pirates Notebook: Losing Streak Reaches Five; Karstens, Walker Feel Good After Sim Game.

**McCutchen Showing Signs of Sparking on Offense.

**The blog section of the site is actually a totally different web site with a different log in. I’ve always worried that I’d post something to the wrong site. You’re seeing “First Pitch” on the main site today. That’s not a mistake. I’ve been considering moving it over, since it’s one of the biggest features on the site. I figured I’d make the switch before the end of the regular season, starting tonight.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/cynthia.reuss.7 Cynthia Reuss

    2 major collapses in 2 years-SOMEONE has to pay. This team is a disaster.

    • Lee Young

      I put that on Hurdle.

      • http://twitter.com/StevefromYukuDU Yukudukes

        Agree

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1279894444 Richard Haft

      Agree..someone has to be fired there is no excuse. This is not a correction or regression… Playing .500 ball or a little below would be, this is a collapse.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      What if the good play to start the season was due to the management and they’re just regressing toward the mean?

      This team is the biggest disaster for any team that’s ever been 2.5 games out of a playoff spot with 20 games to go. I’ll go with you though…let’s fire someone just to fire them. I mean, you didn’t state a clear reason other than the team not winning a world series. So let’s shake it up.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1279894444 Richard Haft

        I hate the sabremetrics BS, it does have some value, but it often seems to validate Lyndon Johnson’s famous quote, “there are three kinds of lies, lies, damn lies, and statistics”. They won for over 120 games, that is a statically significant sample. What is “regressing to the mean”, mean? Their mean this year after 120 games was 17 games over .500. It could be argued they are playing wayyyyyyyyy below their mean and the question is why?

        They were 17 games over with a soft schedule and now they are two, and really, no one expects them to finish .500. Gee, why fire anyone? For the second year in a row..yep, everyone is doing a great job!

  • salempirate

    Very nice to see this blog get moved. WADR to others, it is a feature I tend to look for daily.(Small aside: the Pirates would need to win 1 of every 3 games, not 2 to reach 79).
    Don’t you think the Pirates increased win total is partially due to Pujois and Fielder no longer being in the division and dominating the Pirates? Thankfully, baseball’s worst team is a division rival and the Pirates win total is reflected in that. Unfortunately, the Cubs are nearly as bad and the Bucs have failed to capatalise.
    And please don’t use the team from 2 years ago as a steppingstone for saying the win total has improved. IMO, it had to after seeing one of the most horrible on-field products ever in Pittsburgh. And who was the GM of that disaster?
    You presented some logical info and there have been improvements here and there. There have also been complete and utter failures on positional free agents signed, then either traded or released the following season, costing millions each year.
    If I’m correct about the players involved, one of NH’s greatest trades was to rid Crosby and Church (both signed as FAs in the offseason) from the roster and to add a C AND get millions of his salary paid. Genius in my book.

  • L G

    good post Mr. Williams.

    a level head amongst the growing angry mob with pitchforks

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Anyone who thought Bedard, the incredibly fragile, was an upgrade over Maholm, wasn’t really thinking. And I’m being kind there. Neil Huntington hung onto Bedard 2 months longer than was warranted, in fact kept HIM in the rotation over Correia, when it wasn’t warranted. This latest collapse hurts more, because having NO hope isn’t as soul crushing as having hope. But it’s yet another epic collapse, and it’s on Pirates management. It’s 1999 all over again.

    • Lee Young

      I thought he was. Speaking of fragile, didn’t Maholm finish the year on the DL? We had NO idea he was coming back. I wanted Maholm back, but felt that Bedard, given his history, was a better risk.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

        And the risk with Bedard was entirely based on his health. No one assumed that he would come out and just stink. They also signed Bedard for what? 5 million or so, whenever Maholm would have been due around 10. Maholm coming out and having a good season is just the way the cookie crumbles in baseball sometimes.

        • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

          Bedard hadn’t had a good record in the majors in a long time. Assuming he would go out and be the Bedard pre-injuries is wishful thinking, I think.

  • Jim Wilson

    Doumit was considered injury prone. He was said not to be a good defensive catcher. He threw out more base runners than the two clowns we have playing catcher. Catcher was not upgraded in the off season only down graded. Doumit also was way superior offensively. Just signed a new 3 year contract.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      He always had a good arm…but is he really a better leader on the field than Barajas or McKenry?

  • Lee Young

    It’s funny….31 games ago we were 16 games over .500. Hurdle was being touted for Mgr of the year, NH for executive of the year.

  • dave

    5 years on the job and he has produced 6 prospects in the minors that actually look like they could be regular major league players plus Pedro Alvarez. All this while drafting in the top 5 each and every season. All this while watching the Nationals, and Orioles draft in similar positions and be contending for a playoff spot. All this while continuing to bring in aging declining vets each season for about 15 million per season when we could just sign 1 solid player.
    It’s as much of Huntington’s fault as it is the owner’s fault for not giving the GM more money to play with.

  • ecbucs

    the team has been bad for so long that trending upward shouldn’t be that hard to do. The question now is whether NH is good enough to put together a championship level team and smart enough to keep talent pipeline flowing while the major league team is a legitimate contender. I don’t think it is clear cut that he is gm that can do that. Because of their financial situation the Bucs are going to need to have one of the top GMs in baseball. The 10th best GM is not going to be able to keep the team going.

    I do think both NH and Hurdle will be retained for next year but don’t think the decision to do so is a no brainer.

    • http://twitter.com/StevefromYukuDU Yukudukes

      This. But I don’t think we know whether NH is that guy or not. He honestly has the franchise in better shape than its been in in 20 years. If we see them plateau or regress, he needs to go. If they keep taking steps forward, he’s doing his job.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      And I’m sure everyone clambering to come to Pittsburgh.

  • leadoff

    The team got everyone’s hopes up in June and July. But based on how they
    played in April and May, and based on how they’ve been playing since
    the start of August, it’s safe
    to say that they were playing over their
    heads in June and July, and that they’re closer to a .500 team than a
    contender.
    ________________________________________________________________
    They were closer to a 500 team when they left spring training IMO, but splitting the year to make determinations about them playing over their heads is wrong. They held their own for 4 months and have had a bad 1 1/2 months and that is the way we determine how good they are? I wish it was that simple, if it is we need to trade guys like McCutchen, after all he is hitting 30+ points below where he was hitting in July and he is one of the prime reasons for the slide, if he can’t cut in August and Sept, then he has to go. (I refuse to use an encompassing word like “collapse”. A horse doesn’t collapse when it is leading a race and falls back to 6th or 7th, just runs out of gas.

  • st1300b

    I disagree on the Hurdle blame game. I have felt and continue to feel like he is the right manager, and the right man to get this team out of the depths of Hell that they’ve been in and progress towards winning. I had this discussion with a friend the other day – How many championships did the 90’s teams win? None. Even a great team in Baseball doesn’t always win and this team – as it’s constructed right now – is not a great team. Hurdle however has inspired them to compete like one – and as this team gets the ammunition (Read 95mph and up) that is coming in the next year or two I believe he will get them to a place where they can legitimately reach for a championship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1279894444 Richard Haft

    There is some flawed reasoning in the article about the players we let go last year. It assumes we wanted to keep all three. If I remember, most people really wanted Doumit signed, then maybe Maholm and people didn’t really care about Cedeno. They could have renegotiate their contracts and didn’t. In hindsight, losing Doumit was crushing. He isn’t a full time catcher? So? How many catchers are? He would look great there with McKenry right now.

    The question is not money or deals. It is about baseball.
    it is is Barmes better than Cedeno..no, but probably close
    Was Bedard better than than Maholm..no, not even close
    Is Barajas better than Doumit..no, and practically criminal

    So, we downgraded three spots by alot and compounded it by playing all three downgrades for pretty much the whole season instead of admitting the mistake. That is what really makes it bad. I can take gambling and losing, or it doesn’t work out..I cannot take playing these guys over and over when they are not producing.

    Put Fryer or even Clement as a backup catcher..who cares, it would be better.

    • BlueBomber72

      Player evaluation has been NH’s problem to date. He has a good plan (building through the draft), but it seems like a good portion of the players he is bringing in aren’t living up to expectations. Some new life in the scouting department might be what the organization needs.

  • RandyLinville

    Compare and contrast the players acquired from the last place 1985 and 1986 teams with what NH got for doing likewise with the players he inherited. If he had gotten one player that was of the caliber of Bonilla, Drabek or Van Slyke, this franchise would be in a different place altogether. Instead we are pointing to Hanrahan, Tabata, Locke, Harrison, Morton and Karstens and calling it fine and dandy. Then add in players he picked up since the dismantling – Wandy, JMac, Burnett, McKenry and Snider. This is what we are calling a job well done. Compare that to the players acquired that were on the 1990 team and you have a failure on the part of NH to acquire an acceptable level of talent. Between Syd Thrift and then Larry Doughty, the Pirates acquired Bell, Slaught, Redus, Bream, Reynolds, Patterson, Kipper and LaValliere, plus the three studs. One team was outstanding. One team is average. Both had an early first round pick in their age 25 season (Alvarez this year and Bonds in 1990). Yet we are calling the job the GM did acceptable. I can’t expect anyone to be Thrift (who certainly swung and missed on some trades). But expecting one impact player (one all-star) in return for the bulk of a Major League roster? That should be a no brainer. NH failed to do that and this team suffers for it. That’s on him.

    On the hitting side, in five years he has been able to assemble three of the top five hitters on the team – Pedro, Jones & McKenry. That’s what the defense of his record of acquiring hitting talent is? After trading all the position players or letting them walk via free agency (of the starting 8 on Opening Day in 2009, no one is on this team and just Jones & Cutch – not counting Clement – from OD 2010), three of the top five hitters were brought in by NH? That’s an abomination. That’s not good. Not by any measure. With Cutch and Walker as holdovers from DL, he’s got six positions to work with, including all four corners of the field. Four of the worst 20 hitters (as measured by OPS among those with 300 PAs) in the NL play for the Pirates. Do I need to list the players who NH brought on board who were flat out awful? Defending his record in acquiring bats either shows a lack of understanding or a lack of objectivity.

    Sure, it might be too early to judge the drafts. And maybe letting Doumit, Cedeno and Maholm go was the right thing financially. And hopefully this team is poised for greatness in 2013. But defending his trade record and his ability to bring in hitters? This post would be far stronger had you conceded those two points. Acknowledge those two failures and move on. Pirates fans have forgotten what it is to have a good, competent GM. Instead, we accept mediocrity.

    • leadoff

      Just think with all that bad GM work, they are still in the race! They are not losing because of the GM. There are multiple reasons for losing at this time.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      In response to the hitting, saying “he’s only added three hitters” sounds good if you’re trying to say he’s done a poor job. But there’s only eight starting positions. He inherited Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. So there’s two positions he doesn’t have to worry about. He added Alvarez, Jones, and McKenry. That should be three more positions he doesn’t have to worry about, although they’re not playing McKenry.

      That leaves three more positions. They tend to prefer defense at short, which I can’t fault them for. They haven’t successfully added a corner outfielder yet, with both Tabata and Presley bombing this year. But this is what the argument boils down to. They prefer defense at shortstop, and haven’t filled the corner outfield spots. Much different than the original comment of “he can’t bring in hitters”.

      As for the trades, it’s impossible to defend trades when arbitrary parameters are put in place to make your point. And providing a comparison of this team to a team 25 years ago is ridiculous. It was a completely different time. The economics of baseball weren’t an issue then. And because of that, teams didn’t hoard prospects. So this whole “look at what they did in 1985″ argument is totally irrelevant.

      • RandyLinville

        I think you missed my point. If in the span of three years you completely turn over the starting eight, then almost by default you will have picked up some of the best hitters on the team. You’d almost have to unless the high minors or the bench were chock full of hitters, which they were not. So, defending NH the way you did – three of the top five are his! – when he dumped all eight of the starters from 2009, is a very weak defense.

        But let’s look at it another way. Are you suggesting that the 2012 team has a good offense? It is below league average in spite of having a leading MVP candidate on it. If in five years the GM can’t produce an above average offense (given that he has inherited an MVP caliber player and had the entire roster at his disposal to trade or to keep), his ability to find hitting talent should be questioned. The Pirates have four of the 20 worst hitters in the NL and, with Cutch and Jones, two of the top 30 (Alvarez is 41st). He does not have a good eye for hitting talent.

        Take all his trades – take JMac and Burnett – no parameters at all. And comparing the dismantling of a last place club to another such event is not ridiculous, especially when finances played a role in the mid-80s as well. Remember when Pittsburgh couldn’t draw any fans and nearly moved? How many big time free agents were aching to come to Pittsburgh then? None. Same as now. The same economics of baseball that can be used to defend NH (its a small market so it isn’t his fault!) played into his favor when he acquired Burnett. That was a salary dump and Pittsburgh benefited from it. For the most part, the Pirates weren’t acquiring prospects in the mid-1980s. Van Slyke (1500+ ABs), Bonilla (250+ PAs) and Drabek (20+ games started) had spent nearly a half year or more in the Majors already by the time Thrift acquired them. They each had more service time than Moss and LaRoche. I believe nearly every player – Bell, Bream, Reynolds, LaValliere, Slaught – that Brown/Thrift/Doughty acquired that was on the 1990 club had been given a look by another team (even Bob Patterson) or two and were considered Major League ready when they were acquired. Brown, Thrift & Doughty for the most part, just like NH (other than maybe Tabata), went after Big League ready talent. Were those players Thrift acquired considered prospects? Maybe, in the sense that their careers weren’t fully developed. In the same sense that Snider is a prospect. But certainly not in the sense that Taillon and Cole are prospects. So, saying that teams didn’t hoard prospects back then and therefore Thrift had an easier go of it doesn’t hold up. Both sets of GMs went after Big League ready guys. One of them failed. NH has not done a good job trading.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          It’s not just a simple “three of the top five are his”. It’s that those three are putting up very good numbers.

          Also, I’m not suggesting they have a good offense. They’re clearly driven by pitching and defense this year. That’s probably because that has been their focus. The offense is boom or bust. It’s one dimensional, based on power. When they’re on, they’re one of the best offenses in the league. When they’re not, they’re one of the worst. And they’re very inconsistent, so there’s hardly any middle ground.

          Even with this offense, they’re a team that is above .500 in September, and 2.5 games back from the playoffs. Baseball is a team game. You can nit pick one aspect of any team’s makeup if you want. The Pirates aren’t perfect. There are some areas they could improve in. But the fact that there are areas for improvement doesn’t mean that the overall results are poor.

          Basically what you’re saying is that Huntington isn’t perfect. And I’m not saying the opposite. I’m just saying that the overall results for this organization are good, and firing him is ridiculous and an over-reaction to a short stretch of games.

          • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

            So, if the Pirates continue to tank, what then? He did a good job until August? And it isn’t a short stretch, it’s 5 years on Huntington’s watch.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

              Originally I was planning on reviewing all of this at the end of the season, which is the appropriate time to do such a review. Since something was posted on my site about the topic, I moved that article up. So any “what if” questions will have to wait. We’ll see what happens, then analyze that after the fact.

              As for the “short stretch”, that was clearly in reference to the last month and a half, and specifically the last week, compared to the first four months.

          • wtmiller

            I think you’re both missing what, at least for purposes of this season, is a vital point if you’re going to evaluate Huntington properly. The Pirates started this season, and played a large part of the season, with half the starting lineup made up of hitters who not only weren’t good, but were horrible on a biblical scale. Coming up with only three good hitters (that’s really misleading, because McKenry is just a backup catcher and isn’t likely to repeat this year’s numbers) is one thing. But it’s even more significant that, out of 121 players in the NL with 300+ plate appearances, Barmes, Barajas, Tabata and Presley rank 120, 116, 104, and 96 in OPS. As horrible as Barmes and Barajas have been, the terrible production from the OF corners (except when Jones is there, which of course leaves terrible production at 1B), has been even more costly. Only three of the players who rank below Presley are corner outfielders, and of those, two are guys Houston is just throwing out there as part of the tear down and the third is a platoon player, Juan Rivera, who’s only played that much because Kemp got hurt. If the Pirates had just gotten mediocre to poor production from those four spots, they’d be ahead in the wild card race. And that’s without getting to failures like McGehee and McLouth. The fact that the Pirates started the season with so many hitters who proved to be so profoundly atrocious speaks volumes about NH’s judgment of hitters, and it’s cancelled out the successes of some of the team’s other players. And it’s not like he’s managed to upgrade during the season very effectively, either.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

              I think that raises a few questions about how the Pirates do things.

              For Barmes and Barajas, the Pirates prefer defense at those positions. So the offense is going to struggle (although it shouldn’t struggle this much).
              Tabata and Presley are guys that don’t have a lot of power. They do have extra base power. They’re more top of the order hitters at best, which you don’t traditionally find at both corner outfield spots. Again, there’s a defensive aspect with these two positions.

              The questions raised:

              1. Is their approach of focusing on defense, even when the offense struggles, a good approach?
              2. The Pirates say that extra base hits are “power”. That’s true, but home run hitters also get extra base hits. Do guys like Presley and Tabata hit for enough extra base hits to make up for a lack of homers? Definitely not this year, and I don’t think they could, even when their game is on.

              • wtmiller

                Coupla problems:

                If they wanted Barajas for defense, they’ve got some pretty strange ideas about catcher defense. His ability to control the running game disappeared several years ago and the pitch framing study at BP showed him to be poor at framing pitches.

                And Tabata and Presley don’t do anything well offensively. Tabata’s OBP is poor for a corner OF and Presley’s is horrible. This isn’t a one-season aberration, either. Here’s the Pirates’ NL rank in OPS in LF and RF since the departure of Bay and Nady:

                LF

                11th
                14th
                11th
                16th

                RF

                11th
                13th
                15th
                7th (thanks to Jones)

                And here’s 1B:

                13th
                16th
                15th
                14th (despite Jones spending half his time there)

                This has nothing to do with philosophy. Huntington has consistently been unable to find hitters for the hitting positions.

                • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

                  Their preference on catchers seems to be game calling. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to care about controlling the running game. And that’s in the minors as well. Two more things that could be looked at closer.

                  You’re correct on the hitting. What I was pointing out with the philosophy is that even if the guys were performing at their best, they’re still probably not going to be near the top of those lists. It’s almost like a moneyball approach that they’re taking. Traditionally, 1B and the corner outfield positions are offensive positions. The guys they’ve been targeting for those positions haven’t played up to their potential. But even if they did, guys like Tabata, Presley, and Overbay aren’t going to lead any offensive categories. All three guys sacrifice some offense, but have the potential to upgrade the defense.

                  I’m not saying this is right or wrong. It’s different. It’s not traditional. It doesn’t look like it’s working, mostly because there’s not enough offensive upside to begin with. If a good hitter slumps, he’s still going to have decent numbers. When these guys slump, they’re going to be below a .700 OPS, which is not what you want from a starter. Overall they’re not really aiming high offensively, and trying to make up for that value with defense. In theory I could see how this would work if the players were hitting well, but they’re not hitting well.

                  • wtmiller

                    The pitching staff has performed above expectations for two years now with something like eight different guys catching, including the much-despised Ryan Doumit. I have a lot of trouble with the notion that Rod Barajas’ game-calling adds any value, certainly nothing that remotely compares with the handicap created by his non-existent hitting and throwing. A better explanation for the improved pitching is the team’s NL rank in defensive efficiency (to which catchers contribute very little), which is 3rd.

                    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

                      I would agree with you there. I’d like to see Michael McKenry get a lot more playing time. His numbers might not remain at this level as a starter, but what’s the worst that could happen? He becomes the next Barajas?

                    • wtmiller

                      I’m disappointed Morales couldn’t stay healthy. I’d have been perfectly happy seeing him and McKenry split catching duties in Sept. Barajas could just catch AJ.

    • James S

      Actually Joe L Brown was interim GM before Syd Thrift was hired, and it was Brown who made the Sid Bream & R. J. Reynolds deal, and several others.

      • RandyLinville

        You are 100% correct.

  • realist

    The only perspective you have is to keep saying positive things so that you continue to get your press passes and the like. That is all. This organization is a train wreck. Future this. Future that. Will they ever take care of and address the present?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      That’s ridiculous. The site’s credentials are received because of the site’s large audience, not because of the content of the site, good or bad.

  • ponhaas

    its .500 or bust for neal, its 5 yrs and if were not at .500 than yes he has to go.

  • i’m not a bandwagoner

    OK this is rediculous the pirates are headed in the right direction with hurdle and you guys are just negative bandwagoners I have been a fan through the worst of years like 2000 through 2011 and I have seen HUGE inprovements so just stop being NEGATIVE the pirates are fine!!!!!!!

  • jdt2x jdt2x

    It comes down to wins and losses, I could care less as to who Huntington has or hasn’t brought to the Pirates, it is the team’s record is all that matters. The only good trade that he produced was Hanrahan. I am not sold on Mcdonald or any player for that matter who cannot complete one solid season from beginning to end. As for Burnett,
    the Yankees needed to clear cap space and Pittsburgh was one of the only teams with money available, the need for a veteran pitcher and most importantly an ok from A.J. himself. (Other teams wanted him and he reportedly declined trades to any team over 500 miles from Md.) In part, Huntington happened to be in the right place at the right time and it had nothing to do with his abilities as a savy GM. As big of a Pirate fan that I am, a part of me does not mind that they continue to lose so that Huntingdon and his follies will be fired and the organization can start anew. His trades, his free agent signings and his drafts, most especially his “bonus babies” have been a disgrace to the organization. And even the progress made this year was at its core Littlefield guys-one could easily see what happened when Cutch, Walker, and Lincoln were on fire. The time is now to hire a GM who is focused on a now and not how good our low A team is.